Dawn : The children of 9/11

Friday, September 19, 2008

The children of 9/11

By Irfan Husain | September 10, 2008

Another terrorist group tried and sentenced in Britain; another link with Pakistan as the training centre for terrorists established. This time, the group of eight accused of trying to blow up seven airliners over the Atlantic two years ago was in the spotlight following a lengthy trial. Three were found guilty of assorted terrorism charges, while the jury found insufficient evidence against the other five. The prosecution is now considering whether to request a re-trial.

All the members of the cell were young men of Pakistani origin, and several of them had travelled to Pakistan shortly before being arrested. In the newspapers and TV discussions that followed the trial, their trips to the country of origin were highlighted. On BBC’s flagship news programme, Newsnight, a security expert was asked to comment on the fact that so many terror plots seemed to originate in Pakistan. And when residents of the East London neighbourhood where most of the group came from were interviewed, they spoke of the suspicion they were viewed with after details about the plot became public.

While the defendants insisted that all they wanted to do was to set off an explosion in a public place to draw attention to the “wrongs Muslims were being subjected to”, the fact that several of them had recorded videos threatening death and destruction undercut their defence. Ahmed Ali, the leader of the gang, was shown on the screen fulminating:

“Sheikh Osama warned you many times to leave our lands or you will be destroyed, and now the time has come for you to be destroyed… We will take our revenge and anger [sic], ripping amongst your people and scattering the people and your body parts, and your people’s body parts responsible for these wars and oppression, and decorating the streets.”

Fortunately, their skills as terrorists did not match their intentions. When one of the suspects returned from Pakistan, his baggage was secretly searched at Heathrow, and was found to contain a large number of batteries and plastic liquid containers. This aroused the suspicion of intelligence officials from MI5, and the suspect was followed, and his flat bugged. The expanding surveillance became Britain’s biggest covert operation, as members of the group were followed to an apartment that turned out to be a bomb factory.

Every couple of months, some fresh terrorist plot is uncovered in the UK, and invariably, those involved turn out to be Muslims with links to Pakistan. Understandably, this leads to a high degree of profiling by the security services that antagonises ordinary Muslims who feel they are being unfairly singled out. But under the circumstances, what can the state do to protect its citizens? It must be said that the British government is doing its best under very trying circumstances.

Clearly, Pakistan needs to do much more to crack down on the training camps that are giving the country such a bad name. But instead of halting these activities, it seems our security services are hindering investigations. Rashid Rauf, the Pakistani suspected of being involved in the Atlantic airliner plot, was arrested in Pakistan on a tip-from British intelligence. But while being tried in Rawalpindi, and pending an extradition request from Britain, he mysteriously gave his police guards the slip last December, and remains at large. According to one theory, he is under the protection of one of our intelligence agencies.

The widespread impression in the West is that Pakistan is not doing enough to stamp out extremism on its soil, and has become a magnet for terrorists from around the world. These people, after acquiring the skills necessary to carry out operations, then travel abroad to kill and maim. This view is mirrored in the perception that the Taliban are allowed free rein in the tribal areas, and use this safe haven to stage attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan. As American and NATO casualties multiply, pressure builds up on Western governments to halt these attacks. The recent American ground attack on Pakistani soil might have been the first of its kind, but I doubt if it will be the last.

Unfortunately, most Pakistanis are unwilling to understand the seriousness of the situation. In their strident defence of our sovereignty, they forget that lives are being lost in Afghanistan and in other countries just because we cannot or will not control our own tribal areas and seal the border. Foreigners will only buy the argument about the difficult terrain up to a point. But how can we claim sovereignty without exercising any control over this territory?

Meanwhile, Muslims generally and Pakistanis especially are getting a bad name abroad. In Britain, the actions of a handful of hotheads are making life difficult for hundreds of thousands of peaceful, hard-working citizens with links to Pakistan. Immature and alienated, these terrorists seek the glory of newspaper headlines as they pursue their bumbling efforts to slaughter innocent people in the West. Had they succeeded in bringing down even one airliner as they had planned to, the repercussions for the Pakistani community in Britain would have been severe. But that is the last thought in the minds of these terrorists, as they seek ‘martyrdom’ for a brutal cause.

According to the previous head of MI5, the agency is currently tracking the activities of hundreds of suspects in Britain. Each time it finds evidence of a terrorist conspiracy, Muslims are dragged into the spotlight as the source of indiscriminate violence against their neighbours. The children of 9/11 are not doing their community any favours, and they are certainly not helping the cause of Muslims around the world.

Tomorrow will be the seventh anniversary of that fateful day in September when Al-Qaeda launched its attacks against the United States. Since then, other atrocities have been carried out from Madrid to London to Bali. Each attack has resulted in heightened security concerns, and more anger against the faith that is supposed to inspire the killers.

Those directly involved in the various extremist groups are clearly beyond reason and argument. But surely those who silently support them should understand that such tactics ultimately do more damage to peaceful Muslims than they do to the intended victims.