Friday, July 08, 2005

London bombings highly orchestrated

Monterey Peninsula: Local terrorism experts weigh in

By KEVIN HOWE, Herald Staff Writer

Terrorism experts in Monterey say the London bombings were most likely the work of a sophisticated, well-trained European cell that carried out a highly coordinated attack aimed at creating the maximum amount of damage and public exposure.

“Al-Qaida and affiliated groups would be the No. 1 suspects,” said Gary Ackerman, director of the terrorism research program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute for International Studies.

The outlawed Irish Republican Army isn’t a likely player, Ackerman said.

“The IRA has done similar things, but not like this,” he said. “I’d rule them out.”

England is perceived, after the United States and Israel, as the main enemy of al-Qaida, Ackerman said, and London has often been a hotbed for radical MiddIe Eastern politics.

He said that a strong radical network exists within England, reflected in numerous court cases involving terrorist crimes in the United Kingdom, and that the most radical Islamist publications emanate from London.

Ackerman added that Londoners were relatively lucky that the loss of life, injuries and damage weren’t greater.

He said he was impressed by “the calmness and well-rehearsed attitude that both the public and the British authorities seem to be displaying.”

A letter in Arabic sent out on the Internet by a group calling itself “The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe” was translated by a colleague of Ackerman’s, Sammy Salama, a research associate and Middle Eastern analyst for the terrorism research program.

The group takes credit for the action, saying it was a continuation of the war “against the imperialists and crusaders” — the United States, England and anyone who supports them — who are participating in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It warns Denmark and Italy that they could be the next targets.

The British have “a great deal of experience fighting against terrorists while successfully preserving democracy,” said Paul Stockton, associate provost of the Naval Postgraduate School and director of the school’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

He agreed that it was a sophisticated attack, carried out nearly simultaneously in a geographically dispersed area, and that it showed “a degree of planning and command and control that reflect the kind of challenge terrorism imposes. The bad guys are not only out there, but they remain capable of attacks on this scale: the ability to disrupt life in a city that is well prepared to meet terror. It shows what we're up against.”

The local analysts agreed that the most logical reason for the timing of the attack was the G-8 Summit in progress in the United Kingdom.

In some cases, the dates of attacks are related to important dates in history or anniversaries of prior terrorist actions, births or deaths. So far, Salama said, analysts at MIIS have not tied the attack to a significant anniversary or other date.

“If you apply Occam’s Razor — the simplest explanation is the most accurate — then the gathering of the leaders of the industrialized world in Gleneagle is more than a coincidence,” Stockton said.

“It may be that this is the time they were able to do it,” Salama said, and the G-8 Summit made it “a center-stage event.”

He added that if its intent was to shake British resolve and coerce Prime Minister Tony Blair into pulling out troops or other support, “it certainly will not shake the commitment to the U.S. by Tony Blair. If anything, it will harden it.”

The sight of Blair and Bush standing shoulder to shoulder after the bombings should send a message that “we are not going to cowed by these attacks,” Stockton said.

Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or khowe@montereyherald.com.