I MOB HYSTERIA
The deeper context of jihadist terrorism involves simultaneous bursts of religious enthusiasm across the Muslim world over thirty years ago. This process was paralleled—without the same violent effects—in other monotheistic faiths from the 1970s onwards. These bursts were sustained by a series of secondary conflagrations, which lent apparent substance to the paranoid jihadist claim that Muslims were the victims of atemporal ‘Crusader-Zionist’ aggression unchanged since the Middle Ages. This self-serving myth resonated with the more widespread assumption of the moral purity of the oppressed, a source of self-righteous violence from time immemorial within a variety of cultures and traditions, spiritual and secular. Criminals were able to find apologists, supporters and sympathisers from the wider Muslim community by cloaking their activities in an ideology largely derived from a major religious tradition with one and a half billion adherents.1
In January 1978 US president Jimmy Carter visited Iran. He lauded his ally, shah Muhammed Reza Pahlavi, and pronounced Iran ‘an island of stability’, praise he coupled with criticism of the shah’s shabby human rights record. The regime’s modernising emancipation of women was accompanied by the repression symbolised by Savak, the shah’s secret police. Carter’s contradictory pronouncements were as helpful to the shah as traffic lights signalling red and green simultaneously are to a motorist. That summer and autumn, Iran was convulsed by demonstrations and strikes, which the shah, already suffering from cancer, answered with limited repression (under a thousand people died in the course of the Revolution) and concessions which his many different opponents brushed aside. The shah left his kingdom, never to return, on 16 January 1978; a year later, an elderly cleric, the ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, flew in from his exile in Paris.2
Under the influence of the academic ideologue Ali Shariati, who had fused a fashionable Third Worldism with Islam before his untimely death in 1977, Khomeini broke with the political quiescence characteristic of Shia Islam, in which an indeterminate period of occultation would end with the return of a mahdi who had vanished in AD 874. Appealing to the disinherited, in a calculated echo of Frantz Fanon, Khomeini called for the establishment of an Islamic republic, with a dual system of power in which clerics controlled every lever that mattered, notably through a Guardians Council. Liberals and Marxists who had hoped to exploit Khomeini’s own manipulation of popular enthusiasms were trumped by the master of this game, who in any case had the unique backing of impressive ranges of Iranian society in what was one of the most popular revolutions in world history. Within a year, the new masters had killed not only the three thousand political prisoners Carter was so exercised about, but more people than Savak had murdered in the previous twenty-five years. One of the ways in which the clerics guaranteed their success was to prolong mass hysteria, which they did through the protracted siege of the US embassy in Teheran, in which ‘Death to America’ resounded from the erstwhile island of stability, and then through the martyrs who were mobilised for death in the eight years of total war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. An entire generation of children went to their deaths clutching their plastic keys to paradise. This bloodbath and the regime’s domestic repressions alienated even those few silly Western intellectuals, like Michel Foucault, who had celebrated this tantalising eruption against a Western rationalism which bored them. It is striking that, among the subjects that anger so many Muslims today, this obliteration of an entire generation is not among them.
The Islamic Revolution was also for export, notwithstanding the fact that 80 per cent of the world’s Muslims were Sunnis. They viewed the Shia as heretics who, in the Persian case, were given to contemptuously racist talk of Arab ‘lizard eaters’. But this was counterbalanced by widespread admiration for Khomenei’s Islamic regime, its hatred of Israel and its ostentatious defiance of the West, as symbolised by Carter’s disastrous attempt to rescue the US embassy hostages. Two immediate manifestations of exporting the Revolution were the creation, by Sunni Palestinian admirers of Khomeini, of a terrorist organisation called Islamic Jihad, which presaged the transformation of a conflict about rival nationalisms into one involving religion, and the parallel mobilisation of Lebanon’s Shi’ites through an Iranian surrogate called Party of Allah or Hizbollah, founded in late 1982, a process the Alawite rulers of Syria aided and abetted to extend their domination over their Westernised Lebanese neighbour. Iran sent an estimated US$50 million to US$100 million per annum to Hizbollah, basing hundreds of training personnel in the Bekaa valley, and using Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, its ambassador to Damascus, as co-ordinator of Hizbollah’s campaign of assassination, bombings and kidnappings.
Islamic Jihad struck first. In what came to be regarded as the first use of suicide truck bombing, on 11 November 1982 sheikh Ahmed Qassir blew up the Israeli headquarters in Tyre, killing or wounding 141 people. Then it was Hizbollah’s turn to deal a devastating blow at the US presence in Lebanon. On 18 April 1983 a battered pickup truck, low on its springs due to two thousand pounds of ANFO explosives concealed within, swerved into the exit of the US embassy on Beirut’s seafront, and then exploded as it crashed into the main lobby. Sixty-three people, including seventeen Americans, were killed in a blast that momentarily lifted up the entire building before most of it collapsed in a mountain of dust and rubble. The dead included all six members of the CIA’s Beirut station, as well as Robert Ames, the CIA’s top man on the Middle East and its former liaison with Black September’s Ali Hassan Salameh. Ames’s hand was found floating a mile away, his wedding ring still visible on a finger.
Six months later two massive suicide truck bombs killed 240 US Marines housed in temporary barracks dubbed the Beirut Hilton, and fifty-eight French soldiers who were also in Lebanon on peace-keeping duties. In the former case, a five-ton Mercedes truck smashed its way through flimsy guard posts at fifty miles an hour early one Sunday morning, enabling the driver to detonate 12,000 pounds of Hexogen high explosives, with tanks of bottled gas tied on to magnify the deadly brisance. The effects of both attacks were like some colossal natural disaster. Over at the French barracks, an uncomprehending lieutenant-colonel stared into a huge crater amid mountains of rubble: ‘There are about a hundred soldiers still under there. The bomb lifted up the building. Right up, do you understand? And it put it down again over there.’ He indicated a distance of about twenty feet. The Iranian Pasadren and their terrorist helpers in Hizbollah further pressured the West to vacate Lebanon through a series of kidnappings, including professors at the American University of Beirut, CNN reporters, priests and the local CIA station chief Bill Buckley. Kidnapping of Soviet diplomats was less successful, as the KGB abducted a relative of one of those involved, and began posting pieces of him back to his family to indicate their earnestness. Hizbollah also acted as Iran’s long arm by assassinating Iranian or Kurdish dissidents based in Europe on behalf of its paymasters, who were the biggest state sponsors of terrorism in the world. Agents based in Iranian embassies would enable Hizbollah to strike at Jewish and Israeli interests as far away as Argentina.3
Although Iran’s attempts to export the Islamic Revolution were a striking failure, apart from Hizbollah in the Lebanon, the symbolic example it gave alarmed rulers throughout the Muslim world. Here was an avowedly Islamic state, aggressively challenging the West. In the case of the ultra-conservative Saudis, they already had the mechanisms to try to contain the Iranians, because in 1962 they had established the Muslim World League to counter the national socialism of Nasser’s Egypt. Enormous increases in the price of oil after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war enabled the Saudis to propagate their puritanical Wahhabist strain of Islam globally. Named after Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703—92), Wahhabism was the austere version of Islam that underpinned the rule of the Saud dynasty in Arabia through a contract between clerics and rulers.4 Vast sums were disbursed to build some fifteen hundred mosques around the Sunni world, as well as in western Europe, which were then equipped with books and audio sermons, in the hope that they would speak with the voice of a Saudi moralising conservatism, whose existence was paradoxically underwritten by the kingdom’s ‘decadent’ Western allies. The Saudis further institutionalised their political and financial reach through the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Islamic Development Bank, and by donating money to Western and Eastern universities to promote Islamic and Middle Eastern studies.
