NATIONAL SECURITY: by John MillerNews Weekly
Heightened terror threat likely in 2011
, February 5, 2011
Last week’s terrorist attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport should not come as a surprise or shock to anyone. For some time, Western intelligence and security services have reported an increase in Internet "chatter" by terrorists.
From material I received, the Indian press set the ball rolling in early October last year, with the announcement that US intelligence sources had revealed that Osama bin Laden had personally ordered simultaneous "Mumbai-style terrorist attacks" on Britain, France and Germany (Hindustan Times
, October 3, 2010).
The report was verified by both the US’s National Public Radio and the European media.
I have previously written on the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 26, 2008 (see News Weekly
, December 20, 2008). It was a commando operation, with suicide being the fall-back plan, and was to be repeated in Pakistan with the attack on the Police Academy in Lahore and the quite extraordinary attack on the touring Sri Lankan cricketers, captured on CC-TV and video as well as by cameras in ubiquitous cell-phones.
In Britain, on November 24 last year, the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Stephenson, warned that the terror threat in the UK was at a three-year high.
He said: "In my judgment, and this is a view shared by my senior colleagues in the Security Service, this is undoubtedly as dangerous a time as we have seen for the UK, and UK interests abroad, since the attempted attacks on the Tiger-Tiger nightclub in London and Glasgow airport in 2007. There can be no complacency" (UK Daily Mail
, November 25, 2010).
Reaction in the field came with a series of raids coordinated by the West Midlands Police, in association with other police forces and Britain’s state security service MI5, on December 20, which resulted in 12 people arrested, three of whom were promptly released.
The remaining nine comprised three from Cardiff, four from Stoke-on-Trent/Birmingham and two from London. Further details are scant at this stage, but the London duo are believed to be from the Towers district, notorious for active al Qaeda cells among migrants from Bangladesh. Nationalities of the others are not fully known, but at least two were Somali.
With Christmas presents barely unwrapped, the authorities in Denmark and Sweden pounced on more suspects. On December 31, the French press agency AFP announced that the Danish intelligence service PET, in collaboration with the Swedish security police SAPO, had arrested five men in an attempted attack on the staff of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten
, which had caused controversy in 2005, with the publications of caricatures and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Again, this was a commando-style operation, as those arrested were heavily armed. It led to the Danish Justice Minister Lars Barfoed stating that the plot was "terrifying … and probably the most serious terror attempt in Denmark".
At least three of those arrested were Swedish residents. One was an Iraqi who was released but still likely to face charges. The ethnic background of the other two is unclear, but they are believed to have been Tunisian and Lebanese. (The Australian
, December 31, 2010).
The UK authorities have made some attempt to play down any possible connection between these arrests and bin Laden’s orders, but suspicion lingers. It is possible that this muted reaction had more to do with preventing public panic.
Then, on New Year’s Eve, came a deadly assault on Egyptian Christians - an attack by a suicide bomber on a Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria, which killed 21 worshippers. This prompted a series of riots by Coptic Christians. According to the AFP press agency, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak condemned both the attack and the Coptic community’s reaction.
In my various online articles elsewhere, I have seldom mentioned the Middle East in any great detail. However, Christians are being systematically driven out of the Middle East, where they have lived for centuries. As with the attacks in the UK and Europe, the hand of al Qaeda has often been detected behind the current wave of persecutions.
As a consequence of the dramatic upsurge in terror activity chronicled above, many of the intelligence and security services I mentioned earlier were at a high degree of alert over the Christmas/New Year period. Fundamentalist Islamic terrorism acknowledges no break in activities for holidays, be they Christian or Muslim, let alone Jewish. We are repeatedly assured that Islam is a religion of peace, and yet during Ramadan and during the Hajj the proponents of terror continue their deadly work.
There has been considerable debate in the intelligence community and among so-called experts about the continued viability of al Qaeda.
I myself am on record as stating that if such an organisation were decapitated, it would be much more difficult to monitor and control; and while US drones take out al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the euphemistically named "collateral damage", usually civilians, means that recruitment to the cause is easier and the motivation increased.
Undoubtedly, al Qaeda has been hurt by US and allied military operations, but terrorist organisations have the flexibility to regroup and, above all, the initiative always remains with the aggressor.
The latest issue of Vanity Fair
magazine carries an article by Peter Bergen, entitled "Bin Laden’s lonely crusade". Bergen urges the West to keep the threat from al Qaeda "in perspective". He counsels the West to keep calm in the face of terrorist attacks.
He maintains that "the real damage is done by the panic and lashing out that follows". He says: "This is the reaction that al Qaeda craves - and it is why terrorism works. It’s easy to understand the emergence of a culture of paranoia coupled with a rhetoric of vengeance. Prudence, calmness, and patience seem almost pusillanimous by comparison. But they work." (Vanity Fair
, January 2011).
