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7/7: One Year On

Alok Rashmi Mukhopadhyay was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • July 07, 2006

    July 7 marks the first anniversary of the 2005 terrorist attacks on London. These attacks and the thwarted ones on July 21 not only claimed the lives of more than fifty people of different nationalities, but once again brought to the fore a serious threat to global security, i.e., suicide bombing. The four suicide bombers, drawn from the Muslim community in Britain with South Asian and Caribbean origins, have left a permanent scar on the collective British psyche. The July 7 attacks were the monstrous manifestation of a grave indigenous threat of Islamic radicalism arising from amongst a part of the second and third generation Muslim immigrants settled in Europe. As the British nation and the entire world condole the lives lost on July 7, it is imperative to retrospect on the incident. In addition, it also needs to be observed what kind of counter-terrorism measures are under discussion and likely to be taken or have been facing resistance. As counter-terrorism measures include larger issues involving a wider cross-section of the society, e.g., media, minorities, inter-community relations, foreign policy, unemployment etc., a brief overview of the British scene also needs to be taken into account.

    Tony Blair's press conference on August 5, 2005 was significant in that he announced that the rules of game would change. What he actually meant was that the decade-old practice of the radical Islamic groups, known extremists, and individual hate preachers using Britain for their uncontrolled activities would be curbed. At that time it was anticipated that two known radical Islamic organisations, Hijb-ut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun would soon be proscribed. In fact, Al Muhajiroun, fearing a government prohibition, had voluntarily changed its name as early as 2004 and assumed different identities. The popular mood just after the terrorist attacks was rightly against these organisations and individuals, which forced one infamous Jihad preacher, Mohammad Omar Bakri, to flee the UK. Considering the grave threat posed by these organisations and preachers in terms of their role in radicalising the British Muslim youth, serious deliberations have started to extradite, deport or send back these 'unacceptable' people to their countries of origin. However, given that deportation or extradition of some known radical Islamists to their countries of origin would result in them facing harsh punishments or even torture in contravention of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), the British government decided to sign Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with about ten countries including Jordan and Syria. In order to find out the root causes of radicalism and the acceptability of extremist ideology amongst the Muslim youth in Britain, the British Home Office formed an experts' panel to come up with recommendations.

    However, seen in retrospect, all these measures during the last year have faced either resistance or met with some unanticipated outcomes. The mistaken killing of the Brazilian engineer Jean Charles de Menezes in a London Metro on July 22 in tune with the shoot-to-kill policy of the local police was a matter of serious concern. Same was the experience of an anti-terrorist operation conducted in June 2006 at the Forest Gate area of London when a resident of Pakistani origin was wrongly shot at. This latter incident also led to tension and mistrust within the Muslim community residing in the area who accused the British police of racial and religious bias. On the other hand, Hizb ut- Tahrir, as proposed by Blair, cannot be proscribed because of protests from human rights organisations. Al Muhajiroun is presently working under different names like Al Ghurabaa' (The Strangers), the Saved Sect, etc.

    As far as events outside the UK are concerned, the stationing of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and casualties incurred in these places have remained an issue of public debate. Events like the irresponsible publication of cartoons by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten depicting the Prophet as a suicide bomber have not only fomented unprecedented reactions around the world but also underlined an oft-repeated complaint against the European media of being biased against Islam and the Muslims. Though the European Muslim community in general and the British Muslim community in particular has shown ideal restraint during the cartoon controversy, this kind of provocative publication does not serve any productive purpose for continued inter-faith and inter-community dialogue in Europe. Charges of renditions of terrorist suspects in clandestine detention centres by the American CIA across Europe have been not only a matter of transatlantic debate but also among human rights organisations, the Council of Europe and European national governments.

    Significantly, the British government published two reports in May 2006. One report, prepared by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC - an all-party parliamentary committee), deals with British security thinking, counter-terrorism policy and a comprehensive awareness of the threat of radicalisation and its application to strategic thinking. Another was the British Government's detailed official account of the terrorist attacks on July 7 and the social background of the suicide bombers. Furthermore, the British government has also come out with a kind of an Action Taken Report in response to the ISC document. These two reports have been definitely illuminating and enable readers to furnish themselves with interesting facts about the suicide bombers, their previous lives, achievements in British society and their sudden radicalisation and adoption of terrorist means. Both reports have some similarities in terms of their exhaustive elaboration of the different levels of security alerts, their justification, and resources available for intelligence agencies to address some specific cases. But they have not attempted to address larger political issues like British foreign policy and seemed to have confined themselves to issues within British frontiers. For instance, the official account does not embark upon the issue of the War on Iraq in any way. In the whole document Iraq is mentioned only four times and that too only to compile the chronology of global terrorist activities.

    As the world commemorates the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks in London, the immediate terrorist threat for Britain has not decreased. Undoubtedly, the threat is indigenous, and has not only European and transatlantic but global ramifications as well. The existence of terrorist sleeper cells on British soil, their planning and potential to attack targets (domestic and elsewhere) and the long-term strategy of terrorist organisations to infiltrate the British intelligence set-up are not imaginary or hyped but real. However, the security conundrum in a liberal democracy like Britain is expected to continue as the experience of the last one year demonstrates.

    A substantial improvement in this regard needs to be mentioned here - the European Commission has recently proposed that in order to increase judicial co-operation amongst EU members, in future decisions pertaining to Justice and Home Affairs issues would be taken up on the basis of qualified majority voting and not on the basis of unanimity amongst members. The present Finnish EU presidency is expected to deal with the proposal. Given increasing cooperation among European agencies especially after the Madrid and London terrorist attacks, the solution to the terrorist menace lies partially in closer global co-operation amongst the affected nations. Strategic issues like checking the trend of radicalisation amongst a part of Muslim youth in Europe would have different European versions and need to be primarily dealt with at the national level while at the same time drawing upon lessons from other nations as well.