01 July 2007

Government goofs on London and Glasgow car bombing attempts

The UK government’s reaction to the recent failed car-bomb attacks in London and Glasgow is deeply flawed in two respects: the threat of another attack and the origin of the attacks.
While the government has increased the terrorism threat level to critical, the highest since just after the 7/7 bombings two years ago, the threat is actually extremely low now. Basically, this group of terrorists have blown their wad and they are on the run.
What I find infuriating is that UK counter terrorist forces had recently noticed that there was an increase in radical Islamist chatter on the internet hinting that a heavily populated area would soon be attacked and they kept quiet about it. The threat was imminent on Thursday afternoon, not now.
The horses are gone, so we might as well leave the barn door open.

Foreign origins?
The other worrisome development is that the government is looking for some foreign tie, namely Al Qaeda.
I will make a prediction, which I rarely do, when this is all investigated, it will be found that there is no connection with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organisation. There may be a connection with someone who is foreign and maybe fought in Iraq, but without a formal tie. The chief reason I say this is that the attacks were stunningly incompetent.

Attack of the knuckleheads
The aspect of the attacks that made me sit up and pay attention was that the buffoons behind them didn’t know what they were doing at nearly every level. They clearly didn’t know how to make a bomb (more on that in a bit). They didn’t appear to know that central London is a bad place to park illegally unless you want your car ticketed, clamped and towed in ten minutes flat (those Nigerian parking wardens don’t mess around). Nor did they appear to know that every street in central London has more cameras than a Japanese tour group.
Two of the car “bombs” were easily identified as dangerous, the first by paramedics at Tiger Tiger night club and the second at the impound because of petrol fumes.
The cars had petrol cans, propane tanks and nails and what from news reports sounded like mobile phones set up as alarm clocks, presumably to make a spark. I think the wanna-be MacGyvers had watched too many Die Hard films and didn’t pay enough attention in chemistry class. They packed the cars with stuff that burns in the presence heat and oxygen. They may have had the spark, but without the oxygen, there was nothing for the petrol fumes to react with.
Perhaps they were trying to create a fuel-air explosive, which is a mixture of some flammable substance and oxygen in the air. Such explosions can be very powerful. In military circles they are often known as thermobaric weapons and can be devastating. However, to make them work, one must have a small charge diffuse the fuel into the atmosphere and mix it with oxygen in just the right proportions and then another charge to ignite it. While devastating, they are very difficult to make. The rocket scientists in the attacks didn’t have a charge to diffuse the gas nor a charge to ignite it. Maybe they thought the gas would leak out until it reached the right proportion, instead of just dissipating (again, chemistry class would have helped, partial pressure and all that).
Then comes the nails. Clearly these nincompoops thought the nails would make good shrapnel, which it would have, if they’d actually had a bomb in the cars. If they had somehow succeeded through divine intervention in creating a fuel-air explosion, the explosion would have been generated by the fumes around the car and the vehicle would have been crushed like a tin can and the nails would have been gift wrapped in sheet metal.
I think the worst that could have happened, if the pinheads in London had rolled down the windows and left something burning inside the cars, is one hell of a fire with some red-hot nails in it. You wouldn’t want to stand next to it, but it wouldn’t take out a building. Probably the worst that would happen is what actually happened to the car at Glasgow airport. It got the fire department out of bed and scared a lot of people.

Al Qaeda?
The sheer incompetence of the attacks leads me to believe that Al Qaeda was not involved. That’s not to say that Al Qaeda attacks are always competent, they aren’t. But they have a pretty good history of not being complete, lemon-sucking morons when it comes to making things go bang — just think of the 1993 bomb in the World Trade Center parking garage and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.
When it comes to terrorism, Al Qaeda has historically worked like a terrorism venture capital fund. People approach Al Qaeda with a business plan. If it is approved, they receive training and funding to carry it out. If the clowns who just tried to attack London and Glasgow airport had even a little bit of training, they might have hurt someone, other than themselves that is.
But it is unlikely that Al Qaeda is still in the business of international terrorist venture fund. I would think that they would be devoting their energies to helping the Taliban kick the infidels out of Afghanistan and establishing a theocratic caliphate in Iraq (a long stated goal of theirs). It is possible that they would make the calculation that killing people in the UK might hasten the departure of UK forces from Iraq. However, I think that the Western military presence has proved to be a tremendous recruiting tool for Al Qaeda itself and affiliated organisations. Certainly, if I were Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (which has sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda), I would want to keep the infidels in Iraq as long as possible to help swell the ranks.

