Attacks in the United Kingdom and the Wider Implications
Dr Alvite Singh Ningthoujam

The string of recent attacks in the United Kingdom (UK), in less than three months, has once again brought to the fore the vulnerability, not only of the UK, but of the international community at large, arising from the activities of rabid terrorist organizations and highly radicalized individuals. In quick succession, three terror attacks happened in London on 22 March and June 3, and in Manchester city on 22 May 2017. The frequency of the occurrence of these incidents reflected on the state of preparedness of the country’s security and intelligence establishments in detecting and neutralising such incidents inspired and directed by Daesh or by self-radicalised individuals influenced by its extreme ideology, even as this terror outfit itself faces increasing pressure in its strongholds in the so-called Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.

Notwithstanding the severity of all the three attacks in which a total of 37 persons were killed and 216 injured, the incident at Manchester on 22 May 2017, during a musical concert by the American pop star Ariana Grande, came as the most serious reminder of the brutal and uncivilised acts that can be expected to recur, especially from people who are either directly linked with the terror outfits such as Daesh or inspired individuals whose rationality is blighted by the outfit’s pernicious ideology. From these successfully executed plots, the systematic evolution of these radicalised, misguided and frustrated individuals, with allegiance to this outfit, is also exposed, and this constitutes an alarming trend. The message through the Manchester attack was loud and clear about its perpetrator’s non-acceptance of the modern-day concepts of democracy, secularism and multiculturalism, which the western countries boast of time and again. This argument is based on the nature of the attack, the target audience and the event that was chosen for the strike. This is, unfortunately, the changing face of modern-day terrorism, and this will only increase in the months ahead.

It is very apparent that the outreach attempts of Daesh and its supporters, particularly in the UK, have been rapidly growing with each such incident that the outfit has claimed responsibility for. This is regardless of the many terror plots that have been claimed to have been foiled and neutralized by the security apparatus. Praising “one of the soldiers” for striking mercilessly against the “crusaders” (including a girl as young as eight-year-old), the outfit claimed responsibility for the Manchester attack, resulting in 23 deaths and over 100 injured. Although a direct linkage with this group is yet to be established, it seemed that the attacker, 22-year-old, Salman Abedi of Libyan origin, reportedly had met with Daesh’s Libyan members. Online publications by this outfit also seemed to have an immense impact on him. Rumiyah, English-language publication, which was once considered less ‘lethal’ than Dabiq (another propaganda magazine), has been publishing incendiary materials and constantly calling on the Daesh fighters and supporters to attack and kill wherever they find “disbelievers”, using easily available tools. The outfit has also been brandishing the techniques to manufacture bombs through their online contents, and even succeeded in getting takers of their lessons. Abedi, who allegedly received training in this field while he was in Libya, was one such individual. He, too, fits well into the profile of such terrorists and radicalized sympathizers of Daesh, who in recent times, have been mostly second-generation youth born to parents who migrated from their conflict-prone countries to the West. People with profile similar to Abedi, with other family members having alleged links with the Islamist elements, are easily singled out by the recruiters and put into the radicaliz ation process. Over the past two years, attacks by these individuals, who were aptly named “Evil losers” by the US President, Donald Trump, bore the hallmark of Daesh’s modus operandi. For instance, attacks using knife, vehicles or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have become some of the most effective tactics adopted by terrorists and individuals operating under the aegis of Daesh, in particular.

Prowess of Daesh (and its supporters) to carry forward its war against ‘infidels’, beyond West Asia, has already been witnessed in different countries. The recent attacks in the UK clearly showed the presence oflone actors, who carry no qualms in performing such heinous crimes. That someone like Abedi could blow himself up inside a packed arena filled with children, indicated the level of indoctrination or radicalization process that he might have undergone. This could also be considered as a higher degree of ‘professionalism’ or degradation of moral values attained by such individuals in choosing such soft targets in the heart of the city. In the fifth edition of Rumiyah (released in January this year), it was mentioned, “One should not grieve over the collateral killing of Kafir women and children…Do not grieve over the disbelieving people… killing those women and children who participate in the war against Muslims is not forbidden – but rather even necessary”. Justifications given by Daesh or Al-Qaeda that killing of children is a retribution for the deaths of Muslim children at the hands of Western or non-Muslim powers will continue to remain an effective extremist narrative for a foreseeable future. Moreover, the current ingredient that is providing considerable energy to Daesh, is the ongoing coalition military campaign in Syria and Iraq. The wide-scale coverage of the airstrikes and bombings with fatalities, including children, have undoubtedly played into the psyche of the Daesh militias and have become a tool to recruit and radicalize people sitting thousands of miles from the epicenter—Syria and Iraq.

Furthermore, the brazen Manchester attack reportedly suggests the possibility of Abedi acting as part of a key network, though the angle of lone-wolf is not completely ruled out either. He had returned from a trip to Libya just before he committed this horrendous crime, and that led to the investigation of a connection with Libya-based Jihadists, and about whether he travelled to Syria where he is likely to have received training. Amidst these uncertainties, the attack appeared to have been orchestrated in coordination with other terror elements at large. If this is proved to be true, then it signals the sophistication in the ability and capacity of the home-grown or ‘home-groomed’ Jihadists while inflicting damages to their countries of adoption by building a network or individually. This is a likely trend which is expected to rise in the course of time.

