Amateurism of failed London strike does not rule out danger
August 3, 2005
By Andrew Gray LONDON, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Their bombs failed to go off, they made simple mistakes on the run, they were caught quickly and most of them offered no resistance when arrested. Were the men who tried to bomb London's transport network on July 21 -- exactly two weeks after similar attacks killed 52 people -- serial bunglers or serious bombers?
Possibly both, security analysts say. Some of their actions were amateurish but that does not mean they or other cells which may still be at large should be dismissed lightly. "Amateurs are dangerous and these people are not entirely amateurs, that's the point. They're not just playing about, they did mean to kill people," said Michael Clarke, professor of defence studies at King's College London. Experts note groups inspired by a radical interpretation of Islam -- the likely motive behind the strikes -- have a history of using unsophisticated "footsoldiers" to carry out attacks. They also observe people can become radicalised through the internet and news media outlets -- with little or no formal indoctrination. They can then learn bomb-making and other dangerous skills through the Internet. "You don't need to be trained, you don't need to study with a radical imam or go to a camp necessarily to accept the kind of fundamental ideology that is now associated with al Qaeda," said Shane Brighton of Britain's Royal United Services Institute. "Once that's happened... the second phenomenon is Google terrorism," he said. "Because of the nature of information saturation at the moment, you can get hold of the kind of information you need to become dangerous."
TO SCARE OR TO KILL? British police arrested three of the suspects in armed raids last week and a fourth was detained in Rome. Italian police have said Hamdi Isaac, a 27-year-old Ethiopian-born Briton also known as Osman Hussein, was most likely part of an "impromptu group" rather than an organised militant ring. Isaac himself has gone further, telling his lawyer the events of July 21 were not meant to kill anyone, only to inspire fear in Britons he accused of disrespecting Muslim women in the security crackdown after the deadly blasts two weeks earlier. Police have made clear they do not accept that explanation. They believe the four tried to detonate rucksack bombs on three underground trains and a bus, just as four British Muslim men did on July 7 with far more devastating effects. For reasons which remain unclear, the bombs failed to explode properly and the attackers abandoned them.
Professor Paul Wilkinson, a terrorism specialist at St Andrews university in Scotland, said the police assessment of the danger posed by the bombs should be reliable. "In this case, they had all the elements of the device there to inspect so it seems unlikely that they made such an elementary error as to say these were intended to kill if they were actually just dummy devices," he said. AMATEUR ERRORS Leaving aside the botched bombings, experts say the suspects made errors on the run which no well-trained urban guerrilla or covert agent would make -- even if they had no escape plans because they believed they would die in the attacks. Isaac was tracked down by tracing the signal from a mobile phone he was using, Italian police have said. "He didn't have the wit to steal a local phone and start using that," Clarke commented. Isaac was also easier to track down as he had taken refuge with a brother in Rome. Two other suspects, Ibrahim Muktar Said and Ramzi Mohammed, surrendered when surrounded by police in west London on Friday. They stripped on police orders to show they were not carrying explosives and sought assurances they would not be shot -- "hardly compatible with being a suicide attacker. That does seem strange," Wilkinson said. But he said it could not be ruled out that the suspects had surrendered because they hoped to attack again, rather than because they were not truly committed to their cause.