By Benjamin Wakefield (2015)
On the 7th of July 2005, four men separately detonated homemade organic peroxide based devices across the London Transport Network. Three bombs were detonated within 50 seconds of each other at 08:49am across London Underground trains, and the final bomb was detonated at 09:47am on the top floor of a double-decker bus at Tavistock Square. 52 innocent victims were killed and more than 700 were injured. All 4 bombers were instantly killed in the attack.
The report immediately labels the perpetrators of the attack as “home-grown terrorists” (Jeffery & Smith, 2005) and states that the “London terror bombings were the first suicide attacks on British soil” (Ibid.). It again uses the label of ‘terrorist’ in the second paragraph to describe the bomb attack “that killed at least 52 people” (Ibid.). Aside from this labelling at the start, the article is strictly factual in its reporting of the incident. It refers to the “Pakistani origin” (Ibid.) of three of the bombers, the actions of the police in trying to “establish the movements of the four men” (Ibid.) responsible, and information regarding police raids and controlled explosions carried out in relation to the attacks.
The report makes no assumptions and does not speculate about any aspect of the incident. There is no mention of potential motives for the attacks, to the religion or political beliefs of the perpetrators, or if any group other than the four individuals is responsible. The final paragraph mentions the Muslim Council “considering holding a national demonstration of protest against the terrorists” (Ibid.), however this is the only mention of Islam in the article.
Who perpetrated the violence? What were their motivations?
The contemporary Guardian article is consistent in its reporting of the perpetrators with the content of the 2006 official report of the bombings. Three of the bombers were British-born men of Pakistani immigrants, they were: Mohammed Sidique Khan, a 30 year old “’learning mentor’ for children with learning difficulties” (Rai, 2006: 25) and the leader of the attack, Shehzad Tanweer, a 22 year old cricketer whose parents “ran the local fish-and-chips shop” (Ibid.: 31), and Hasib Hussain, a “highly Westernized” (Ibid.: 46) 18 year old. The fourth bomber, who was initially unidentified, was Germaine Lindsay or ‘Abdullah Shaheed Jamal’, a 19 year old Jamaican born Christian who converted to Islam in 2001. He was described by a fellow pupil as, “really nice – one of those people who didn’t get into trouble.” (Ibid.: 38).
Despite the bombers’ apparently ‘normal’ and assimilated exteriors, they were, in fact, radicalised Muslim extremists and had ties to a number of notorious extremist organisations. The initial link was made to al-Qaeda, the global militant Islamist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, on the day of the explosions. A group calling itself ‘The Secret Organisation Group of al-Qaeda of Jihad Organisation in Europe’ claimed, “the heroic mujahideen have carried out a blessed raid in London.” (BBC, Statement Claiming London Attacks, 2005). Mujahideen, the plural of mujahid, is the Arabic term for an individual engaged in Jihad and implies that the perpetrators were part of an al-Qaeda organised attack. It celebrates them as heroes and shows clear support.
A further link to al-Qaeda came with the release of Mohammad Sidique Khan’s and Shehzad Tanweer’s respective martyrdom videos, both of which had been edited to include a statement by Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second in command of the group at the time, supporting the attacks. Khan also claims in his video that Osama Bin Laden and Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri are “today’s heroes” (BBC, London Bomber, 2005). Both videos were originally released by As-Sahab, the media production house of Al-Qaeda. As the men and al-Zawahiri appear in separate, edited shots in the videos, it could be claimed that there was no direct contact between them, but as Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed suggests, “it does indicate that Khan and his fellow bombers were operating within a wider network with links to al-Qaeda and al-Zawahiri” (Ahmed, 2006:53). This stance is supported by the government report, which suggests that despite a lack of evidence showing a direct link between them, “the target and mode of attack of the 7 July bombings are typical of Al Qaida and those inspired by its ideologies.” (Gov.uk Report, 2006: 21).
Mohammed Sidique Khan, as one would expect as the leader of the four bombers, “was the most deeply involved” (Silber, 2012:108). Silber claims that Khan had a number of friendships with members of al-Muhajiroun, the now banned British based Islamist extremist group, including “the al Qaeda facilitator – Mohammed Qayyum Khan [and] Crevice plotter – Mohammed Junaid Babar” (Ibid.). According to Hassan Butt, a former leading member of al-Muhajiroun, £3,500 had been raised at a Jihadist event in London to send recruits to training camps and within weeks “Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7/7 suicide bombers … [was] learning to make bombs at Malakand” (The Sunday Times, 2007), a notorious Al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan. The official report of the 7/7 bombings confirm that both Khan and Tanweer visited Pakistan “from 19 November 2004 to 8 February 2005 [and it] may have been an important element in [planning an attack in the UK]” (Gov.uk Report, 2006: 20).
