Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The London-Glasgow Bombers: Homegrown?

Some characteristics of the June London-Glasgow bombers make them unusual, Jeffrey Cozzens reports in Terrorism Monitor:

First, there were no converts among the group, perhaps indicating a more global element to this plot:

Unlike many previous jihadi plots and attacks in the United Kingdom (including the "Operation Crevice" cell, the 7/7 attackers and the autumn 2006 "planes" plot), there is no data thus far to indicate the involvement of Muslim converts. Converts to radical Islam have figured prominently in European-based jihadism (arguably because of their accelerated embrace of Salafi-Jihadi activism in their quest for "authentic Islam"), and the absence of such in this plot could indicate a more international cast of organizers.
(For more on the vulnerability of converts to the radicalization process, see these previous posts.)

Along with the fact that the plotters were from atypical countries (most notably India), this plot takes on a particular "international" flavor:
While still too early to draw firm conclusions about the plot and its alleged participants, there is one strategic angle elicited by these events that merits consideration: the tension between the global and homegrown nature of the plot, a point of recent media speculation and contradicting views among the quoted "intelligence sources" (Daily Mail, July 4). The history of jihad in the United Kingdom demonstrates that, with few exceptions, this is a faulty dichotomy. Both global and homegrown forces motivated and shaped most, if not all, jihadi plots in the United Kingdom and the West. This theory will likely be validated in the case of the June 2007 plots as well.
Cozzens argues that it may be time to do away with the concept of "homegrown terrorism" - as jihadist terrorism is a global phenomenon, and jihadist terror groups share little other than ideology:
The nature of global jihadi ideology itself, however, with its focus on pan-Islamic suffering and unity, defense of Muslim lands and the establishment of Sharia zones in the place of current Middle Eastern, African and Asian regimes, inherently exhibits transnational qualities and aspirations—even if those who subscribe to it never travel outside London or Los Angeles to meet with al-Qaeda operatives or receive overt directions from international terrorist networks. Homegrown jihadi plots, in this respect, are misnomers.

In sum, separating the homegrown from the global nature of this plot will likely prove exceedingly difficult, as will determining whether the bottom-up impetus of the suspects' British experiences—or conversely, their association with al-Qaeda-linked figures—motivated their suspected activities. This calls for a new mode of thinking about Western jihadi networks and a re-exploration of the strategic doctrine behind this militant organizational form—one in which the structural links to al-Qaeda are ambiguous, but ideologically connectivity a certainty.
Most terrorism has historically been a reaction to local events - commonly, resistance to oppression or occupation. The idea that upwardly mobile professionals in Britain, with a bright future to look forward to, would commit terrorism in response to grievances on behalf of others around the world is a challenge to the process of preventing radicalization.

On the local level, it suggests to me that intelligence is critical. Radicalization must proceed along social tracks, which can be identified and guarded. And once radicalized, jihadists (especially those in self-contained cells whose primary connectivity to others is ideological) must learn the tradecraft of violence - presenting another opportunity for intervention. Fortunately, the Internet has so far been an inefficient tool for learning the terror trade, so some real-world training is useful and/or necessary (see this earlier post).

It is these points along the path of radicalization and "going operational" that present opportunities for local homeland security.

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