Tuesday, May 27, 2008

# Posted 8:11 AM by Patrick Porter  

AMATEUR HOUR: I just posted this at my other blogsite, and thought it might be of interest to our readers here:

In public and professional debate, the overriding issue in domestic terrorism is ‘why they dun it?’

We can debate motive forever. But we can now make a more modest point with confidence: most budding extremists aren’t very good at it. Clearly there are still scary exceptions and moments where luck, skill and creativity can result in a spectacular attack.

But more common are things like this:

Saeed Ghafoor said he was going to bomb Europe’s largest shopping complex using three cars containing gas canister explosives. But when questioned further, he said Bluewater was in Exeter, the Old Bailey heard. When told it was in Kent, Ghafoor said he had not “finalised” his plans.’

Or this:

Mr Reilly was arrested after the explosion at 1250 BST on Thursday in the Giraffe restaurant in the £230m shopping development, which is one of Exeter’s main attractions. CCTV footage taken from a nearby camera appears to show him emerging from the cafe with blood pouring down his face before his arrest. No-one else was hurt in the explosion at the restaurant, which was busy at the time and is popular with families.

Why? Not knowing a lot about the internal technicalities of terrorism, I’ll suggest three reasons and see if readers want to kick them around.

First, state paranoia. 9/11 and 7/7 got the authorities’ attention. With all the abuses and incompetence and heavy-handedness that came with it, its now a much harder environment to operate it.

Second: its harder than it looks. Mohammed Atta, a highly talented engineering student with a cool focus and meticulous ways, is atypical. Most seem to be flustered, clumsy and indiscrete.

Third: We must be getting decent human intelligence from somewhere. One thing we are learning quickly is that Al Qaeda and its affiliates and imitators are fast alienating Muslims everywhere. This is known about Iraq, but could it also be happening here? Muslims were among the victims of the 7/7 atrocity. They don’t want to be persecuted at airports or harassed for downloading from the web. But neither do they want to be blown up by co-religionists.

Widening the focus to broader questions of international relations, the modern nation-state still seems fairly resilient. For all the talk of fifth generation warfare, cyberwar and super-empowerment of small groups of radicals, visiting mayhem on the streets and shops and trains of First World states is still difficult to do, takes training, patience and skill that the internet alone can’t teach, and on the rare moment when it does succeed, can backfire.

As Rod Liddle chuckles,

I suppose that many years hence the terrible destruction of the twin towers will still be lodged in our minds, the image of the buildings crumpling, the video of Osama Bin Laden sniggering in his cave. But a similarly iconic image would be of the moron Richard Reid trying desperately to set his training shoe on fire on a plane, having forgotten to bring a lighter. They are either extraordinarily useless or Allah has got it in for them.

The trick for terrorism studies, it seems, is to explain exactly why this is the case, and propose policies and measures to sustain this success of counter-terrorism. In the meantime, the rest of us can empty rooms and bore listeners with talk of root causes, alienation and social decay.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

I think that while all three of your suggested factors are in play, "harder than it looks" is probably the most significant. And it's still worth debating motives; that discussion may get tedious at times, but it's important.
I think it's even more complicated than that.

Committing an act of terrorism isn't particularly difficult, but then again neither is being moderately successful.

To carry out terrorist acts here in "the west" you need to have drive, commitment, and the level of intelligence that makes rising to the level of a shift manager at a fast food joint trivial.

It's much easier to get a "commodious" life in the west. A flat, a wife, some kids and used BMW. And you know that you are (relatively) free from being randomly hauled off to the gulag or killed by the secret police. Or the not-so-secret police. The really openly police might still shoot you for being a moron in public, but then there will be a day or two of rioting in your honor &&etc.

You either have to be REALLY REALLY dedicated, or REALLY REALLY dumb to commit a terrorist act.

Which means that anyone who is going to do this isn't going to be satisfied with the "low hanging fruit"--walk into a shopping mall with a shotgun, and AK and couple of pistols. Simple to plan, easy to carry out, but *boring*, *boring*, *boring* Sidney.

It's gotta be BIG, at least as big as the Spanish attack. Preferably bigger than the WTC attack.

Given that latter mindset, the dedicated "professional" is trying for the big kill, which means more planning, more people, a larger network.

The home grown idiot has the same problems plus he doesn't have a network and he doesn't know what he's doing.

Plus it's really hard to get away with this sort of thing. Suicide attacks take weeks to months to prepare the attacker, so the more intelligent guys--the dedicated types have a more difficult problem to solve, while this selects out the idiots who have something to live for.

In Palestine and in the rest of the Muslim world a wife and kids can be tough to acquire. Much tougher than in England or the US.

This further selects out potential terrorists.

What you're left with is the sociopaths, the morons, and the most hard core. People no one really likes anyway, which means they get dimes dropped on them even more often.
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