This petro-Islamic largesse was one of the main contributors to the gradual rise in consciousness of a global Muslim ummah or community. This was more viscerally real than the secular nationalism, whether local or pan-Arab, or the socialism that had enthused earlier generations. Saudi influence was also secured through the millions of remittance men drawn to the Gulf states in the 1970s and 1980s from as far afield as Pakistan and the Philippines, not to speak of the two million Muslims who each year made the hajjto Mecca, whose infrastructure had been improved by an immigrant Yemeni construction tycoon called bin Laden. For this was the essence of the matter. Whereas the Saudis hoped to keep the words Islam and Revolution separate, the Iranians wanted them to fuse, notably in Saudi Arabia itself, a regime Khomeini hated. Behind that fundamental disagreement lay competition between an ultra-conservative and a reactionary-revolutionary power for dominance within Islam as whole, a struggle that has only increased in recent decades.5
The venerable texts which the Saudis were making available on a global basis were amenable to many interpretations, especially when increased literacy enabled people to read them for themselves. Using the frequency of citations from certain authors it is possible to construct a diagram resembling a spider’s web of who counts in the mental universe of the jihadis. Modernity is of little account. High on the list would be the writings of Ibn Taymiyya (1268-1323), a contemporary of Dante, who influenced Wahhab himself. His thought was largely conditioned by the depredations various Arab Islamic civilisations experienced at the hands of invading Mongols, depredations made worse by the Mongols’ syncretic assimilation of Islam to their existing paganism. Never afraid to make enemies, Taymiyya denounced Muslim clerics whose learned elaborations distracted from the essentials of the faith, as once practised by the salaf, the earliest followers of the Prophet. Moreover, rulers who did not accept clerical guidance, by instituting sharia (Islamic religious law), and living lives of conspicuous piety, were apostates whom it was the faithful Muslim’s duty to depose. Taymiyya added this duty to the existing offensive and defensive definitions of jihad, which in turn he elevated into a sixth pillar of Islam, along with the declaration of faith, charity, fasting, pilgrimage and prayer. These teachings were subversive in the fourteenth century—Taymiyya was imprisoned five times and died in jail—and they remained so six hundred years later to anyone who dismissed the official clerical ulema (including Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi clerical Establishment) as venal apologists for corrupt governments.6
At dawn on 20 November 1979 the imam of the Grand Mosque at Mecca prepared to usher in the Muslim New Year with special prayers. He paid no attention to a group of young men with red headbands shouldering coffins—for this was where the dead were often blessed—until they set down their load and produced dozens of weapons. A young man called Juhayman bin Muhammed bin Sayf al-Utaybi who seemed to be in charge declared his own brother-in-law the mahdi, the Islamic messiah, for the date was fourteen hundred years after Mohammed’s Hijra from Mecca to Medina, an anniversary already loaded with apocalyptic portents. Attempts to halt this armed manifestation by deploying the monarchy’s Bedouin praetorian National Guards proved futile since al-Utaybi was one of their number and he quickly had the entrance gates barred. As the day wore on, he issued damning denunciations of the Saudi ruling dynasty, calling them corrupt apostates who had prospered by allowing their Western allies to plunder the country’s oil wealth. Al-Utaybi’s well-equipped fighters made mincemeat of regular Saudi soldiers who were despatched to eject them from the mosque, a mission inhibited by the need not to destroy it. Eventually the monarchy called in assistance from France’s Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale and the Pakistani army. Three hastily converted commandos recommended using mass electrocution by putting a high-voltage cable into the mosque’s flooded basements, or nerve gas to flush the Mahdists out. After two weeks of close-quarter combat, al-Utaybi and the other surviving fighters were captured, a task made easier when the construction firm Bin Laden Brothers, which had refurbished the mosque, provided blueprints essential to storming it. Al-Utaybi and sixty comrades were quickly beheaded. At the time this siege seemed like a perplexing incident of cultic violence, as mysterious in meaning, or meaninglessness, as similar events that happened in the Christian world. The fact that during the siege rioting Arab and Pakistani students from Pakistan’s Qaid-i-Azam university stormed the US embassy in Islamabad—on the rumour that the Americans and Israelis were behind al-Utaybi’s seizure of the Mecca mosque—merely seemed like a bizarre pendant, as did ayatollah Khomenei’s warm words to the embassy rioters, which included the observation: ‘Borders should not separate hearts.’7
II THE BROTHERS AND PHAROAH
Although Egypt is the size of France and Spain combined, 95 per cent of its population of sixty million live on 5 per cent of its land, the lush, lotus-shaped strip that follows the course of the Nile. Beyond lies inhospitable desert, whose only redeeming grace may be that it is unsuited to guerrilla warfare. Mysterious monuments remind Egyptians that they are not really Arabs, but heirs to one of the world’s greatest polytheistic civilisations, whose mysterious iconography still shimmers beneath the high art of Christianity. The French left the legacy of Napoleonic law. Egypt became an independent parliamentary monarchy in 1922, although the British remained a powerful, and often resented, commercial and military presence, clinging on to the vestiges of Empire. The flourishing of Western modernity during the 1920s, as manifested in a vibrant press, cinema and literary culture, inevitably triggered an Islamic response, which took the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1928 by a devout primary school teacher called Hassan al-Banna. Appalled by British military bases, foreign ownership of utilities, Egypt’s almost foreign-seeming Turko-Circassian upper class, and a vocal feminist movement, al-Banna incorporated existing charitable and pious associations into a series of cell-like ‘families’, which were linked by such modern communications as magazines and newspapers as well as sermons. Education and charitable work (or da’wa) would lead to social reformation, provided evil Western influences were contained. The Brotherhood patiently built a grassroots base that rapidly reached into every Egyptian province, with a membership of half a million people. One of the main ideological influences upon al-Banna was Rashid Rida, an erstwhile moderniser turned salafist who demanded the replacement of Western-influenced laws by the sharia, and revived the Koranic notion of jahiliyya—that is the pre-Islamic state of pagan benightedness—to denounce the regimes of the Arab present. At first viewed sympathetically by a monarch who saw the Brotherhood as less menacing than secular nationalism or socialism, this mood changed when its surface network of charitable and pious foundations was accompanied by an underground military organisation, the Secret Apparatus, that began to infiltrate the armed forces. The Brotherhood was compulsorily disbanded in 1948, prompting it to assassinate the prime minister responsible. By way of revenge, a year later, the forty-three-year-old al-Banna was killed in turn.8 Initially, the largely lower-middle-class Brothers welcomed the coup which in 1952 chased out the reforming sybarite king Farouk. They confused their own drive for Islamic unity with the pro-Soviet crypto-totalitarian state being established by Nasser and his junta of young officers. Nasser invited in some twenty thousand Soviet ‘advisers’, while sending promising young officers, like the air force pilot Hosni Mubarak, to the Frunse Military Academy in Moscow. Relations between Nasser and the Islamists quickly deteriorated to the point where in October 1954 a young Brother called Muhammad Abd al-Latif tried to shoot the president at one of the regime’s mass rallies in Alexandria, the shots being broadcast live on radio. Nasser’s response was swift and brutal.
As Nasser’s supporters burned Brotherhood property, six of its leaders were hanged. Others disappeared into Tura prison in southern Cairo. Their number included the Islamist ideologue Sayyid Qutb, whose thought and travails are essential to the story of modern jihadi-salafist terrorism, perhaps the closest way we can describe this ongoing phenomenon without either indicting Islam and fundamentalism or resorting to terms like Islamofascist or the more appropriate Islamobol-shevik. The hyphenated term, which has the virtue of being culturally specific, means armed struggle in the service of the creed of the ‘pious forefathers’ as reassembled into a politico-religious ideology by men who had no recognised religious authority outside the circles of their supporters. It might be useful to explain how we arrive at this definition.
Simply imagine four circles of diminishing size nestling within one another. The largest circle is the world’s one and a half billion Muslims, divided into Sunni, Shia and hundreds of other sects like the Sufi and often as historically accommodating of local non-Islamic beliefs as Christianity is of animism in Africa. Observance can be as casual or fundamental, as grimly austere or colourfully sensuous as religious practice is among Jews, Buddhists, Hindus or Christians, which is why the term fundamentalist does not accurately describe Islamist terrorists. Islamists are the next, smaller circle, that is people who want states to introduce Islamic law, a goal they usually pursue through guns and the ballot box in the tradition of the Muslim Brotherhood. The third smaller circle are salafists, or followers of the wise founders who surrounded Mohammed. They want to establish Islamic states of an extremely puritanical kind. The most influential salafist clerics are Saudis. Most jihadists are salafists, but not all salafists are jihadists, that is people who seek to bring about the violent transformation of societies into Islamic states of which the only known model has been the chaos created by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some envisage this on a vast scale, a revived caliphate, stretching from Spain through the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East, and on across the former Soviet ‘stans’ to South Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand and parts of China. Within non-Islamic states, jihadi-salafists take a territorial approach too, with each radicalised mosque being like a separate mini-kingdom, bent on dominance over the immediate neighbourhood. Victory has the smell of derelict bars, pubs and dance halls, and the chill of a draught in a room.