And to keep the pot bubbling, so to speak, American commentators Robert Weiner and James Lewis have announced that Osama bin Laden is dead! (Washington Times
, December 23, 2010). How they arrived at this belief in the absence of conclusive supporting evidence is a great mystery.
Regrettably, I cannot agree with them. If bin Laden is dead, then it may be said of him (with apologies to George Lucas, apropos of Star Wars IV
) that, once struck down, he will become more powerful than we can possibly imagine.
Alive or dead, bin Laden is both a totem and a leader, highly necessary as a focus of loyalty for fanatical groups. I wonder if Vanity Fair
’s Mr Bergen would have been so sanguine about the terror threat had he known of all the plots thwarted in the West during the year 2010 and the casualty list of those killed in the name of "Allah the Wise and the Merciful".
According to Gadi Adelman, of the US-based Family Security Matters
website (January 3, 2011), here are the numbers of casualties for the year 2010:
Total Islamic terror attacks: 1,987.
Total dead: 9,175.
Total of critically injured: 17,436.
Australia itself, whether we fully appreciate it or not, is part of the world struggle against Islamic fundamentalism.
Before we sink back into our customary post-New Year torpor, it would be prudent to remember the conviction in Melbourne on December 23 last year of three Islamic fundamentalists who planned an attack on the Holsworthy army base in south-west Sydney.
That evening, ABC television broadcast a no-nonsense and realistic assessment of Australia as a terrorist target by Dr Carl Ungerer, director of the national security program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
Dr Ungerer warned that "Australia remains the gold medal target for al Qaeda and its operatives" (The 7:30 Report
, ABC TV, December 23, 2010).
This courageous interview was predictably contradicted the next morning on ABC Radio’s current affairs program AM
by Professor Clive Williams of the Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism at Macquarie University, who had a more benign assessment.
I know whom I’d prefer to believe and why; but does the public?
Finally, to prove the old adage that the more things change the more they stay the same, any hopes that the West could relax its guard during 2011 were quickly dispelled by further warnings, issued by the British Government of David Cameron, of an impending attack by so-called "homegrown terrorists" (UK Daily Mail
, January 6, 2011).
In a more extensive account, US writer Jim Kouri revealed that Britain’s state security service MI5 had alerted aviation and police officials that al Qaeda may be planning a terrorist attack against a British airport or other British target in a threat described as credible, according to sources at the British Home Office and New Scotland Yard (Renew America
, January 9, 2011).
The unseasonably cold weather in the northern hemisphere may have slightly hindered preparations for further attacks. Nevertheless, cooperation between the UK and US counter-terrrorist forces remains active and close, with US teams currently present in the UK, including one from the New York City Police Department’s intelligence division. The NYPD is arguably one of the finest counter-terrorist forces operating today, and it has had demonstrable successes.
However, it says a great deal about US anxieties that it has teams on the ground in the UK and that American intelligence sources are extremely worried about Great Britain being a staging point and recruitment ground for terrorists operating against both countries.
There is currently no complacency in either the UK or the US.
The UK’s terrorist threat level, issued by MI5, is currently at its highest level (i.e., severe). The US’s terrorist threat level, issued by the US Department of Homeland Security, is currently elevated, with the airline threat, not surprisingly, standing at high.News Weekly
readers might be interested to know that the threat level in Australia is currently assessed as medium.
I myself, however, am not so sanguine. Nor, I suspect, is Dr Ungerer.John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.
"US warns citizens of potential threat in Europe", Hindustan Times
(New Delhi), October 3, 2010.
John Miller, "Will Australia heed the lessons of Mumbai?", News Weekly
, December 20, 2008.
"UK terror threat is greatest since 2007 nightclub attack, says Met chief", Daily Mail
(UK), November 25, 2010.
"Terrorists in Danish court over plot to avenge cartoon", The Australian
, December 31, 2010.
Peter Bergen, "Bin Laden's lonely crusade", Vanity Fair
, January 2011.
Robert Weiner and James Lewis, "Osama bin Laden is dead", Washington Times
, December 23, 2010.
Gadi Adelman's "9175 Dead Worldwide, Happy New Year!", Family Security Matters
, January 3, 2011)
Dr Carl Ungerer interviewed in: "The terror within", The 7:30 Report
, ABC TV, December 23, 2010.
Professor Clive Williams interviewed in: "African terror links in doubt", AM
program, ABC Radio, December 24, 2010.
"New terror alert hits trains and airports amid fears of Mumbai-style attack in London", Daily Mail
(UK), January 6, 2011.
Jim Kouri, "British brace for possible terror attack", Renew America
, January 9, 2011.
British state security service MI5's warning about terrorist threat levels.
US Department of Homeland Security's estimate of terrorist threat levels.
Australian Government National Security: National Terrorism Public Alert System