Last week?s attacks in London, perpetrated on the heels of the opening of the G8 Summit in Edinburgh, Scotland, manifest the formidable ability of the growing jihadist network in the United Kingdom to execute high-profile, complicated attacks. While there is no confirmation yet that an Islamist group is in fact responsible for the bombings in London?s public transportation system, the multiple, well-coordinated attacks bear the trademark of al Qaeda. In the past decade, al Qaeda and its affiliated jihadist groups have created a robust infrastructure in the greater London area capable of recruiting, training, funding, and - as was horribly demonstrated on Thursday - executing attacks.
Several al Qaeda attacks and thwarted attempts worldwide have been directly linked to the jihadist network in Britain . These include the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998; the failed plot by Ahmed Rassam to bomb Los Angeles?s international airport, LAX, at the turn of the millennium; the recruitment of Zacharias Moussaoui and Richard Reid; plots to attack U.S. economic targets, uncovered in August 2004; the 2003 bombings in Casablanca; the 2004 bombings in Madrid?s train system; a suicide attack in Tel Aviv in April 2004; and an attack on Saudi oil refineries in May 2004.
Al Qaeda?s roots in the U.K. can be traced back to 1994, when Osama bin Laden named an Arab student, Khalid al-Fawwaz, as director of the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), an organization established purportedly as the media wing of al Qaeda. This office and Fawwaz himself would later be indicted (he is jail in London awaiting extradition) for the embassy bombings in Africa. Fawwaz?s indictment depicts the importance of ARC in assisting terrorist operations:
In or about 1994, the defendant USAMA BIN LADEN, working together with KHALID AL FAWWAZ, a/k/a ?Khaled Abdul Rahman Hamad al Fawwaz,? a/k/a ?Abu Omar," a/k/a ?Hamad,? set up a media information office in London, England (hereafter the ?London office?), which was designed both to publicize the statements of USAMA BIN LADEN and to provide a cover for activity in support of al Qaeda?s ?military? activities, including the recruitment of military trainees, the disbursement of funds and the procurement of necessary equipment (including satellite telephones) and necessary services. In addition, the London office served as a conduit for messages, including reports on military and security matters from various al Qaeda cells, including the Kenyan cell, to al Qaeda?s headquarters. (U.S. v. Osama bin Laden, et al.)
Another London-based organization used by bin Laden was the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR). CDLR was established by Muhammad al-Massari, a Saudi living in London. Around the same time, Massari?s wife, Lujain al-Iman, established a branch of ARC in the United States. Massari?s group is still active and continues to serve as a mouthpiece for bin Laden and other Islamists. As recently as December 2004, Massari told the Seattle Times that CDLR is the ?ideological voice? of al Qaeda. That same year, in an interview with BBC?s Radio Five Live , Massari spoke about the potential murder of British prime minister Tony Blair:
He [Blair] is the commander-in-chief. He is the head of the UK government which is involved in a war against the people, he is the head of the army.
What is the difference between killing Tony Blair here in London or killing him in China or killing him in Iraq?
If it is legitimate to kill him in Iraq it can be legitimate to kill him in Britain. What?s the difference?
In that same interview, Massari described how bin Laden personally thanked him for his help in establishing the London office of the ARC:
They came and said we want to do political work, we want to have an office like you. We said you?re welcome.
Can you give us help? Absolutely. And within one week they were up and running so he [bin Laden] gave a phone call to thank for the support.
It?s the same cause. It?s the same ideas… if we can help anything, why not?
Similar to ARC, CDLR?s activity spanned beyond written doctrine and included involvement in terrorist attacks. For instance, Ziyad Khalil, a CDLR associate, purchased the satellite phone used by Osama bin Laden to give the order to attack the embassies in East Africa. After he purchased the phone, Khalil delivered it to al-Fawwaz, ARC?s director, who in turn delivered it to bin Laden. The credit card used to purchase the phone belonged to Said al-Fagih, also tied with CDLR.
In May 2004, members of the Saudi al-Ansari family carried out an attack against a Saudi oil refinery. One of the attackers was Mustafa Abdel-Qader Abed al-Ansari, a former member of CDLR. Massari remarked that Ansari ?was a very good young man… He was a very staunch believer in jihad,? who ?might have joined the Taliban in Afghanistan.? Massari went on to note that Ansari was ?involved in ?jihad activities? in Africa, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, and may also have been arrested in Yemen.?
Ansari also happened to be brother-in-law to Khalid al-Midhar, one of the 9/11 hijackers on board American Airlines Flight 77. Both men married into the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Huda family.