These people would not like being called Qutbists, for to name them after a mere mortal would be blasphemous. The son of a teacher in Upper Egypt, Qutb was a typical beneficiary of Egypt’s modernisation, before the schools inspector’s politico-religious activities led to his being sent to the US in 1948 on an indefinite fact-finding trip that was intended to get him out of the way. Qutb was repelled by the relatively innocent materialist society he found there, and especially by the succession of women who appeared bent on seducing the middle-aged Arab bachelor in scenes worthy of the actor Peter Sellers. Ironically, many of his responses to the West resembled the strain of cultural pessimism which industrial, urban modernity had evoked among the West’s own conservative intelligentsias.9 He had eccentric observations to make about such subjects as orderly grass lawns and joyless pigeons in anomic city squares. This exposure to the West—in the form of soporifically suburban Colorado—led Qutb to the view that the modern world had reverted to a state of pagan jahiliyya, against which the true Muslim had to insulate himself through total submission to Allah. Becoming a slave of God liberated the true believer from the slavery of merely human rulers, and such false creeds as the separation of religion and politics, democracy, human rights, liberalism and so on. In local terms, this meant that wherever Arabs thought they were on the side of the future—democracy, nationalism, socialism and so forth—they were merely rendering obeisance to false idols as worthless, despite their greater sophistication, as the old stone gods of ancient Mecca. They were what Qutb dubbed ‘so-called Muslims’ and as such they could be killed along with the infidel kuffar, in what Qutb envisaged as an endless jihad.10
Many have compared Qutb’s book with Lenin’s What is to be Done? Writing with a directness that was unlike the learned disquisitions of the ulema, Qutb managed to slip in the very Western, Marxist-Leninist notion of an elite revolutionary vanguard, albeit camouflaged as the belief that only the imprisoned Brothers were true Muslims, the rest being in various states of thrall to false idols. Regimes not solely based on sharia law should be combated with the sword as well as the book. The worst idolaters were the guards in Qutb’s prison, who in 1957 responded to the prisoners’ refusal to break rocks as part of their sentence of hard labour by entering the cells and killing twenty-one of them. The consumptive Qutb avoided this fate as he was kept in the infirmary.
By the time of his release in May 1964, and by virtue of such writings as Signposts, Qutb had become the leading ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood as it tentatively sought to regroup. Not every Brother agreed with his violent prescriptions, preferring instead the slow but steady creation of a parallel Muslim society outside the state, a tendency that has periodically enabled Egyptian governments to make peace with the Brotherhood. Qutb was not free for long because in order to boost its credibility vis-a-vis another security agency, the Military Security Services uncovered a wide-ranging conspiracy against Nasser’s regime, of which Qutb was alleged to be a leading light. Brutal raids on shanty towns and villages where the Brotherhood was strong, and routine torture of suspects, provided the evidence the regime needed for the existence of a ramified conspiracy that it hoped would galvanise its own supporters. After trial by a military court, Qutb and two colleagues were hanged on 29 August 1966. The decades of abuse he suffered, culminating in such a death, provided a powerful example of martyrdom for the faith that would reverberate around the Muslim world, not least in the form of a lurid biopic that leaves no torture unexplored. One of the places where Qutb’s doctrines flourished was in Saudi Arabia. Many exiled Egyptian Brothers were given refuge there as their intellectual skills were locally in short supply. One of them was Mohammed Qutb, Sayyid’s brother, who became chief propagator of the martyr’s cult, his future disciples including the young Osama bin Laden.11
For a decade or so after the Suez Crisis, Nasser basked in the adulation of much of the non-aligned world. Then his vision fell apart, beginning with the failure of the United Arab Republic created by amalgamating Egypt and Syria, although the name lingered on until in 1971 Egypt reverted to being the Arab Republic of Egypt. Widespread disillusionment with Arab nationalism, in the wake of the disastrous 1967 Six-Day War with Israel, and Jordan’s Black September, gave a brief boost to socialist alternatives, at least among students who looked to the Paris of 1968 as a model. The fact that the Jordanian Muslim Brothers had supported king Hussein’s suppression of the Palestinians inclined many rulers to view Islamism as a useful counterweight. As part of his so-called Corrective Revolution, Egypt’s new ruler Anwar Sadat, who came to power in late 1970, first ejected Nasser’s phalanx of Soviet advisers, and then released all the Muslim Brothers from prison and allowed exiles to return home.
As elsewhere in the world, Egyptian universities underwent ill-considered expansion in the 1970s, with student numbers rising from two hundred thousand in 1970 to more than five hundred thousand seven years later. Facilities and teaching were atrocious, because any professor of ability had left to earn better money in the Gulf, leaving behind student-teacher ratios of 1:100. Except for a few elite professional faculties, higher education involved learning mimeographed lecture notes by rote, with crash private tuition before exams for qualifications that brought some lowly unsatisfying job in societies where to get ahead one needs some connection to the local Big Man.12 The state sector could not expand quickly enough to absorb this demi-educated lumpen intelligentsia, whose degrees were the intellectual equivalent of a Western high-school certificate.13Overcrowding brought problems peculiar to the Islamic world, since men and women unaccustomed to close physical proximity found themselves pressed up against one another on the campus bus, or jostling three at a time for each available seat in the lecture halls.
The Believing President, as Sadat was known in his own press, encouraged the Jamaat Islamiya student associations to proliferate on campuses, seeing only the virtuous side of multiplying numbers of pious young women wearing veils and bearded men in white robes. Equipped with the funds of the student unions, they were ever fertile in their solutions to the problems of universities, providing sexually segregated housing and transport, free photocopying, and organised camps where religion played a major part. Inevitably, this attempt to realise Islam within the universities had its dark side. Concerts, dances and films were bullied into non-existence by Islamists armed with clubs and iron bars, while intimidation was used to prevent even the most innocent relations between the opposite sexes. In 1980 hundreds of militant students stormed the offices of the dean of the science faculty, to force his compliance with a series of Islamist ultimata. Meanwhile, radical preachers inveighed against nightlife on Cairo’s Avenue of the Pyramids, where pious visitors from the Gulf got drunk on bottles of whisky that cost as much as an Egyptian peasant saw in a month, while stuffing banknotes into the bosoms of belly dancers, and against a regime that celebrated the millennia of pre-Islamic Egyptian culture. ‘Egypt is Muslim, not pharaonic,’ they reminded their own pharaoh when Sadat campaigned to preserve Ramses II’s mummy. That Sadat lived increasingly in Farouk’s ten palaces further fuelled envy and hostility.14
These students included tiny bands of terrorists committed to the violent overthrow of Sadat, especially after his efforts to make peace with Israel in the late 1970s, efforts which meant the Saudis cut off the massive subsidies that mitigated Egypt’s chronic economic problems. The first attempted coup by militant Islamist students was suppressed before it started and the ringleaders were hanged. They were succeeded by a group called al-Jamaat al-Muslimin, or the Islamic Group, led by Shuqri Mustafa, an ardent Qutbist agronomist, who pronounced that the whole of Egyptian society was in a state of apostasy, to which the group’s initial response was to dwell in desert caves. There their minds took a remarkably prescient turn, forecasting the emergence of an Islamic caliphate that would challenge both the US and the USSR. When a leading Establishment cleric denounced them as heretics, the group kidnapped and killed him. Shuqri was apprehended and put on trial, a theatre he used to denounce the ulema, who also got it in the neck from the prosecutors for allowing ‘charlatans’ like Shuqri to operate within the universities. In that respect they resembled liberal university administrators in the West, with their limitless indulgence towards fanatics’ desire for social justice. In 1978 Shuqri and four other members of the Islamic Group were executed. These measures did not halt the proliferation of radical Islamist groups, which found greater grievances than the colossal corruption of the regime. The issues included Sadat’s peace deal with Israel, which posted an ambassador to Cairo, resulting in the president becoming a pariah in the wider Arab world; and efforts in 1979, supported by Sadat’s wife Jihan, to rebalance marriage and divorce laws to benefit women represented the final straw.15
The democratisation of religious opinion as against received authority, and the rage that ensued when mass education did not automatically translate into status, was evident in the group that eventually assassinated Sadat. One cell developed in a Cairo suburb, where a young electrical engineer called Mohammed Abd al-Salam Faraj linked up with two men from the prominent al-Zumr family. Together with Muhammed Zumi, a fugitive from southern Upper Egypt where a further cell developed, they formed Tanzim al-Jihad in 1980. From the start, the group was divided between the northern group which focused on killing Sadat, and southerners more concerned to persecute Coptic Christian goldsmiths and jewellers. The latter’s numbers and prosperity had exceeded Islam’s threshold of tolerance, while their pope was gaining the ear of Americans concerned about persecution of fellow Christians. Not only were the Copts getting above themselves, but it appeared that their greater assertiveness was being manipulated by their ‘Crusader’ allies abroad. Minor incidents, perhaps the charge that someone had put the hex on a buffalo, resulted in sectarian violence which the police struggled to contain. It spread to the Cairo slums when in the autumn of 1981 Copts and Muslims attempted to massacre each other.