It may be noted that Abedi’s locality of stay—Southern Manchester—is reportedly considered to be a “recruiting ground for Jihadists” with “Libyan connection”. Apparently, many anti-Muammar Gaddafi Islamists (including fighters from Libyan Islamic Fighting Group LIFG) , who fled to the UK during the 1990s, are residing in this city. There have been reported instances of a few youths from this city who travelled to Syria to fight in the ranks of Daesh. As many of them earlier promoted the idea of establishing an Islamic government in Libya by overthrowing Gaddafi’s dictatorial regime, the nexus between UK-based Libyans and those in the native country cannot be downplayed. As it is, until recently, this northern African country was considered to be a hotbed for Daesh presence and activities. While the US-led airstrikes between late-2016 and early this year had substantially weakened the outfit’s positions in Libya, it still has significant presence. Similar to the situation in Iraq, there is no clarity where the fighters, who once resided inside in cities like Sirte, have fled to.

In other words, there is possibility of a scenario where the fleeing fighters will remain aground, incubating for further actions. This raises a question as to whether Libya is going to be a new hub that will sustain Daesh’s radicalization and recruitment of fighters in the country and abroad, and from where leaders will continue to release ‘violent sermons’. Given that Raqqa and Mosul are on the brink of collapse. This possibility looms large and could become the new reality; adding to the already-unpleasant scenario and the growing phenomenon of Daesh’s foreign fighters (including of European origin) returning home after having served in the battlefields in Syria and Iraq. They obviously carry with them a heavy dosage of radicalization. Martyrdom to these vengeful youths still runs high no matter how the attributed factors for such act are ridiculed. As long as there are networks in their home-countries assisting these people, their potential to create unrest should not be under-rated.

The problem, particularly in the UK, is getting acute as security services are grappling with investigations of roughly 3,000 religious extremists. This is in addition to approximately 20,000 people who have been considered as “subjects of interests” in the past. Already, more than 800 Britons are reported to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Daesh and other extremist groups, with nearly half of them having since returned, carrying with them the extreme ideology and violent hatred for the ‘Kafirs’. This is a worrisome figure for any country which professes and practices open, liberal and free democratic values. To add to the woos of societies like UK’s, their problems get compounded and the threat perceptions exponentially enhanced due to the presence of a sizeable number of inspired people who did not get the opportunity to join as foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq. There also are people in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, who had been earlier exposed to the radical or militant Islam in the course of religion-driven campaigns like in Afghanistan. Activities of various rabid Islamic leaders like the Bakris’ of yesteryears, openly preaching violence against the West, or Mullahs like Hamzas’ delivering inciting sermons during Friday prayers right in the heart of London, were frequent happenings and were fairly well known to the intelligence and security apparatus. This crop of, what could, in the present context, be called ‘mildly indoctrinated’ Muslim youth, could be easy targets for intense radicalization of the type now propagated by Daesh.

Ever since Daesh started coming under the military pressure in Syria and Iraq, its leaders have been advising its foreign recruits “to stay put and conduct attacks at home”. Similarly, Al-Qaeda also called upon its supporters to carry out “easy and simple attacks” in Europe and the US. This change of tactics by these outfits are being ardently followed by their proponents, thus increasing the risk of attacks of the types being witnessed in the UK now, and in France and Belgium earlier. One of the strategies of the security establishments under severe criticism, following the Manchester attack, is the Prevent Strategy of Britain’s Home Office, which particularly aims at preventing radicalization and recruitment. However, taking into consideration the evolving nature of terrorism and its threats, it remains extremely difficult to design an alternate strategy that could thwart somebody from staging terrifying acts.

It is, undoubtedly, going to be a herculean tasks for the counter-terrorism forces and intelligence-security establishments in the terror-affected countries of Europe to thwart attacks from individuals like Abedi. This is precisely what the terrorist outfits like Daesh wished for: drain the economy of the government in security investments, challenge the effectiveness and credibility of the intelligence apparatus, over stretch and stress the law enforcement agencies, instill fear or terror psychosis in the society, and create further divisions between the people of different faiths and religions, including within the Muslim communities. In the light of this, claiming responsibility for the sort of attacks being randomly perpetrated by the terrorists could also be part of a strategy of the outfit to continue garnering support, particularly at this stage when its territorial possessions are shrinking, manpower is being reduced drastically and its leadership being eliminated or degraded continually.

While the commendable resilience shown by the people, in the UK, European Union (EU) countries and elsewhere, in itself is one of the significant counter-strategies. There is an urgent requirement for the Muslim community leaders to constantly challenge those false interpretations of the religion, which targets impressionable youths to get brainwashed and blow themselves up in Fidayeen attacks. The community’s religious leaders, learned scholars and the common citizens cannot afford to discount the problem by merely saying, ‘terrorism or the attackers have nothing to do with Islam’, as it is all being said and done in the name of religion. Beyond socio-political and military measures, more ideologically driven counter-narratives are essential to prevent further radicalization, which is increasingly culminating in violent extremism. Mechanisms need to be discovered to prevent youngsters from getting absorbed in to the extremist’s dark webs, which are easily available through internet-based radicalization campaigns on popular and unpopular social media sites. Tackling this menace is going to be an extremely challenging task for the security and intelligence establishments which are already under immense stress.

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