The militant Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and its offshoot, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), have also used the U.K. as a base from which to coordinate attacks against American and European targets. The arrest of Ahmed Ressam , the Algerian who failed to carry out the attack on LAX, helped uncover the strong ties between the Algerian militant groups based in London and attacks around the globe. Ressam?s interrogation revealed that his superior, Amar Makhlolif, known as Abu Doha, is believed to have provided material support to jihadists of various affiliations . According to his indictment , Abu Doha used London as a logistic center to plan, coordinate, and provide training for jihadist activities throughout Europe:
From in or about early 1998 through and including February 2001, ABU DOHA, the defendant, arranged for and provided money, means of communication, means of travel, and false and fraudulent travel and identification documents to trainees who had completed their training at the terrorist training camps, and others, who were followers of ?jihad? and who were planning and engaged in ?jihad operations,? during which their goals included killing nationals of the United States…
…In or about December 1998, ABU DOHA, the defendant, met with Usama bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan, to discuss cooperation and coordination between bin Laden?s terrorist network, know as ?Al Qaeda? or ?the Base,? and a group of Algerian terrorists, whose activities ABU DOHA coordinated and oversaw.?
According to Kamal Bourgass , a GSPC member who was captured before perpetrating a planned poison attack on the streets of London, Doha organized the foiled attack. Doha was also linked to a planned attack in France, and, in addition, was instrumental in establishing a cell in Canada. That cell, which included Ahmad Rassam, was planned to carry out attacks on U.S. soil against LAX and the Seattle Space Needle.
Mohammed Gerbouzi , a leader of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM), has been wanted by Moroccan officials for his alleged ties to the May 2003 bombing in Casablanca and the May 2004 bombing in Madrid. Gerbouzi, however, holds British citizenship and has found refuge in London, where he has been living unperturbed by the British authorities. According to a French news report, Gerbouzi traveled in 2002 with fellow GICM leader Nourredine Nafiaa, who is currently serving 20 years in prison for his role in the Casablanca attack, to meet in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Nafiaa and Gerbouzi allegedly discussed with al Qaeda?s leaders reorientation of the jihad to attack Moroccan targets. That report also claimed that the GICM operates ?dormant sleeper cells? in Great Britain.
Finally, Asif Hanif, a British citizen, detonated a bomb in Tel-Aviv, Israel , in what was the first suicide attack carried out by British nationals. Hanif?s accomplice in this attack, Omar Sharif, was also a British citizen.
In addition to its use by radicals as a logistical and military base for global jihad, Britain unwittingly hosts a network of ideological supporters of Islamic terrorism. For example, Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian veteran of the Afghan-Soviet war and a cleric designated by the United States as a terrorist entity , resides in the U.K. and enjoys a strong following at the Finsbury Park mosque. After the allegation of his ties to terrorism, abu-Hamza and his followers were banned from the Finsbury Park mosque but he continued to preach outside it every Friday until his arrest. Among Hamza?s followers in that mosque were 9/11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, the ?shoe bomber.? In what may be perhaps more than mere coincidence, Masri?s trial on charges of encouraging the murder of Jews and other non-Muslims began in London just two days prior to the attacks there.
Another cleric, Omar Bakri Mohammed , was the leader of the extremist British group al-Muhajiroun, which according to the British government has strong ties to terror. Bakri had written and published on his website an open letter to bin Laden, which was also read aloud at several mosques in 1999. In the letter Bakri offered his service to the al Qaeda leader. A year prior to that, bin Laden had faxed a letter to Bakri guiding him on the principles of jihad against the United States.
Bakri?s proclamations and teachings are widespread on the Internet and can be found alongside those of another radical cleric, Abu Qatada . Qatada, a Jordanian whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Uthman abu Omar, has been described by U.S. officials as bin Laden's principal "ambassador" in Europe. His lectures have been found in the possession of many terrorists and in the hideouts of several terrorist cells, including the apartment of 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta . Qatada fled Jordan to Pakistan in 1989 after he was sentenced to life in prison by a Jordanian court for his role in a suicide bombing. Qatada relocated to London in 1993. In 1999, Qatada openly offered his services to bin Laden in speeches espoused at mosques and across the Internet. He lived comfortably in the U.K. for many years under the aid of the British government, until his designation as a terrorist entity by the U.S. government in 2001 and his subsequent arrest that year. Qatada was released in March 2005 and he is still living in England. Many allege that Qatada is the ideological leader of al Qaeda in Europe: Spanish reports, for instance, indicate that among Qatada?s most prominent students was Guerbouzi, the founder of GICM.
Qatada has also reportedly been tied to Zarqawi?s European network, as well as to the GSPC, GICM, and al Qaeda itself. His lectures can be found not only on his own websites but across a wide network of English-language message boards and jihadist forums in Arabic. His fatwas have been considered pivotal in justifying and promoting terrorist attacks against the "infidels."
In conclusion, while many details are still obscure about yesterday?s attacks in London, the elements for such an attack have long been in place across Britain. The asylum awarded jihadists by that country may be just one of its dangerous flaws in the fight against Islamic extremism. Islamists have long harnessed the ability to wage jihad across the globe from Britain, and the recent attacks are no more than a natural evolution of that process.
- Rita Katz is the author of Terrorist Hunter and the director of the SITE Institute . Michael Kern is a senior analyst with the SITE Institute.