The conspiracy assumed lethal proportions when it was joined by twenty-four-year-old first-lieutenant Khalid Ahmed Shawqi al-Islambouli, like the al-Zumrs from a prominent family. Frustrated in his desire to become an air force pilot, he had washed up in artillery. The electrician Faraj provided the vision, borrowing bits of Qutb and venerable Taymiyya to justify an attack on the ‘near enemy’ of apostate Muslim rulers, preparatory to the assault of a consolidated Islam on the ‘far enemy’ of Israel. Clerical endorsement of this strategy was supplied by a blind lecturer in theology from a southern outpost of Cairo’s al-Azhar university, whom Sadat had released from a nine-month prison sentence when he signalled the break with the Nasser era. This forty-something cleric was sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, thenceforth a pivotal figure in several terrorist atrocities.
Recruitment of others into the developing conspiracy against Sadat occurred in radical mosques, where the more devout were singled out to attend intensive retreats, part of the grooming that draws people into the more select group responsible for acts of terrorism. The next step from these retreats for a select few, whose sense of being the elite within an elite was consolidated, was basic weapons training. The group began by robbing jewellery businesses owned by Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt, robberies which were designed to finance major operations and to make the bumptious Copts—one of whom, Boutros Boutros Ghali, was even foreign minister—feel the Muslim fist. In this climate of sectarian tension, Sadat announced a new line: ‘No politics in religion, and no religion in politics’. The regime rounded up about fifteen hundred radicals, including Khalid al-Islambouli’s brother Muhammed, leader of Islamic students in the commerce department at Asyut university. This engendered emotions like those that once prevailed in Lenin’s family. Their mother recalled: ‘When he heard the news, Khalid burst out crying and said to me: “Why have they arrested my brother, who committed no crime?” He cried so much that he had convulsions. When he finally calmed down, he said to me, “Be patient, mother, it is the will of God … every tyrant has his end.” ‘ On 23 September 1981 Khalid al-Islambouli learned that he was to participate in the parade on 6 October designed to celebrate the moment in 1973 when Egyptian troops had captured a salient over the canal in Sinai. This was the thirty-eighth attempt on Sadat’s life; it was horribly successful.
As an army officer al-Islambouli was spared the searches which Sadat’s security inflicted on other ranks, who were supposed to surrender their firing pins and live rounds for the day. No checks were made to see that this had been done, although the orders had certainly been given. This laxity enabled al-Islambouli to smuggle ammunition and grenades provided by Faraj into his quarters concealed in a duffle bag. He also pulled rank to bring three assassins dressed as soldiers into his barracks; the following day they took the places of the real soldiers—to whom al-Islambouli gave a day’s leave—in his Zil truck as it towed a gun carriage across the parade ground. Only the driver did not know what was going on when al-Islambouli grabbed the handbrake as the truck neared the reviewing stand. He and his accomplices dismounted, removing the safety catches from their weapons.
There, Sadat, his ministers, visiting dignitaries and the 150 men—deployed in concentric groups—supposedly protecting him were distracted by the roaring jets of an air force fly-past. Sadat was dressed in a natty Prussian-style uniform which had arrived from a London tailor the day before. He refused to don a bullet-proof vest, claiming that it would spoil the tunic’s line. Besides, as he said when he told his guards to keep their distance: ‘Please go away—I am with my sons,’ meaning the massed soldiery. When Sadat caught sight of five men running towards him, he stood up, ready with a salute, inadvertently providing them with a clear target. The five hurled grenades, which sent the Egyptian elite reeling, and then, reaching the bottom of the reviewing stand, unleashed about thirty-five seconds of sustained fire from automatic weapons delivered from a range of about fifteen metres. Despite the efforts of the defence minister, who tried to shield his president, bullets tore into Sadat’s chest and neck causing massive blood loss. Incredulous at this fate, Sadat’s last words were ‘Mish Maaqool, Mish Maaqool’ or ‘impossible, impossible’. Al-Islambouli, whose shots finished off Sadat, repeatedly shouted, ‘My name is Khalid Islambouli, I have slain Pharaoh, and I do not fear death!’ He did not bother to kill Mubarak too, the self-effacing vice-president. One assassin was killed by security officers, and the rest were wounded and captured.
The plot to take over Cairo, starting with the television centre, unravelled as the captured assassins boasted how these attacks were supposed to unfold, an interpretation probably over-indulgent of the restraint of their interrogators. In the south there was a four-day seizure of parts of downtown Asyut, which ended abruptly when the government sent in paratroopers. Sadat’s killers and more than three hundred radical Islamist defendants were tried in a court erected in Cairo’s Exhibition Grounds. The surviving terrorists gave reasons for the assassination. They spoke of the ‘decadence’ represented by alcohol and discotheques, and the dishonouring contempt Sadat had expressed for women dressed in ‘tents’. One mentioned the example of the Iranian Revolution and the need to create a Sunni counterweight. There was one exception to the death sentences passed on the main defendants. Lawyers for Abdel Rahman successfully dissociated their client from specific injunctions to harm or kill either Copts or Sadat, while the blind sheikh himself passionately denounced attempts to relativise an immutable Islam so as to conform with modern Western mores. Incredibly, he was acquitted by a court which knew that what he was saying would have been well received by most of the ulema, even though one of Mubarak’s first acts had been to get the heads of Cairo’s prestigious al-Azhar university, the Arab world’s Oxford, to condemn the assassins.16
Some of the other defendants would achieve even greater prominence. Ayman al-Zawahiri was a young surgeon from a distinguished clerical-medical dynasty with a practice in Cairo’s Maadi suburb where he had organised a jihadist cell that was on the periphery of the plot to kill Sadat. Although he had learned of the plot only hours before it happened, al-Zawahiri and his friend Aboud al-Zuma were bent on using Sadat’s funeral to kill Mubarak and any foreign dignitaries who happened along. On 23 October al-Zawahiri was arrested by the police, the gateway to endless horrors at the hands of Intelligence Unit 75, the government’s expert torturers. During the court hearings, he emerged as the defendants’ spokesman, using this public forum to give chapter and verse about beatings, electrocution and wild dogs, testimony—all probably true—that provoked chants of ‘The army of Mohammed will return, and we will defeat the Jews’ from his co-accused. At the end of the three-year trial, al-Zawahiri was sentenced to three years in jail, which he had already largely served on remand. His sentence may have been lightened by intelligence on other terrorists that he gave his tormentors. When he emerged from this ordeal in 1984, al-Zawahiri was no longer the retiring bookish medic with a sideline in militant jihadism. The physical and psychological humiliations of torture, and perhaps the religious ecstasies that extreme pain can generate, had created a suspicious, steely man focused on revenge. The only future question would be, against whom?17
III THE RISE OF ISLAMISM IN ALGERIA
The succession of stony-faced army officers who ruled Algeria after it achieved independence in 1962 were confronted by mounting problems that the FLN’s brand of single-party national socialism with an Islamic tinge could not solve. Oil and natural-gas revenues were not converted into industrial jobs quickly enough to cope with staggering population growth or the flood of people migrating from the mountains and scrublands to the slums of the major cities. In fact they ended up in Swiss bank accounts of the ruling military elite. Every year 180,000 well-educated youths under twenty-five years of age entered a labour market that grew by only 100,000.18 Algeria had 8.5 million people in 1954; by 1980 that had become 18.5 million, and 26.6 million thirteen years later. The emigration of about eight hundred thousand workers, largely to France, did not significantly alleviate these demographic pressures, always assuming that people were prepared to put up with the resentment they often faced in the erstwhile colonial metropolis towards the indigent victors of the Algerian War. Moreover, nearly half of the population was aged under fifteen in a society where women had an average of eight children—whose own life expectancy rose because of better medical care.
