Woolwich killing: The long-feared attack

 

Wednesday's events in Woolwich have shocked the UK - but this was precisely the kind of attack that security chiefs have long feared could come.

Graphic footage from ITV News shows a man with bloodied hands making political statements

The warning signs that a soldier would one day be targeted on the streets of Britain can be found in the heart of al-Qaeda's violent ideology and how that has been interpreted by followers in the UK and other Western nations.

The mindset of violent jihadists is influenced by many different factors - but one common factor among those who have been involved in acts of politically-motivated violence is the basic principle that they oppose a Western presence in the Islamic world.

Sometimes when purely political Islamists refer to this presence, they mean cultural pollution - the arrival of influences that they don't particularly want to see. Think scantily clad pop stars beamed around the world on satellite TV.

But for jihadists, it really comes down to the presence of soldiers - and an entire framework of belief that sees those personnel, whatever role they have been given under international law, as the enemy of Islam. That argument is often backed up with graphic images online of the suffering of ordinary women and children. It's all designed to whip up anger and a sense of burning injustice - the kind of injustice that leads people to be convinced that something must be done.

Now, most people who feel a sense of injustice obviously combat it in purely peaceful means. The point about terrorism is that the sense of injustice becomes a springboard for mental somersaults in the mind of someone who thinks that indiscriminate violence can create justice.

Bilal Abdulla was the Iraqi doctor who tried to bomb London and Glasgow Airport in 2007. At his trial he spoke clearly and coherently about how he became radicalised because he perceived that the British and Americans were murdering his people, rather than liberating a country from a dictator.

Back to the main point. The UK has witnessed a series of protests by radical Islamist groups that have been organised to specifically protest against soldiers who have served in Afghanistan.

The most infamous of these was an extremely tense incident in 2009 when a now-banned organisation disrupted a homecoming parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment in Luton.

Man at scene of Woolwich incident This man was photographed brandishing a knife and speaking to a woman at the scene

The difficulty for the security services is establishing who is simply letting off steam and who is genuinely on the road to becoming a threat to public safety. What makes that job harder is that plotters are increasingly working alone, undirected from what remains of al-Qaeda's leadership. Armed with the ideology, they're expected to just get on with whatever terrible plan they have.

So while every counter-terrorism intelligence operation starts with trying to get into the head of an "individual of interest" - it's ultimately about whether they are dangerous.

This underbelly of anger over the military's role overseas has regularly featured in major counter-terrorism prosecutions - but it has also been part of attack plans on previous occasions.

In 2007, a joint investigation by the police and MI5 apprehended a Birmingham man who wanted to kidnap a British soldier. Parviz Khan wanted to emulate jihadists in Iraq by beheading a serviceman on camera before circulating the film online. He's now serving a life sentence.

The most well-known comparable anti-military incident elsewhere is the Fort Hood shootings in the USA, in which 13 people were killed by an army major reportedly radicalised by an al-Qaeda cleric.

More recently, two other groups in the UK have been jailed after considering targeting soldiers.

One of these cells talked about attacking Wootton Bassett, the Wiltshire town that used to come to a standstill as the bodies of personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were repatriated.

The justification consistently deployed by extremists involved in these incidents is that the military took the war to Muslim countries - so they are now bringing it back.

"We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," said the Woolwich attacker who spoke with a London accent.

"I apologise that women have had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same."

The fear of failure

But there is another reason why this kind of attack was feared - the question of whether it represents a failure.

We have discovered that now the suspects were "known" to the authorities. That doesn't at this stage explain at all which agency knew precisely what and when, other than they had featured in "several investigations" in recent years but were not deemed to be involved in attack planning. There is a suggestion that one of the men may have been stopped by a security agency while travelling abroad - but the detail of that is very unclear.

The Security Service and police have finite resources - which is why they seek to focus on the most dangerous or immediate threats - and then later try to find out what they can about anyone else on the "periphery" of that investigation.

The P word emerged some years ago when it emerged that MI5 and the police had partial information about the ringleader of the 7/7 bombs. They both insisted at the later inquests they had no intelligence that he would become a threat to life.

So these are the questions that the security services will now need to answer: did they know very little - or did they know enough to justify devoting further resources to investigating either man.

The shadow of 7/7 looms large in the intelligence and security community because these people don't want to be accused of making a mistake that costs lives.

 
Dominic Casciani Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • Comment number 1833.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1832.

    Dan_Dover 1482:

    "#1469.The 90s Were Boring

    "The Zionist BBC"

    You are joking right? The BBC has been widely accused of having a pro-Palestinian bias."


