Thursday, March 24, 2016

24-Mar-16: In the UK, a near hit

The convicted would-be shooters
[Image Source]
No one needs to be told how much media attention, and follow-on political attention, was generated in the past 36 hours because of the terrorist assaults on Brussels.

Given the focus of this blog, we pay more attention than most people to the many instances of terrorism that get stopped in time because something fortuitous intervened. Many discussions we have about how serious the threat posed to ordinary lives and large societies by terrorists - and jihadists in particular - is seem to go right over the heads of those with whom we are having a dialogue. People just don't know.

Here's an example from today that, unless you are in the UK, you probably won't be hearing.

A couple of university students were convicted of plotting to carry out a series of drive-by shootings in London, targeting police and soldiers. Here's how The Guardian sums up the case:
Two university students have been convicted of wanting to kill on London’s streets in the name of Islamic State in what counter-terrorism officials believe was the most significant jihadi plot targeting Britain in a decade.
We posted about them when we first heard of the charges ["12-Oct-14: In London, they are monitoring thousands of suspected terrorists" and "18-Oct-14: If UK travel is in your plans... Part 1". Now we know more about their involvement with jihad and how close they came carrying out its aim. In the words of the head of the Crown Prosecution Service's counter-terrorism division, Sue Hemming:
These are dangerous men with strong beliefs. Had their plot not been exposed when it was, I am in little doubt that they would have gone on to murder.
The now-convicted jihad-minded terrorists are Tarik Hassane, 22, and Suhaib Majeed, 21. They knew each other from primary school. Hardly no-hopers, Hassane was born in London to a Moroccan mother and a father who was a Saudi diplomat. Unable to get into Kings College London because his marks were not good enough, he headed to Khartoun, Sudan where he was accepted into the faculty of medicine. That's where, in the summer of 2014, he took a pledge of allegiance to the Islamists of ISIS. Majeed, studying for a bachelor's degree in physics, was chairman of the Islamic Society at prestigious King’s College London.

Majeed, born in Iraq but holding a British passport since 2002, acquired a handgun, ammunition and a silencer on Hassane's orders but was arrested in September 2014 before managing to carry out the plan. Hassane, aware of the arrest, came back to London to execute a shooting attack but he too was arrested. Police had been monitoring his movements.

Both plotters bought weapons from a pair of British Muslim converts who, once arrested, pleaded guilty to supplying them. They were cleared of knowing about the jihadist attack plot. It might have been interesting to know what brought the jury to that view.

The Independent UK's report of Hassane's and Majeed's conviction, published a few hours ago. notes that the jury were not told that Hassane had links to a notorious mosque in west London which Mohammed Emwazi, the now-deceased ISIS murderer/executioner better known as Jihadi John also attended. Majeed had a video of one of Emwazi’s "execution" murders on his tablet. Hassane is thought to have gone to Syria during his Sudan sojourn, and to have visited Emwazi there.

Thanks to a joint operation by Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command and Britain’s domestic and foreign intelligence services (according to The Guardian), their plans were thwarted. Instead of becoming martyrs in the eyes of the communities that nurtured them, they are likely to spend decades in British prisons. The rest of us should be thinking of how close they came to carrying out their plans, and how many others are in line behind them or inspired by their story to do it better.

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