Many young people had no work; indeed the official unemployment rate reached 28 per cent and that is likely to be an underestimate. Since these boys spent their time slouched against walls, they were referred to as ‘hittistes’, from hit, the Arab word for wall. To these young people, the army and FLN leaderships’ constant harping on their allegedly heroic revolutionary role in the 1950s and 1960s meant nothing. They were the corrupt crowd who used the privatisation of state lands in the 1980s to build luxury villas and private factories, and whose security services routinely assaulted and tortured people. Reality for youths in the teeming slums was unemployment, houses so badly built that they sometimes collapsed, and relentless heat made insufferable by chronic water shortages. A distinctive youth culture developed based on gangs, football hooliganism, drugs and raï music, which fused North African idioms with rap, reggae and punk. In October 1988 these young males rioted in downtown Algiers, smashing up buses, roadsigns, telephone kiosks, and luxury shops where the local jeunesse dorée, or ‘tchi-tchi’, were wont to flaunt their wealth. Much sexual frustration was vented against rich young women driving flashy sports cars—dubbed Blonda Hondas by the street youths. Symbolically, they tore down the Algerian flag and raised an empty couscous sack to draw attention to the realities of decades of socialism. When the police counterattacked, killing hundreds of these rioters and torturing detainees, they were called ‘Jews’, a novel experience for representatives of a state that was pathologically anti-Zionist.
The failure of socialism in Algeria provided militant Islamists with their chance, for it was they who deftly interposed themselves as mediators between the rioters and the government. The regime had fitfully encouraged this trend. In the 1970s president (and colonel) Houari Boumedienne, who had deposed Ahmed Ben Bella in 1965, launched a sustained campaign of Arabisation to expunge every vestige of the hated French. This was despite the fact that French came much more easily to most Algerians than classical literary Arabic as taught by exiled Egyptian Muslim Brothers, and was the surest route to the best professions and jobs, which required expertise in French. Enforced Arabisation did not please the Berbers either, who were proud of their distinctive dialects and cultural identity. In the spring of 1980 the Berber heartland of Kabylia was rocked by demonstrations and strikes which the regime suppressed with its usual violence. The regime also sought to use Islam when socialism palpably failed to create a united Algerian identity. The 1976 National Charter said that ‘Islam is the state religion’; the president had to be a Muslim who swore an oath to ‘respect and glorify the Muslim religion’. In that year Friday replaced Sunday as a day of enforced rest. Gambling and the sale of alcohol to Muslims were banned. Three years later Muslims were prohibited from raising swine. Partly as a result of Saudi largesse, the number of mosques in the country rose from 2,200 in 1966 to 5,829 in 1980. Many of these were so-called people’s mosques which when left half built technically evaded state control. Although the state continued to monopolise the production of audiocassettes, pirate imports brought the radical tidings of Egyptian, Lebanese and Saudi clerics much as printing presses had once universalised the words of Luther and Calvin.19
The state’s attempt to exploit Islam for purely political ends was resented by many radical Islamists such as Mustafa Bouyali, who declared the regime impious and called for a jihad to overthrow it. After repairing, like the Prophet, to the mountains, Bouyali founded a Mouvement Islamique Armé, with himself as its emir. Until Bouyali was killed in 1987, the FLN-army leaders found themselves playing role reversal with the French who had once battled the FLN in the same bleak countryside. Cooler-headed Islamists decided simply to push the regime towards higher levels of Islamisation. An academic called Abassi Madani called for ‘respect for the sharia in government legislation and a purging of elements hostile to our religion’. Among his other demands was segregation of the sexes in education. He was immediately imprisoned, his release being a key future demand of Islamist terrorists. After 1978 the new government of colonel Chadli Benjedid responded to the rise of Islamism by building more mosques, so as to sideline the multiplying number of ad-hoc prayer rooms, and controlling who was allowed to preach in them. An Islamic university was created in the city of Constantine to counter the foreign influences that held sway in the absence of a local Algerian ulema.Two distinguished clerics, Muhammad al-Ghazali and Youssef al-Qaradawi, were imported from Egypt, but craftily ignored the regime’s efforts to make them its own clerical authorities. Worse, the Islamic faction within the sole ruling party—whom wits called the ‘Barbefélènes’ because of their beards—began to drift into the orbit of this incipient Islamist movement, mosques being the only legal site of opposition in a one-party state.
Although the October 1988 youth riots petered out, Chadli continued to treat Islamist intellectuals as interlocutors, even though it was not clear at all that they, or anyone else, had much purchase on the young rioters. In a bold move designed to secure his re-election to the presidency, Chadli surprisingly introduced a multi-party system, his intention being to shuffle the parties around so as to give a democratic gloss to a much enhanced presidency. One product of this democratising strategy was the Islamic Salvation Front or FIS, the Islamist party founded in March 1989, which temporarily brought together Algerianists who believed in the creeping, and entirely legitimate, Islamisation of Algerian society, and salafists who were opposed to democracy as a secular foreign imposition, at the same time as they themselves were heavily engaged with fraternal Arab jihadists. The FIS was the first legal Islamic party in the entire Arab world, and the first openly to proclaim the goal of an Islamic republic, while simultaneously promising to restore ethics, justice and warm family kinship. It wanted to revert to the egalitarianism of the early FLN, a distant memory at a time when a corrupt business and military elite was stealing the nation’s oil wealth. Unsurprisingly this especially appealed to the first - and second-generation migrants from the conservative countryside huddled in the anomic poor quarters of big cities.
The FIS was both an Islamised political party and a social welfare organisation. The party was governed by a thirty-eight-member Council, called the Madjlis ech-Choura in conscious echo of the Prophet, with day-to-day business in the hands of a twelve-man Executive Bureau. Its local cells were called ousra or families, another conscious use of Islamic terminology. Its two main leaders were Ali Benhadji, a charismatic associate of the dead jihadist Bouyali, a demagogue on a motorbike who appealed to young people, and the older Abassi Madani, who was respected by pious traders and shopkeepers. Like the parish structures that had benefited Christian democrat parties in post-war Europe, the mosques provided the FIS with a major organisational advantage over the forty or so rival parties, some of which were led by exiles returned from Europe, whose local appeal was limited. Similar advantages flowed from its charitable activities, which were subsidised by the Saudis, since it provided hospital and funeral funds for the poor, while offering to buy indigent women their veils. In other words, it was like a remoralised version of the early FLN, attracting, beyond the Islamists who made up its hard core, many more protest voters who had had enough of a regime that was neither socialist nor Islamic.
In municipal polls held in 1990 the FIS won 54 per cent of the popular vote, decimating the former governing party. Success led it to overplay its hand. Control of municipal councils resulted immediately in prohibitions on alcohol or on people walking about in shorts and swimming costumes. In Oran, the council banned a raï music concert. Another refused to deal with correspondence not written in Arabic. In December 1991 the FIS eventually took part in the first round of legislative elections—after a four-month debate on the propriety of doing so—winning a respectable 47 per cent of a poorly attended poll which suggests that many voters were apathetic about the choices available to them. Four hundred thousand people took part in demonstrations in the capital, chanting ‘No police state, no fundamentalist republic!’ Correctly fearing that the army had had enough, the FIS made desperate attempts to allay public anxiety about the Islamic society it envisaged for Algeria, even constructing scaled models of a projected Islamic city with cinemas, libraries and sports halls. This did not entirely dispel fears that, if the FIS won the second round of elections, it would abolish democracy, the free press and all other political parties, that being the message from some mosques. On 11 January 1992 the generals mounted a putsch, sacking Chadli and going on to ban the FIS and arrest its leaders. They received lengthy jail sentences, and many of their lesser supporters were despatched to remote Saharan concentration camps. That August a radical Islamist bomb killed ten people at Algiers airport, the beginning of a terror campaign that would eventually be directed at the entire Muslim population.
IV MUSLIM SOUTH ASIA
Of the world’s one and a half billion Muslims, only one-fifth live in the Arab world. Arabia bulks large in the Muslim imagination, and Arabic has enormous prestige as the language of Allah recorded in sacred texts, but the demographic strength of Islam lies in the Indian subcontinent and South Asia. Indonesia’s 250 million people, consisting of 250 ethnic groups living on the six thousand inhabitable islands in the thirteen-thousand-island archipelago, are nearly 90 per cent Muslim. Since Islam was, as it is said, written over other belief systems, Indonesian Muslims are broadly divided between those who subscribe to this syncretic version and modernisers who sought to make Indonesia conform more tightly to Arab exemplars which exert enormous suasion in the region. Power and wealth in Indonesia sit uncomfortably along ethnic and religious fault lines too. Excepting that part controlled by the ruling dynasts, economic might is largely in the hands of an industrious Buddhist, Christian and Confucian Chinese minority, while bureaucratic, military and political power has been monopolised by a predominantly Christian-educated elite. Although there is a modernised Muslim middle class, the majority of the 49 per cent of Indonesians subsisting on under US$2 a day are Muslims too.
