The Looming Tower offers a smart look into the pursuit of bin Laden, but the show misses a chance to show the origins of Islamist terror.
Seven years ago almost to the day, the then still Prime Minister Tony Blair stood up in Parliament to announce with jubilation that London had won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. That evening, in Trafalgar Square in the heart of the nation’s capital, a huge celebration was held to mark the occasion.
The very next morning, 52 Londoners innocently commuting to work lost their lives, and a further 800 sustained injuries, in an Al Qaeda attack on the capital’s transportation system.
I was among those commuting to work that day on London’s underground when the attack took place, mercifully on a different line to the three on which the suicide-bombers were travelling when they detonated their deadly loads.
I first heard about the attack soon after it, when my wife ’phoned me at work to enquire if I were alright, having herself learned about the bombings on the news while they were still being euphemistically described there as a due to a ‘power surge’. This was just before ‘phone lines went dead in the capital, officially because of excessive demands on the system, but who knows the real reason.
Soon after the initial shock and grief at the 7/7 attacks had worn off, it became clear, at least to me, that London should not be going ahead with the 2012 Olympic Games. It was simply too vulnerable a target given that, during the preceding twenty years, it had become home to the largest concentration of Islamists outside the Muslim world.
It was not for nothing it had acquired the sobriquet of ‘Londonistan’. As if to illustrate the point, two weeks later, the British security services prevented a further suicide bombing on the London underground which involved their fatally shooting by mistake an innocent commuter whom they had wrongly identified as one of the suspected bombers.
Almost as if in deliberate defiance, the plan went ahead undaunted to stage the 2012 Olympics in east London, home to almost 40 per cent of Britain’s estimated 2 million Muslims, of whom three quarters are of South Asian extraction and many of the remainder from the Middle East. Those living in the capital make up 8 per cent of its population, and are mostly concentrated in the two east London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham, close to the Olympic village where the games are to be held.
While the vast majority of Britain’s Muslim population are undoubtedly loyal British citizens who would not dream of engaging in violence against their compatriots, there is a small minority who decidedly are not of such a peaceful persuasion. It is their presence which accounts for why the London 7/7 suicide bombings are so different from the 9/11 attack on the Trade Towers and Pentagon. Unlike in the latter case, where none of the suicide-bombers were nationals of the country they targeted, all were who carried out the 7/7 bombings. Indeed, they had all grown up in Britain and all but one had been born there, only becoming radicalised quite late in their short ill-fated lives.
According to the British security services, there are plenty more of them in Britain, and they have now had seven years to plan their next attack. This is what makes the decision to press ahead with the Olympics in London, post 7/7, so foolish, indeed reckless and hubristic. Frankly, the idea that you can defend a city against a suicide attack as you can an aeroplane is risible.
I blogged about the folly of pressing ahead with holding the 2012 Olympics in London, while still working at the Westminster offices of the think-tank Civitas to where I had been travelling on that fateful July day seven years ago when the London tube train bombings took place. In one of those blogs posted back in February 2008, I wrote that:
‘On the very same day and just before the London tube train bombings occurred, the then recently appointed head of London’s Metropolitan Police Sir Ian Blair had been boasting to an interviewer on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme about just how safe and secure his force had made London, so that there need be no security worries about the 2012 Olympics being stage there, as has been announced only the day before.’
‘Personally, I would have thought it a betting certainty that the 2012 Olympics are gong to be a security nightmare, if not as a result of any terrorist attack necessarily occurring in London during them, although I do not rule that out by any means, but because of the ease with which it will possible to ruin the Games by causing false alarms of imminent terrorist attack…. Given the ease with which havoc could be caused… surely the right course of action is for it to return its invitation to host the 2012 Games before it is too late.’
Well, now it is too late, and what do we find with the Games a mere fortnight away? Take a glimpse at some of the headline stories in the UK press this week:
- ‘Man charged with “planning to car bomb London’s Olympic Park during Games’ (Daily Mail, July 11, 2012):
‘Anti-terrorism officers are grilling a man accused of planning to blow up the Olympic Park during the Games using a car filled with explosives. He is one of more than a dozen suspected terrorists arrested in the last week as security services try to “clear the decks” before the Olympics start later this month… He is alleged to have told someone that he had a bomb in his car and 3was preparing to drive to the Olympics in London and set it off… [He] is one of 14 suspected terrorist arrested last week… Three men living just over a mile from the Olympic site in Stratford, east London were [among those who] were also arrested.’
- ‘Bungling security firm recruits 3,300 teenagers to guard the Games… but some of them seem more keen to snooze and listen to music’ (Daily Mail, July 11, 2012):
‘Hundreds of [high-school] students have been hired as front-line security guards at the Olympics… Security experts expressed alarm that youngsters aged 18 and 19 had been entrusted with searching spectators and bags… A G4S whistleblower [G4S is the private security firm handling security at the Olympics] claimed fake explosives and lethal devices were smuggled past security trainees during Olympics test events.’
- ‘Irish and al Qaeda terrorists in Olympic threat’, (Daily Telegraph, July 12, 2012):
‘Irish republican terrorists could attack the Olympics while American and Israeli athletes may be target for Al Qaeda, MI5 fears. The security service has also warned that foreign rival factions of ethnic groups could use the world stage of the Games to attack one another. The threats emerged as a group of MPs said the “unprecedented pressure” the Olympics has placed on the intelligence and security agencies has put the UK at greater risk…
‘MI5 is expecting double the volume of new intelligence leads – rising to four times as much in peak periods. A further burden has been imposed by the need to check the 540,000 applications for accreditation to the Games from those taking part…
‘It emerged at the week-end that one terror suspect, who was previously banned from London under a control order – had been able to move back to the capital… He then allegedly breached his new order by travelling through the Olympic park site in five separate occasions.’
None of this terror threat is truly news. Earlier stories in the press have been revealing for a long time how impossibly difficult it was going to be adequately to police the Olympics well before this week.
Thus, back in May, it was reported by the Sunday Telegraph that several members of London’s Metropolitan police had lost their jobs after their security clearances were revoked after they became suspected of being ‘sleepers’ in its ranks. One of these policemen was suspected of having attended a terror camp in Pakistan in 2001. Last month, the Sun reported that:
‘Hundreds of sniffer dog searches for explosives at the Olympic Park were never carried out… The operation was meant to stop terrorists smuggling a bomb into the site in a vehicle and setting it to detonate on a long-term timer… But [the] security firm G4S [had] “ghosted” the searches of traffic entering the park… for three years… The firm is also said to have used dogs trained only to detect drugs because of a lack of animals able to sniff out explosives.’
I shan’t labor the point further beyond remarking that, however many surface to air missiles are stationed on roof-tops near the Olympic Park, and British battleships are moored in the Thames, complete with fighter planes to shoot down any aeroplanes whose flight paths are looking dodgy, the London Olympics are destined to remain vulnerable to the lone wolf who decides to go in for the high jump and take along several thousand spectators with him or her. As was noted of the Games last April at a Middle East Homeland Security Summit in Abu Dhabi by Alastair Campbell, former director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies:
‘Individuals who decide to do something may be very difficult to control because of the public scale of the event.’
Let us hope and pray nothing worse than the abysmal weather interferes with the Games and that a good time is had by all. But I shall certainly be staying away from them, taking my wife and children on vacation out of town for as long of their duration as I can.
I am signing off now from my fortnight’s stint as a guest blogger, filling in for Michael Greve.
Wishing all visitors to the website peace and love… but please don’t pass the ammunition.