- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Are we witnessing a resurgence of al Qaeda and groups affiliated with Osama bin Laden’s terror franchise? Consider the following incidents, which unfolded within the space of 24 hours in Great Britain alone.

Two booby-trapped cars in central London: the first packed with gasoline, butane and nails, in London’s Haymarket, not far from Piccadilly Circus, in the heart of London’s tourist district. The suspicious car was reported to police by ambulance personnel responding to an unrelated incident in a nearby nightclub. Scotland Yard’s bomb disposal units were on the scene within minutes and successfully defused the bomb before it could cause any damage. Later in the day, a second car bomb was discovered and rendered harmless.

Yet sometime later, two men drove a flaming car into the terminal at Scotland’s Glasgow Airport. As the men left the car and tried to run from the scene, one became engulfed in a ball of fire. But both men were quickly apprehended by bystanders who saw them ram the car into the glass terminal building.

The two suspects were handed over to police who are now conducting a major operation to identify the terrorists. The immediate question police will want to answer is: Were the culprits acting alone, or were they part of a larger plan meant to achieve two prime objectives?

First, to cause as many casualties as possible in Britain, something that would frighten people away from public transportation for a while. That is easily deduced by the presence of the butane canisters and especially by the nails found in the vehicle. The force of the blast was meant to propel the nails at an incredible velocity through the air, sending these deadly pieces of shrapnel into anyone caught within its range.

Second, the timing of these intended explosions is no coincidence either, and was intended to send two further messages.

The first message was meant to frighten potential tourists away from London just as the summer tourist season kicks off. London is one of the world’s prime tourist destinations. Had the terrorists’ ploy worked there are good chances tourists would have been frightened away. The result would have been tens of thousands of cancellations of hotel rooms and airline seats. This in turn would have a ripple effect on the British economy, affecting everything from restaurants to retailers to taxi drivers, theaters, car rentals, etc.

The second, hitting where the money hurts, is the sort of message the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a former chancellor of the exchequer, would understand. And, this is precisely the message the would-be terrorists might have wanted to send to Prime Minister Brown on his first day on the job at No. 10 Downing Street. Messing with the economy is a message Mr. Brown would immediately understand and quite possibly react to.

But judging from the description of the bombs, it does not appear these devices fit the typical al Qaeda modus operandi. Indeed, for the moment at least, and from what the British police have learned so far, the belief is that these operations were more in line with homegrown terrorism than the more “professional” terrorist operations carried out by al Qaeda.

London police were quick to draw similarities between the most recent events and the July 7, 2005, attacks on the London underground and a London bus that resulted in the killing of more than 50 people.

British police have managed to detain five suspects they believe are linked to the bomb plot. With closed circuit television cameras covering vast areas of Britain, and London in particular, there are good — make that excellent — chances Scotland Yard will be able to identify the driver, or the passenger of the initial car, the gray Mercedes left outside a London nightclub.

Yet Britain is not alone in seeing a resurgence of terrorist activity. Attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq left close to 100 American soldiers and Marines dead and many more wounded during the month of June alone. The surge of U.S. forces President Bush hoped would help quell some of the insurgency has been met by the insurgents’ own surge.

Meanwhile, in north Lebanon, the Lebanese army has engaged in fierce clashes with a group of Islamist fighters calling themselves Fatah al-Islam for more than a month. In the south of the country, a roadside bomb killed several Spanish soldiers serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, the blue-helmeted peace force meant to separate Israel from initially the Palestinians, but now from the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.

Hezbollah condemned the attack against the Spanish troops and vowed to track down the perpetrators. If Hezbollah is truthful in their denial of involvement in the attack on UNIFIL troops, and there should be no reason to doubt their sincerity in this aspect, then there are good chances of Hezbollah tracking and finding the culprits. But if this does come to pass it’s more likely than not to happen in secrecy, with Hezbollah announcing the facts at a later date. Regardless, the region has rarely before been so precarious.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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