Muslim militias played an important part in fighting the Dutch colonialists, but they broke with the newly established Republic over its refusal to introduce sharia law. A movement called Darul Islam, or the Islamic State of Indonesia, waged a desultory military campaign from its bases in central Java, Aceh and South Sulawesi, until its leaders were captured in 1962. The dictators Sukarno and Suharto propagated a state philosophy called Pancasila, designed to weld this kaleidoscopic nation together. Although Indonesia is a secular state, this creed consists of affirmation of belief in one God, respect for the human individual and social justice, and the unity of the motherland. The pious Muslim minority and the surviving supporters of Darul Islam insisted on adding sharia law, a demand known as the Jakarta Charter. Radical Islam’s survival in Indonesia was due to the fact that elements in the security services saw Darul Islam as a useful tool to suppress Communism, as well as due to inflows of Saudi money that financed an Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies in Jakarta. Another important incubator was the Javanese version of a madrassa or seminary, known locally as a pesantren, run by two Arabs, Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, at Ngruki in the Solo region. These two were linked to a series of terrorist attacks on bars and cinemas in the 1970s and early 1980s, carried out by a shadowy organisation called Komando Jihad. Though the fact that the attacks always preceded elections may have reflected a government plot to discredit Islamic parties, these two Arabs were tried and jailed for fomenting terrorism. Released on licence, they fled to Malaysia. The restoration of democracy in 1999 saw the mainstream Islamic party achieve fourth place with 11 per cent of the poll. It also saw the development of two terrorist groups. A preacher of Arab descent who was a veteran of the jihad in Afghanistan seems to have been responsible for Laskar-Jihad, a terrorist group formed in West Java to protect Muslims from murderous Christian militias in the Moluccas islands off Sulawesi. Strictly Wahhabist, it also vehemently rejected the presidency of Megawati Setiawati Soekarnoputri (2001—4), largely because of her gender. If Laskar-Jihad has restricted regional ambitions, and would follow Saudi authorities in condemning Osama bin Laden as a sectarian heretic, the front organisation known as Majelis Mujahidin, whose spiritual leader is Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, explicitly wants an Islamic state covering Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. For convenience sake, regional intelligence agencies refer to this wider South Asian network as Jemaah Islamiyah, and seek to prove its links with Al Qaeda, certain that this will bring US funds for counter-terrorist operations. The links are not imaginary.20
The Indian subcontinent is not far behind Indonesia in numbers of adherents of Islam. Already in the nineteenth century, a network of madrassas, whose hub was at Deoband, north of Delhi, propagated a rigorously Wahhabist form of Islam so as to enable Muslims to guard their identity in a hostile Hindu sea. Although secular Muslim intellectuals, and British-trained army officers, had created an independent Pakistan in 1947, for want of anything else with equivalent purchase they had to stress a common Islamic identity to hold its Baluchi, Pashtun, Sindhi and Punjabi tribes together, a problem that became more urgent after 1971 with the secession of the eastern Bengalis into an independent Bangladesh. That loss served to tilt rump Pakistan towards the warm waters of the Gulf states. There was also the longer-standing contest over Kashmir, a princely state under the British Raj, with Sunni Muslims dominant in the Kashmir valley and mixed Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist elsewhere. By force of arms in 1947-9 India succeeded in imposing its will on most of Kashmir, including the Sunni valley, leaving Pakistan in charge of the remaining third, a position it sought to overturn in fighting that recurred in 1965 and 1971. Indian misrule in Kashmir led to vicious attacks by Muslims on Hindus, many of whom fled, and the formation of dozens of militant groups, most of them backed by the army, the intelligence services or Islamist parties in Pakistan, who provide them with arms, money and volunteer manpower. These groups include Hizb-ul-Mujahedin and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, both of which combine guerrilla warfare with terrorism designed to frighten Hindus or to intimidate moderate Muslims. Pakistani support for these groups makes the country the world’s second major state sponsor of terrorism, even if this sponsorship is much more focused in scope than the Iranians’. The general aim is to plague India with a running sore that ties up a quarter of a million Indian troops in the area, while providing a ventilator for radical Islamists in Pakistan itself who might otherwise turn on their own government. That strategy has proved too clever by half, since some Kashmiri and Pakistani militants seek forcibly to Islamise both countries.
For within Pakistan successive governments have sought to instru-mentalise Islam with varying degrees of sincerity and success, pandering to a vociferous Muslim lobby that knows how to incite mobs, but whose electoral record—when there have been elections—is modest. A few belated gestures towards Islam in the dying days of the deeply corrupt socialist government of Ali Bhutto did not prevent his overthrow and execution by the military dictator general Zia-ul-Haq in 1977. Zia was a British-trained cavalry officer who while on secondment to Jordan in 1970 had led a group of Jordanian troops he was training into battle against the Palestinians during king Hussein’s Black September crackdown. Looking like a slightly oleaginous movie actor with his slicked-down hair and handlebar moustache, Zia admired the Islamist ideologue Mawlana Mawdudi, the journalist who in 1941 had founded a jihadist party called Jamaat-e-Islami, which while harking back to the Prophet’s band of followers was also indebted to the vanguardist parties of Europe in the 1930s. Mawdudi was one of the millions of Muslims who went to Pakistan after independence. His party became one element of the broader Pakistani National Alliance with which Zia hoped to stabilise his military regime. Zia brought prominent Islamists into government, briefly including Mawdudi himself, while Islamising education, the law, taxation and so forth. Although he introduced sharia law, the dire penalties for adulterers and thieves were rarely implemented because of scrupulous insistence on the need for many eyewitnesses. Down to his death in 1988, Zia succeeded in dividing the Islamic camp by co-opting the modern Islamist ideologues, while leaving the traditional clerical elite in charge of educating the poor in their burgeoning, Saudi-financed madrassas, the alternative to providing a decent public education system. The number of Deobandi madrassas, which the Wahhabist Saudis favoured, spiralled from 354 in 1972 to seven thousand in 2002. The military regime was also presented with another cause it could pursue with Muslim radicals when the old struggle over Kashmir was joined by the new war in Afghanistan.
V HOLY WAR: THE AFGHAN JIHAD
In the spring of 1978, Afghan Communists killed the country’s president Mohammed Daoud, instituting a reign of anti-Islamic terror that has received less notice than their desire to have girls attend schools or encouragement of typists to wear Western skirts and trouser suits. By the end of 1979, some twelve thousand religious and community leaders were in Kabul’s jails, where many were quietly liquidated. A revolt broke out in Shia-dominated Herat, in which Islamists hacked to death a dozen Soviet advisers and their families. By way of reprisal, Soviet aircraft bombed Herat, killing about twenty thousand people. The revolt spread to Jalalabad, even as the government’s troops began to desert to the mujaheddin. As Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and KGB chief Yuri Andropov wondered how to respond, in Washington national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski persuaded president Carter to authorise non-lethal covert support to the Afghan rebels. Medicines and radios with a combined value of half a million US dollars were shipped to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) for distribution to the Afghan mujaheddin. This was the modest beginning of a major enthusiasm. After murdering the Soviets’ first client ruler, Hafizullah Amin clambered to the dizzy pinnacle of power in Kabul, despite KGB suspicions that he was a CIA agent. That rumour sealed his fate when on Christmas Eve Soviet transporters landed paratroops at Kabul, with seven hundred KGB paramilitaries in Afghan uniforms despatched to kill Amin and the current Communist leadership. They were followed by Central Asian Red Army troops—70 per cent of whom were Muslim—whose armoured vehicles rumbled along the metalled road the Soviets had built in the 1960s. Eventually Soviet forces would peak at about 120,000, although some 650,000 men served in Afghanistan during the eight years of conflict, many of them drug-deranged conscripts blasting away from tanks reverberating with heavy-metal rock music. It is useful to recall that this Soviet invasion led to the formation of the Arab Afghans and ultimately to Al Qaeda.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan focused several discrete strategic agendas. The US saw it as a way of bleeding the Russians by using Afghan proxies. Brzezinski wrote to Carter: ‘Now we can give the USSR its own Vietnam war.’21 It cost both blood and treasure. Afghanistan is estimated to have cost the Soviet Union some US$45 billion by the time the Russians retreated, leaving a million Afghan dead at the expense of fifteen thousand Red Army fatalities. Three million Afghans fled to Pakistan, while the same number ended up as refugees in Iran. The US expended much less on its support for the Afghan mujaheddin, perhaps US$5 billion in total, much of it scooped out of the country’s fathomless defence budget and re-routed to the CIA to be disbursed via the Pakistanis.
