Sunday, March 18, 2018

18-Mar-18: Unanswered questions about terrorists hiding in plain sight

Ahmad Hassan [Image Source]
This past Friday in London, a criminal court convicted a young man, just 18, of attempted murder.

This arose from his planting a bomb on a busy London Underground train carriage whose detonation at Parsons Green station injured 51 people. His name is Ahmed Hassan. The judge, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, is reported to have told Hassan that his conviction by the jury was on the basis of "overwhelming evidence". He is going to be sentenced this week.

The Guardian's report of the trial's outcome sets the tone for a somewhat familiar scenario:
Small, shy and undoubtedly damaged, Ahmed Hassan attracted no end of kindness and sympathy when he arrived in Britain in the back of a cross-Channel lorry in October 2015, saying he was Iraqi and 16 years old... ["'A duty to hate Britain': the anger of tube bomber Ahmed Hassan", March 16, 2018]
From the brief reports, it seems life in England was not so terrible for the refugee. He won an Amazon voucher for becoming "student of the year"; he then used it buy one of the key chemicals for the explosive device. Just before executing his plan, he texted to a woman described in reports as his college mentor: "It's almost better to be back in Iraq. It's better to die because you have heaven."

Another clue to the personality throbbing inside the young jihadist is (as ITV nooted that he "got off the train one stop before the bomb partially exploded on the floor of the carriage" and "fled London with more than £2,000 in cash but was picked up by police at the Port of Dover the next day."

Also that he filled the bomb with shrapnel, including five knives, two screwdrivers, and nails and screws. This is what you do when you want to maximize carnage and agony, as the man who made the bomb that destroyed the Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria in 2001 did.

Some details from ITV's report:
  • The court was told Hassan told Home Office officials he was trained by Islamic State "to kill" after he arrived in Britain in the back of a lorry in 2015. He was taken in by foster parents Penny and Ron Jones MBE, and studied media and photography at Brooklands College in Weybridge.
  • The Iraqi-born teenager is said to have prepared the attack while his foster parents were away on holiday between September 1 and September 8 last year... The Old Bailey heard he wanted to cause "maximum" carnage to avenge the death of his father, who was blown up in Iraq more than 10 years before.
  • One woman, known only as Miss S, giving evidence from behind a screen said she had been horribly scarred and burnt. Through tears she described hearing the bomb, seeing a giant flame and then realising her body and clothes were burning.
  • Another victim, Ann Stuart told jurors: "What I saw was this flash and whoosh that came up from my side. My hair was smoking. I patted myself out and got off the train and this man picked me up and held me."
  • Some 23 passengers suffered burns, with some describing their hair catching fire and their clothes melting in the blast. Another 28 suffered cracked ribs and other crush injuries in the stampede to get out of the platform via a narrow stairway.
  • Commander Dean Haydon, head of Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command, said: "I describe Hassan as an intelligent and articulate individual that is devious and cunning in equal measures... On the one hand he was appearing to engage with the (Prevent) programme but he kept secret what he was planning and plotting. We describe him as a lone actor... It was only through good fortune that it only partially exploded. If it had, without a doubt we would have been dealing with many fatalities."
Here's how the UK's Security Minister at the Home Office, Ben Wallace, greeted Friday's verdict.
"I welcome the conviction of Hassan who sought to spread terror in this country and murder innocent people. This case is a bleak reminder of the devastating consequences of radicalisation... It is clear that there are some lessons to be learned in this particular case... However we should not allow this to undermine all the good work taking place across the country to stop terrorism and our work to help those who are legitimately in need. Ultimately, no one should be in doubt that those who bear responsibility for the atrocious attacks we have seen in the past year are the terrorists themselves."
The shrapnel
There is another way to look at this. It's well expressed in a leading article in today's Times of London. Some excerpts:
More than a century ago, in his book The Man Who Was Thursday, GK Chesterton introduced us to the idea of the terrorist hiding in plain sight... 
Ahmed Hassan, a teenage Iraqi asylum seeker, who in 2015 arrived in Britain illegally on a lorry going through the Channel tunnel, could hardly have done more to show he was serious about his terrorism... 
When it was discovered by staff at his sixth-form college that he seemed to be raising funds for Isis, he said it was his duty to hate Britain. He was referred to the government’s Prevent programme and its Channel project, which has the aim of mentoring young people and steering them away from radicalisation. It failed.
When he received a prize of an Amazon voucher for his studies at the college, he bought bomb-making equipment.
When he was placed with Ron and Penny Jones, foster parents appointed MBEs for their work, they were not told about his claims of Isis links or fears that he was being radicalised. But his behaviour did lead them to think he was suffering from a “mental deterioration”. They are now said to have stopped fostering.
There are so many things wrong with the Hassan case that it goes beyond what Ben Wallace, the security minister, has described as “some lessons to be learnt”. The collective failure of the security services, Surrey county council and other bodies could easily have resulted in a devastating loss of life... Many of those who were injured at the time are still affected. More questions need to be asked about Prevent, supposedly a deradicalisation programme.
Above all, why was Hassan here at all? At a time when this country has problems enough neutralising the danger from returning British Isis fighters, providing asylum to an Iraqi who claimed he had been trained to kill by Isis seems perverse in the extreme. His story, that he had been kidnapped and trained against his will, was hokum. He should have been put on the next plane out of Britain. Where terrorists are concerned we can never afford to be a soft touch. This time we were. ["Britain was a soft touch for this terrorist", The Sunday Times, March 18, 2018]
If these questions posed by Time of London's editorial people aren't asked in the right places, and the right places are not only in London or the UK, then it's a certainty that luck is going to run out at some point. The next seething, zealous, well-trained would-be mass-murderers are almost certainly located right now already inside the countries they lust to attack. It's insanity to ignore, in the name of political-correctness, the life-and-death dangers they respresent.

And if you're a senior politician doing the ignoring, that's irresponsible recklessness of a kind that has no expiation.

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