Friday, May 23, 2008

Terrorism - it ain't what it used to be

The British police come in for plenty of criticism; they're either arresting every Asian guy on the street under the prevention of terrorism act, or they are conniving with the Islamists to sell out 'our' 'Judeo-Christian' culture to the barbarian hordes. Probably both, and all before tea - how's that for hard work? But three terrorism related stories in the news today make you wonder if they aren't actually, in conjunction with the Security Service, doing not a bad job at all.

Only one of these stories is really a case of where the police stopped something - the arrest in Bristol last month - but the general amateur hour-ness of all them suggest the ineffectiveness of those willing to use violence in Jihadi cause as a result of counter-terrorism policing. First of all, the scary news from Exeter of the attempted bombing: the idea of using someone mentally retarded to do your dirty work is an old one used by scum of all types - criminally or politically motivated - but even still the fact the bomber survived one bomb going off in his hands, and that two other devices seem to have failed to explode suggests a lack of technical skill. The police seem to have already known about the people who put the would-be bomber up to it as well. Then secondly there is the story of the guy who wanted to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre (and it should be noted that if it wasn't for the potential of bloody loss of life, a plan that isn't wholly without merit), only that a) he didn't even know which county it is in and b) he revealed his dastardly plans to his... wait for it... prison officer. Perhaps not really a terrorist mastermind then. The third story is the remanding in custody until trial of Andrew Ibrahim, who was arrested last month for attempting to manufacture a suicide bomb vest. The 'informed speculation' is that Ibrahim was a self-starter, unconnected to wider terrorist networks - just the type of character that people like Marc Sageman have been predicting. These types are generally reckoned to be less of a danger as they have lower technical skills, but harder catch as they are not linked to other extremists. So if the Ibrahim prosecution next year is successful, that will be a good catch from the Bristol police.

Considering that the last 'serious' attack in the UK was the Glasgow airport attack where one of the "terrorists" ended up getting floored by a passing baggage handler, things don't seem to be going too badly for the UK counter-terrorism operations. Of course there is always the risk of a more serious and organised group, like the 7/7 bombers, who have been totally missed - but with the number of court cases underway, or that have ended in guilty verdicts in the last year, even this doesn't look as threatening as in 2005. The more nutty end of the Jihadi spectrum are always the ones likely to get through, but thankfully are also likely to be the ones that don't do too much damage. It's another argument for gun control as well: if the UK had easily available firearms, any of these nutters could perpetrate a mass killing as we've seen numerous times in the US over the last year in non-terrorism related instances. Instead they have to keep on trying to make their own bombs - fortunately with limited success.

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