A credulous ‘Boy’s Own’ Western media boosted the mujaheddin as noble savages, nostalgically recalling the massacres these tribesmen had once inflicted on the British, as they contemplated Russian soldiers having their eyes gouged out or genitals cut off if they did not convert to Islam. Responding to widespread Muslim outrage at the invasion of Islamic territory by the legions of the Red godless, the Saudis and other conservative Gulf states saw an opportunity for Sunnis to rival the brightly burning Shia star of ayatollah Khomenei with a cause that would also divert their own militant Islamists to foreign fields. They even introduced discounted fares on the national airline to make it easier to get rid of them to Afghanistan. The Saudis hated the Russians, and through a Safari Club had already co-operated with the US in subverting the spread of Marxist regimes in Africa. In July 1980 the Saudis’ intelligence supremo, prince Turki, agreed to match dollar for dollar US support for the mujaheddin. Saudi money was sent to the Washington embassy and then transferred to a Swiss bank account of the CIA, which used these funds to purchase weapons for those Afghans the CIA and the Saudis deemed most worthy of support. This meant that the US$200 million the CIA’s Afghan programme received in 1984 became US$400 million courtesy of the Saudis. The problem was that Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate was not the only game in town, even assuming that it was trustworthy. Also supporting the Islamist cause in Afghanistan were private and semi-official charitable and religious bodies, which funded not only indigenous Afghan Wahhabis, but also the stream of Gulf Arabs heading to Afghanistan to wage jihad. An estimated twenty thousand Arabs went to Afghanistan to fight. The Saudis even paid for the critically wounded to be treated in private Harley Street clinics in London. Lastly, Pakistan’s successive regimes, and an Islamised intelligence agency swollen with Saudi and US money, saw a chance to install a friendly neighbouring Islamist regime that would afford Pakistan defence in depth. Moreover, the more far-sighted saw that training camps for Afghan or foreign mujaheddin could become dual purpose, training jihadists to fight India in Kashmir at a time when the US regarded India as a suspiciously pink shape on the Cold War map.22
The Afghan-Pakistan border became the site of a bewildering array of camps for some three million people fleeing the Soviets, whose tactics included ruining crops, sowing millions of anti-personnel mines and depopulating villages. Many Afghan boys were subtracted from the desperate environment of all refugee camps, and sent as boarders to the network of Pakistani Deobandi madrassas, where through the medium of ceaselessly chanting the Koran they were refashioned into total Islamic personalities. Many of these boys would return to Afghanistan in early adulthood, after the Russians had left, as the all-conquering Taliban. Meanwhile, foreign intelligence agencies funnelled arms into mujaheddin training camps strung along the Pakistani side of the Afghan border. As agile as goats, the mujaheddin dominated the high ground, hitting and then running from the Russians, before retiring for long seasonal breaks in the fighting. Second World War-era weapons were replaced by AK-47s, heavy machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, together with fleets of trucks to convoy them forwards into Afghanistan. Many of these weapons were purchased from China, allowing the CIA to savour using Chinese Communist arms to kill Soviets. By the mid-1980s the CIA’s involvement was deeper, although it baulked at anything like airlifting its own supplies lest it trigger a superpower confrontation. US spy satellites were used to track Soviet positions, which were relayed to the mujaheddin using indecipherable ‘burst’ communications systems. Next came powerful sniper rifles, plastic explosives and sophisticated detonators, variously intended for sabotage operations and the assassination of Soviet commanders, some of whom were killed by car bombs in Kabul. When the Soviets showed some success by deploying highly trained Speznaz commandos, inserted to ambush the mujaheddin from giant armoured Hind helicopters, the CIA supplied the Afghans with Stinger shoulder-launched guided missiles, whose infra-red sensors invariably found their target. The first successful attack on such helicopters, and the bullets pumped afterwards into the bodies of their crews, was shown on video in the Oval Office. The American budget for the Afghan war climbed to US$470 million in 1986 and US$630 million in 1987, all matched too by the Saudis. The US began paying select mujaheddin commanders a decent salary, partly to offset worrying evidence of another presence, for at no point did the CIA arm or promote foreign Islamist fighters. They moved around in different orbits, with the foreign fighters drawing on different sources of funds and recruits.23
The majority of Afghan mujaheddin were suspicious of the Arab volunteers, whom they called Ikhwanis, meaning the Muslim Brothers, or Wahhabis after the puritanical Islamism that rejected more mystical Sufi traditions, saints and shrines. The reason a frontier town like Peshawar was becoming physically Arabised was because that is where the Arabs hung out while not doing any fighting. They would have done the Afghan cause more good by donating the cost of their air tickets. The first Arab presence in Afghanistan consisted of volunteers despatched on humanitarian missions by a wide array of Islamic non-governmental organisations. Since many professionals, such as doctors, were stalwarts of the Muslim Brotherhood, this was how Ayman al-Zawahiri ended up in Peshawar, where he rapidly realised that Afghanistan might be an ‘incubator’ for the deliverance of his Nilotic homeland from the man he called Pharaoh.
Another Muslim Brother to wash up in Peshawar was a Palestinian called Abdullah Azzam. He had broken with the PLO over Black September, arguing that it should fight Jews rather than Jordanians, which did not spare him from being deported to Saudi Arabia where he taught sharia law at the university of Jeddah. In 1984 he moved to Pakistan, helping to co-ordinate Islamic relief operations from a camp near the Khyber Pass. The Saudis trusted him sufficiently to found a Bureau of Services, designed to monitor the increasing number of Gulf Arabs arriving in Afghanistan to perform, or wage, jihad. Azzam was largely responsible for the romanticised death cult that gained ground among the foreign fighters, since his eulogies to the ‘martyrs’ were generously filled with perfumed corpses and heavenly virgins. He started a magazine called Al-Jihad, and wrote an influential book endorsed by the kingdom’s leading cleric, whose generic thrust was that defence of Islamic territory was an individual obligation upon all Muslims rather akin to rescuing a child drowning in the sea. Ominously, the war in Afghanistan was merely the start of it, as Palestine, Burma, Lebanon, Chad, Eritrea, Somalia, the Philippines, South Yemen, Soviet Central Asia and Andalusia, that is two-thirds of modern Spain, were waiting to be delivered too. A wealthy former student, Osama bin Laden, proposed to pay the Bureau’s US$2,500 monthly operating costs, while offering expenses of US$300 a month to any Arab that Azzam could lure to Afghanistan in an Islamist cover-version of the International Brigades of the 1930s that had fought Fascism in Spain. Among those whom Azzam inspired (they had met at Mecca in 1987) to follow him was Abu Hamza al-Masri, a hefty Egyptian illegal immigrant to Britain who, having decided Britain was a ‘toilet’ after working as a bouncer at Soho strip clubs, had got consuming religion. In 1993 Hamza went to Afghanistan where, too bulky to romp easily up and down mountains, he concentrated on bomb making. One such session resulted in the loss of an eye and his hands being blown off, the most plausible reason given for his trademark prosthetic hook.24
Afghanistan has always been one of the places that rich Gulf Arabs frequent—to camp and hunt with falcons—on their globalised caravanserai which takes them via the indigent pretty girls of Ethiopia to Annabel’s and the tarts of Mayfair and Monaco. Broadly speaking, the Arabs come to wage jihad were a mixture of fantasists, who simply had themselves photographed with an AK-47 in front of menacing rocks, and the sort of men who would pitch white tents so as to attract the lethal attentions of Soviet aircraft. They actually wanted to die so as to precipitate the sounds and smells of paradise. Bin Laden himself exhibited many of the characteristics of any spoiled rich kid seeking an older mentor and a higher purpose. He found the former in Azzam, but then gradually migrated to al-Zawahiri. In addition to being personally extremely rich, bin Laden had a network of even wealthier supporters.25
Gnarled mujaheddin who met the lanky Gulf Arab (his family were originally from Aden in Yemen) thought his hands felt weak while his simpering smile reminded them of a girl’s. Actually, the soft exterior, which was slowly reconfigured so that bin Laden seemed like a modest, slow-speaking sage despite his relative youth, concealed a huge ego, a ferocious temper and a cunning organisational mind. Most Arab leaders do not need to be eloquent as repression stands in for the arts of persuasion. By contrast, bin Laden was highly eloquent in his native Arabic. He opened his own training camp—the Lion’s Den—at Jaji exclusively designed for Arab jihadists. This was an assertion of independence from Azzam. When the Russians attacked in April 1987, bin Laden and fifty of his supporters allegedly held off two hundred Russian troops for a week. This engagement gave birth to a legend of Arab fighting prowess that served to attract further recruits.
