Fear (Part IV)… June 22, 2006Posted by WorldbyStorm in Iraq.
According to various news reports today Al-Quaida had multiple plots during 2003 to hijack aircraft in Britain, the US, Italy and Australia. Targets included Canary Wharf and Heathrow (here). Savvy to the new security measures introduced on domestic flights A-Q decided that international flights presented less of a challenge, and had various gimmickry including stun guns and bombs that they hoped to use to storm cockpits.
According to the report, in words which will no doubt send an icy chill down the spine of aviation industry executives worldwide:
"The Department of Homeland Security continues to receive information on terrorist threats to the US aviation industry and to the western aviation industry worldwide.
"But there is no recent information to suggest near-term operational planning for an aviation attack within the United States."
So that's alright then. Or is it?
After all, the thrust of the report makes clear that the threat is likely to come "less effective security screening at some foreign airports".
In some respects it's hard to know what to make of all this. The information relates to events three years ago. There has been no significant Al-Qaida attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings (depending no what one's view of the London underground bombings and their provenance), and none in the US since 9/11. The information was garnered from a computer hard drive, as I understand it, yet in some respects it appears like back of an envelope musings, although it will be interesting to see the detail, should it be forthcoming. And what's the purpose of the exercise? There can be few people who board an international flight these days who aren't aware of the necessity to be vigilant.
The big problem here is that Al-Qaida as an international terrorist organisation has gone remarkably, and thankfully, quiescent in the past two years. That's not to say it doesn't exist, but so far no sleeper cells have manifested themselves in violent acts.
And this is puzzling, if only because as an organisation it appears to thrive on symbolic and murderous acts. Which makes one wonder just how many A-Q terrorist cells exist out there? Perhaps many, but perhaps more likely few, and with relatively little capability to act in concert at the level we saw on September 11. Perhaps the Afghanistan war by denying A-Q a logistics base (excuse the pun) undermined many possible actions it sought to take. But it's possible that the Iraq war, in a fairly ghastly irony, turned the focus of those who might well be motivated to join or imitate A-Q away from Europe and the US and towards Baghdad and environs.
A further thought. So far, and I'm aware that tomorrow or the next day's headlines might bring news that would undercut the ideas I'm expressing here, the 'imitation effect' of A-Q within Europe and the US appears to be limited.
And this leads to another problem. I can entirely accept the concept of 'asymmetric warfare', but the asymmetry appears to be such that, although a real and pressing danger exists from Islamist terror and Al-Qaida in particular, it is on a level which is – at this point – relatively containable. Those carrying out actions on behalf of A-Q or those imitating it have none of the nous or expertise of the indigenous terrorist organisations previously seen in Europe. That could change, but probably not rapidly.
This has ramifications which those in power in the US and Europe might do well to reflect upon.
I've criticised Madeleine Bunting for an overly rosy view of religion (not that she's noticed), but in one respect she's absolutely correct. Crucial to societal security in the near to medium term is a serious political engagement with the broad moderate Muslim community in both Europe and the US – which arguably has remained steadfastly moderate in the past five years or so.
Superheated talk about hi-jackings arguably detracts from the much more insidious threat from home-made explosives and suchlike, potentially alienates the very community one wishes to reach out to, and serves to exaggerate fears of acts that while possible remain unlikely.