It is also worth noting that all four of the bombers had “occasionally [visited] Finsbury Park Mosque in London, where Abu Hamza spoke” (Silber, 2012: 109). Hamza is a notorious radical preacher and associate of “London-based cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, founder and spiritual leader of the radical Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun” (Ahmed, 2006: 53) and “the numbers or militants who are Finsbury Park alumni testify to his prominence amongst jihadists” (Egerton, 2011: 146). From these relationships and interactions it is clear that at the very least al-Qaeda influenced the bombers, whist al-Muhajiroun played a pivotal role in the radicalisation, planning and organisation of the attack, with “Bakri a likely candidate for direct responsibility for the London Bombings” according to British counter-intelligence operative Glen Jenvey (Ahmed. 2006: 55).
The motivations for the attack are clearly explained in both Tanweer’s and Khan’s martyrdom videos and they fall into two categories: the religious element and the political element. Khan states, “I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe … Our religion is Islam … This is how our ethical stances are dictated” (BBC, London Bomber, 2005). From this statement it is clear that Khan is willing to sacrifice his life in the name of his radical religious beliefs. He goes on to explain the political motivator, as he claims, “your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people [Muslims] all over the world. And your [British public] support of them makes you directly responsible” (Ibid.). He then ties the religious and the political together, as he states, “I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters.” (Ibid.).
Shehzad Tanweer’s video, released a year after the attacks, highlights the political motivations for the attacks, which it claims the British government has been ignoring. He mentions the oppression in “Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya” (77timefortruth, 2012), he claims the British government has “openly supported the genocide of over 150,000 innocent Muslims in Fallujah” (Ibid.) and states the “financial and military support to the US and Israel” (Ibid.) as further transgressions. Both Tanweer and the various other speakers in the video mention “brothers” and “ummah”, the Arabic word used to refer to the ‘nation’ or ‘community’ of Muslims. Tanweer goes on to say, presumably as a result of these instances of foreign policy, “you [Britain] have openly declared war on Islam” (Ibid.) and calls on domestic Muslims to “fight against the oppressors, the oppressive British regime … fight against the enemies of Allah.” (Ibid.). It is clear that the religious and political strands are tightly woven into one motivating ‘fabric’ for the perpetrators of these attacks.
Is it a clear case of terrorism?
To label an act or incident as ‘terrorism’, a label that can often be an arbitrary and irregular nomenclature of any displeasing or abhorrent violence, first we must decide on an accurate and consistent definition of what terrorism truly is. This is in itself a difficult task, and as Gus Martin writes, “there is some consensus among experts – but no unanimity – on what kind of violence constitutes an act of terrorism.” (Martin, 2016: 27). Walter Laqueur similarly claims, “No definition of terrorism can possibly cover all the varieties of terrorism that have occurred throughout history” (Laqueur, 2012: 7). With this in mind we will consider the British Government’s definition of terrorism according to the Terrorism Act of 2000. As the topic is a domestic act of violence this would seem to be the most appropriate.
“The use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public; made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause; and it involves or causes: serious violence against a person; serious damage to a property; a threat to a person’s life; a serious risk to the health and safety of the public; or serious interference with or disruption to an electronic system.” (MI5.Gov, No Date)
Applying this definition, and almost all other definitions, to the case at hand the answer is clear. The murder of innocent civilians by explosive devices on the 7th of July 2005, in retaliation for the perceived crimes of British foreign policy, in order to force government action (withdrawal from the aforementioned countries) and in the pursuance of radical religious reward, is an example of terrorism. The Guardian’s immediate labelling of the act as terrorism and the actors as terrorists is therefore reasonable and justified.
An argument against this definition is that it ignores the idea of legitimate force, and that this definition would describe acts of war or acts of rebellion against dictatorial governments, which is perhaps how Khan and his accomplices would describe the bombing, as terrorist acts. However, the idea of terrorism does not have to be a universal pejorative, or an indication of illegitimacy, and perhaps in these instances it may be that ‘terrorist’ tactics are legitimate. The concepts of ‘jus ad bellum’ and ‘jus in bello’ are far better tools for determining the legitimacy of a violent action than simply the use of the word ‘terrorism’ alone.
Was the violence legitimate?
In order to determine the legitimacy of violence, many actors turn to ‘just war doctrine’ and “the concept is often used by ideological and religious extremists to justify acts of extreme violence.” (Martin, 2016: 8). Jus in bello refers to the correct behaviour in war, and jus ad bellum refers to the correct conditions to wage war (Ibid.).
Khan and the other bombers would likely argue that they met the criteria for jus ad bellum, and mention many of the following points in their martyrdom videos. Citing Allah as their legitimate authority, the protection of their brothers and sisters as just cause, their hope in the continued nature of attacks as a fair probability of success, the examples of Iraqi/Afghan/Palestinian victims of war as proportionality, and the unrelenting nature of Western imperialism as their excuse as a last resort. This can of course be rebutted with the question of a god as a legitimate authority for war, or by questioning if the attack is likely to bring about peace.
Though the real truth of legitimacy comes with jus in bello, and it is here that the rhetoric of the bombers is most easily defeated. They claim that all civilians are complicit and responsible for the actions of the government, as they voted for and support the government (BBC, London Bomber, 2005). This is of course illogical; civilians are non-combatants and are not legitimate targets of violence. They have no real say in government policy and many may not have even voted for the government in power at that time. To target innocent and unarmed civilians is never justified, regardless of any other criteria, and therefore the violence of the 7/7 was certainly illegitimate, despite the group having some legitimate foreign policy grievances.