Al Qaedaism
It is unlikely that Al Qaeda as an organisation was involved. But the attackers, which were probably home-grown British Muslims, seemed to share the same philosophy. This is a much more serious issue. It’s not Al Qaeda, but Al Qaedaism. I’m not much of one for “–isms”, but I think it’s appropriate here. There is a rising tide of Muslims who adhere to Al Qaeda’s philosophy and agenda. That philosophy channels the anger of the adherents and allows them to hate and plot murder with a clear conscience, indeed, even to feel noble about doing things that are the purest expression of evil I know of (I have a mental image of a smiling bearded man saying, “That’s right folks, I’m better than you because I pray five times a day, don’t eat pork and murder innocent children for my god”).
A philosophy is much harder to stop than an organisation. Toppling Saddam was easy. All that had to be done was defeating his military and then finding him. Toppling Al Qaedaism is likely to prove very difficult. It is a trans-national social movement that must be stopped with the tools of culture and philosophy. That is a much harder fight and likely requires the West to govern itself and its relations with the Muslim world in a way that is rational and compassionate to provide a philosophy that is more attractive. The current trend is just the opposite. Both the US and the UK have been run corruptly for the benefit of the wealthy to the detriment of all other, both domestically and abroad. Convincing people to give up their anger and religious fantasies in return for the opportunity to be abused and ignored is non-starter.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderfully worded

02 July, 2007 09:04  
Blogger Terri Lloyd said...

"A philosophy is much harder to stop than an organisation."

Great article. And the above quote is a fantastic observation. Too bad the powers that be don't get it.

02 July, 2007 15:05  
Blogger Jaco said...

This article mirrors my thoughts on the incompetence of the attempted attacks on London.

But terrorism is nothing compared to what we do to ourselves in its aftermath. As far as terrorist acts go, the worst fear is probably a dirty bomb. It has the potential to kill and to keep killing long after. It can make vital infrastructure unusable for a very long time and thereby have much more than the physical effect of death. Economically the effect of terrorism is to make people frightened and behind their closed doors and prevents them from interacting like a society should.

But now we find ourselves doing the same thing anyway. Governments and businesses spend millions on extra security. We spend double, even triple the amount of time in airports and customs and endless queues. We distrust every second person we see with a backpack or a birka. In a city as multicultural as London we find ourselves(in every racial and cultural background) hiding away from what might happen. So afraid and paranoid have we become that we end up "destroying our way of life" ourselves.

02 July, 2007 23:21  
Blogger Johann said...

I can't help noticing that the timing of these "attacks" reek of conspiracy. Could it be intelligence services masterminding it all to scare the new Brown government away from their slight shift towards the left, compared with the Blair government? Just to remind them that terrorism's "threat is real and here to stay"?

Away with privacy laws! Break down every single person's resistance to oppressive governments! All hail the great and strong leader! New World Order here we come!

03 July, 2007 11:39  
Blogger The Yank Abroad said...

In response to comments, Jaco, I agree entirely. If terrorism moves up a notch to radiological or other major types of attack -- say a competent anthrax attack or a couple of tons of ricin in the water supply -- then limiting personal freedoms will be inevitable. Shy of that, we're panicking over nothing.
Johan, I don't buy the conspiracy theory. The two in the airport in Glasgow seemed to think they were going to die in a blaze of glory. It's hard enough to get someone to try to kill themselves with the promise of paradise. It's basically impossible to get someone to lay down their life for the cause of authoritarian bureaucrats.

04 July, 2007 10:23  
Anonymous Bonita said...

Thanks for writing this.

11 November, 2008 00:06  

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