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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Second Wave of London Bombings 

You will probably be aware that, two weeks on from the shocking terrorist attacks against three tube trains and one bus in London, a second wave of attacks took place.

There are two main messages in these attacks - the intended message and the unintended message.

The intended message was that the terrorists can deliver terror payloads one after another, at will. The selection of three trains and a bus - the same target pattern as the first wave - seems designed to communicate the message: "We will attack at the time and place of our choosing, even when you are at your highest level of alert."

However, the failure of this second wave communicates an important unintended message. While the use of home-grown, 'cleanskin', minimally trained operatives in suicide attacks is terrifying and poses major problems for counter-terrorism efforts, it seems such people still need intensive training and the help of highly skilled explosives experts in order to carry off a smooth attack.

After the first attacks, it was discovered that the suicide bombers had travelled to Pakistan, where they were exposed to radical Islamic teachings, and presumably given rudimentary training. It was also found that a foreign terrorist minder had flown out of Heathrow just before the first attacks took place.

Al-Qaeda's operational model requires that operatives 'emigrate' (hijrah) to areas of training and preparation before returning to the target country to carry out 'raids' (ghazwah). The importance of thorough training and indoctrination is emphasised. As Usama bin Laden has said, "He who migrates repeatedly is doubly rewarded."

All four bombs in this attack failed to explode, presumably because they were constructed by less well trained operatives. It has also been reported that the amateurish would-be bombers left a treasure trove of forensic evidence.

The details of the London attacks therefore show that the proverbial "guy next door" can't suddenly 'become' a terrorist after all. By keeping an eye on the behaviour of those who travel to countries where terrorists operate, the authorities can thwart future attacks.
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