What kind of political violence was this action?
If we are to thoroughly analyse an action and hope to prevent it in future, it is important to understand exactly what kind of violence occurred. In the case of the London Transport Bombings, it is an amalgamation of a number of Gus Martin’s categories of terrorist action. It is clearly an example of dissident terrorism, as it is “committed by nonstate movements … against governments … and perceived enemies” (Martin, 2016: 31). It is also an example of religious terrorism, “for the greater glory of the faith … [and] in defense of what believers consider to be the one true faith” (Ibid.: 32), which in this case can be applied to the idea of defending the ‘ummah’ and other believers. With the prominent involvement of al-Muhajiroun and al-Qaeda, as well as overseas training, the events of 7/7 are an example of international terrorism. The value of the London Transport System as a target is symbolic, as it is a defining feature of the capital city, as well as a primary means of transport for millions of Londoners and tourists.
With regard to 7/7, it is arguably the religious aspect that is the primary category, due to the importance of religion in the planning, motivation and overall context of this act. The fact that the bombings were all suicide attacks is also consistent with fanatical religious terrorism. The dissident/international aspect of the incident is important in understanding the attack, but religion truly is the driving factor and defining feature of this incident.
What was the response to the attacks and how effective was it?
In order to understand the official response, it is important to understand the general and public response to the attacks. According to a police officer, Stockwell One, “the atmosphere of fear for those living and working in the capital cannot be over estimated. The United Kingdom had never experienced suicide bombings.” (Finlan, 2013:189). Within 2 weeks of the 7/7 bombings there had been an attempt, albeit an amateur attempt, to mimic the attacks and detonate a further 4 bombs on the London Transport System on the 21st of July 2005, “but by good fortune the devices failed to go off.” (Ibid.). The day after, on the 22nd of July 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was shot and killed due to a police mistake and misidentification. He was followed onto a tube by armed, plainclothes police, who, “without identifying themselves, according to all 17 passengers, then fired nine hollow-point bullets into his head at point blank range.” (Ibid.). This was a disastrous culmination of the atmosphere of stress and fear that the police were operating in, and the shoot-to-kill policy that was in force to deal with the threat of suicide bombers.
There were less disastrous responses, “the British response to domestic jihadism was to apply community policing principles to counter-terrorism enforcement” (Klausen, 2009: 404). This was in order to reduce the effect of social alienation, which may lead to radicalisation over a period of time. “In mid-August 2005, several ministers undertook a so-called ‘listening tour’ in towns and cities with large Muslim communities” (Ibid.: 405) to improve relations between the police and Muslim communities, and to communicate on ways of preventing and combating radicalisation. However, as Klausen points out, if social alienation is not the cause of radicalisation, then is there any point in community policing in counterterrorism? The men involved in the 7/7 were not socially isolated; they were all very active in their communities, and very well liked.
According to The Met’s Assistant Commissioner, Mark Rowley, “up to 50 deadly terror attacks have been stopped since the 7 July bombings 10 years ago” (Beake, 2015) and therefore the efforts of the security services and the efficacy of counter-intelligence must be praised. However there have been a small number of successful attacks, such as the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, or the attempted murder at Leytonstone station on the 5th of December 2015. Both of which cite foreign policy grievances, much like the 7/7 bombers, as their motivations for the attacks. The most recent attacker shouting “this is for Syria” (BBC, Leytonstone Tube, 2015). In fact the issue of foreign policy has been no secret within in the government, in 2004 Michael Jay, the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary informed the Blair government that “the issue of British foreign policy and the perception of its negative effect on Muslims globally plays a significant role in creating a feeling of anger and impotence amongst especially the younger generation of British Muslims.” (Jay, 2004).
A further development in the counter-terrorism strategy could be to address the legitimate grievances that some terrorist groups have. The disapproval of illegal wars such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the constant intervention and occupation of states in the Middle East, and the high civilian casualties in these areas are examples that were among the primary motivations for the 7/7 attacks and many repeat attacks all over the Western world. Perhaps a change in attitude toward foreign policy could have significant effects in the field of counterterrorism.
Is the media report guilty of failing to analyse underlying assumptions?
The article fails to offer much analysis of the incident at all. It does not mention possible motivations, affiliations, or appropriate responses. However, considering that it is a contemporaneous article written only 5 days after the event, the lack of speculation and strictly fact based reporting is exactly how the article should be written. The bombers are yet to be fully identified and at that stage in time very little was known about them or their motivations, though what was apparent was that “the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers” (Jeffrey & Smith, 2005) and that the explosions were categorised as terrorist attacks. The lack of speculation is both sensible and admirable by the authors, as vague, incorrect and uninformed speculation about identities, motivations, or affiliations can have incredibly damaging consequences. The article is certainly credible, informative and reliable. Its lack of analytic content is merely down to an absence of facts so close to the incident.
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