    The BBC is accused by all sorts of people and groups of being biased in the opposite direction, whenever it does not wholeheartedly support their own viewpoint.

    I generally regard that as good evidence that the BBC gets it roughly correct.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1831.

    This is all an overstatement of two aggrieved disaffected men who wanted to kill someone out of their own sadness. When the Soviet Union & China stood up and said "We are Communists", the world was happy to have a label to deride. When these two men decided to sanctify their murderous acts by claiming it was Jihad, too many are happy to label them as Islamic terrorists. They are just are just scum

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1830.

    This profoundly sad day might be a good time to realise that there is and can be no such thing as 'racism'. Homo sapiens is the last human race left. There is only one human race - scientific fact. The problem we have is culturism and cultures can be changed...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1829.

    This is the price we pay for immigration. People pretending they are British but their real loyalties are, as is natural, with their real ancestral lands and beliefs. Real nationality is only ancestral how more obvious must it become. Close borders, return where possible all migrants.

    14 mins for the police to turn up? Did they have to finish their tea break first?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1828.

    Ref 801.chezza100
    6 Minutes ago

    The disgusting men who undertook this sickening act were born and raised in Britian.
    -----------------------------
    That apparently doesn't make them "Brittish".
    I suggest they leave to live where they think life is so wonderful because they and their fanatical relgious beliefs are not wanted here.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1827.

    Terrorists these days use Islam as an excuse for their actions.

    Extremes of any soceity, including the EDL are bad for society.

    Its terrible whats happened but I also agree with other posts that things were different when Stephen Lawrance was murdered.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1826.

    @1736.Ackerley & 1725.Simpletics
    what is most surprising is that you think Hitler & his followers were honest & not only that but consistantly honest, they were neither honest nor consistant

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler%27s_religious_views
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Was_the_Nazi_party_socialists

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1825.

    A few more attacks like this and enough British people will change their voting habits to bring in some very nasty far-right political party. Immigration will be stopped, burkhas will be banned, mosques will stop getting planning permission, there will be mass deportations and no doubt our economy will be properly doomed. Muslims need to actively educate their own now for ALL of our benefit.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1824.

    In Islam, as in the rest of the community, the silent majority has no sway.

    Until moderate followers of Islam are prepared to stand up and put their own house in order these events will continue to happen.

    I can understand why they chose not to.

    As a civilised country we have no means of dealing with those outside of civilisation.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1823.

    EDL. English Defence League. Went out and attacked English police officers on the same day an English soldier was slaughtered by muslims. Yes, you really defended and represented England well last night. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1822.

    Our immigration system doesn't work

    The asylum system doesn't work

    The benefit system doesn't work

    Our criminal justice system doesn't work


    Successive governments either think these things are working well or are too frightened to make serious reforms.

    We desperately need a government to make serious reforms

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1821.

    Maybe I am missing something, but I don't understand the OTT media coverage about this incident. Yes, there has been a brutal murder, but how exactly has the link been made to terrorism? I think the PM has been irresponsible in declaring this an act of terror (+@ the same making the public fearful) without having all of the facts to hand.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 1820.

    "1777.grumpysleepless
    Just look around the world and tell me who is involved in every trouble spot."

    The USA and their lapdog, the UK, generally. Particularly if there is oil involved.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1819.

    Keep Calm, don't mention Religion, Race, or 'Immigration for votes', and carry on with your head in the sand.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1818.

    "in our land women have to witness this sort of thing..." hang on a minute he was born in the UK !!!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1817.

    1803.Simpletics
    The EDL have been warning about this,
    /////////
    Their followers/member can't even tell EDF apart from EDL judging by tweets the former have been receiving, so why anyone with half a brain would even want to be associated with them is a mystery to say the least.

  • Comment number 1816.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1815.

    All you lefties out there,if you dont change how you vote,this once great country is heading into the abyss.Just think what kind of country this will become if you keep voting for the three main left wing parties.In just 40years we now have cities with more immigrants than British people.Your children and grandchildren will suffer if you dont change the way you vote.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 1814.

    If terrorists hated us because of our freedom, their hatred should only be a relatively mild discontent now.

    Terrorists hate us because of how our govt's interventions in their domestic affairs. It's simple. Once we understand our govt's selfish actions cause this cycle of violence, we can stop it.

    1790.Mark_from_Manchester
    Despite your poor examples, they're freer: http://www.freetheworld.com/

 

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