Bin Laden showed an adroit awareness of how to use the media. He had a fifty-minute video made of himself riding horses, firing weapons and lecturing his fighters. These have the indirectness of home videos because bin Laden never addresses the camera. He summoned trusted foreign journalists, notably Robert Fisk, to sit at the feet of this prodigal phenomenon: the millionaire Saudi who had given up the high life to share Afghan caves with scorpions. An easy familiarity enhanced the sensation of celebrity. Visitors noted his simple consumption of water, flat bread, rice and potato and tomato stew.26 If many Afghan mujaheddin found his renunciation of the good life incomprehensible—most of their own warlords lived rather well in urban villas kitted out with consumer gismos—it played well among his fellow Gulf Arabs. He did not demur when his followers took to calling him ‘the sheikh’, a dual title that means clan ruler and religious sage. While bin Laden had no theological expertise or spiritual authority whatsoever, any more than the doctors and engineers around him, and was physically hundreds of miles from the traditional sites of Islamic learning, gradually through his mountainside appearances he assumed all of those roles within the new disorder he was hatching even as US policymakers spoke airily in their big-talking way of the order they were about to impose as the USSR disintegrated. While they described the future architecture of the world in Foreign Affairs, National Interest and similar journals, thousands of miles away others construed the world through the life and times of the Prophet.27
As the Soviet Union under Gorbachev resolved to pull out of its disastrous eight-year campaign in Afghanistan, bin Laden and the other leading Arabs determined to keep the spirit of jihad alive through a secret organisation concealed within a wider guerrilla-training programme which included huge Saudi-financed bases at places like Zhawar Khili and Tora Bora.28 They may have helped defeat a global superpower, the first major Muslim victory after decades in which Israel had defeated the Arabs and Indian Hindus the Muslim Pakistanis, but the ensuing Afghan civil war showed that they had failed to create an Islamist state in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda probably came into existence in May 1988, but it was only in August of that year that the leading Arab Afghans discussed it. Originally the word meant ‘base’ as in military base, so that the US base at Bagram is ‘al-Qaeda Bagram’. While the camps would train Arab fighters destined for Islamist mujaheddin factions battling to control Afghanistan after the Soviets had left an isolated client regime behind, Al Qaeda would consist of a more select cadre, of between 10 and 30 per cent of the trainees, destined for open-ended operations. That is the second meaning of Al Qaeda: as a revolutionary vanguard, similar to the Jacobins or Bolsheviks. Recruits came from a variety of social, religious and national backgrounds, which gradually dissolved into a new global jihadi-salafist identity that picked and mixed from secular geopolitics and several extreme Islamic traditions in a thoroughly eclectic postmodern fashion. One can unthread some of the ideological and religious genealogies, but this entirely conventional approach to understanding the jihadists does not really explain the state of mind any more than learned tomes of Teutonic Geistesgeschichte which chart the ground from Luther to Lanz von Liebenfels say much about Nazism.
Al Qaeda opened an office in the affluent Peshawar suburb of Hyatabad, where it processed would-be recruits from the thousands of Arabs, and others, who flooded in after the departure of the Soviets to fight fellow Muslims who were squabbling over the ruins of Afghanistan. There were detailed application forms, terms and conditions of employment, and job specifications for senior positions within the organisation. Suddenly it seemed to the jihadists as if they had got a job with any Western corporation, an impression reinforced by Al Qaeda’s use of the language of international business as a code in the network’s communications. It even has its own logo, of a white Arabian stallion. On being accepted after extensive vetting, volunteers received a salary of between US$1,000 and US$1,500 depending on marital status, a round-trip airfare to visit home, medical care and a month’s vacation. A ruling shura or council sat atop various functional sections, which included experts in computers and publicity and the interpretation of dreams. The person chosen to head Al Qaeda’s military operations had to be over thirty, with five years’ battlefield experience and a degree in a relevant subject.29
Quite a lot is known now about Al Qaeda’s initial membership. Many of the Arabs, and especially the Egyptians, did not have much choice other than to remain in Afghanistan or Pakistan since they were wanted men in their homeland. Ayman al-Zawahiri would not be availing himself of the free round-trip to Cairo. The psychologist and former CIA analyst Marc Sageman has studied a representative cross-section of Al Qaeda terrorists, including those who were there at its inception. The most important recruits were Egyptians such as al-Zawahiri, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, who drowned prematurely in a Kenyan lake, and Mohammed Atef, its military supremo. Many of these men had already combined terrorism with careers as policemen or soldiers, which explains why Egyptians supplied a disproportionate number of Al Qaeda’s ruling group as well as its top military commanders. Like al-Zawahiri himself, many of them had been through Egypt’s prison-torture system, emerging as implacable and steely. Egyptians made up over 60 per cent of Al Qaeda’s ruling group, and nearly 60 per cent of them had been imprisoned for political reasons before they had volunteered for jihad in Afghanistan. They were dominant within a wider Arab representation from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen, the latter making up bin Laden’s personal bodyguard. Some of these men arrived as little family bands. One Kuwaiti group is instructive, because it shows how a terrorist group relies on existing ties of kinship and friendship. The personal loyalties were semi-forged before Al Qaeda had even emerged.
Approximately half the population of Kuwait are ‘bidoon’, or foreign migrants servicing the oil industry. Many of these second-class citizens are Baluchis, a people straddling several states including Pakistan. Among these expatriates were Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his nephew, Abdul Karim, who had been sent by Khalid Sheikh’s three elder siblings to study mechanical engineering in the US, where their existing piety had been reinforced in the Muslim circles that Middle Easterners recoiled into upon experiencing the Western world. The three elder brothers went independently to Peshawar. Khalid Sheikh joined them, moving into the orbit of Azzam and bin Laden. He would become the mastermind of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.30
Close ties were also cemented by marriage alliances within the emerging group, so that Mohammed Atef’s daughter married one of bin Laden’s sons, while Al Qaeda’s treasurer married bin Laden’s niece. That is true of other terrorist groups. Jemaah Islamiyah’s Mohammed Noordin Top has two wives, both sisters of fellow jihadists. The next cluster that would become important in Al Qaeda, especially after the false dawning of the Islamic Salvation Front, consisted of Arabs from the North African Maghreb, that is Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, and a separate group from South Asia, most graduates of two boarding schools run by Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia and Malaysia, with the occasional Uighur from China’s westerly Xinjiang province.31 The Maghreb Arabs were the only ones to have prior records for petty criminality such as handbag snatching and credit-card fraud. Those who were not represented in Sageman’s sample are no less interesting. There were virtually no Afghans, except for two friends of bin Laden’s, and no representatives of the vast Muslim populations of Bangladesh, India, Turkey or Pakistan, although radicalised second - and third-generation Anglo-Pakistani jihadists would make up the deficit. Contrary to expectations, only 17 per cent of these men had received an Islamic education; the majority were products of secular schooling, with over 60 per cent having received some tertiary-level education, and many spoke several languages. Their learning was overwhelmingly in scientific and technical disciplines, such as computer science, engineering and medicine, which in other religious traditions too seem to correlate with fundamentalist religious beliefs born of a desire to extrapolate knowledge from authority. Of course, this could also simply reflect the prestige of utilitarian disciplines in developing societies, although that would not explain why so many engineers and mathematicians are Christian fundamentalists. Unlike other types of terrorist group, some 83 per cent were married men, although only a few—above all bin Laden and al-Zawahiri—insisted on imperilling their wives and children. Marriage for the rest was simply a preliminary to having a child before consigning both wife and offspring to a separate existence.
The Afghan civil war, and the heterogeneous backgrounds of the leaders, led to visceral—and often personal—splits over how Al Qaeda should be deployed. One conspicuous casualty of these was Azzam, who in addition to trying to avoid Arabs fighting Afghans had identified the Lion of the Panjshir, Ahmed Shah Massoud, a minority Tajik, as the most impressive mujaheddin commander, at a time when most Arabs were backing the Pashtun warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatayar. That sealed Azzam’s fate, as al-Zawahiri had been spreading lies that he was a CIA agent, and Massoud had been one of the CIA’s main clients. On 24 November 1989, Azzam and two of his sons were killed by a roadside bomb as they went to a mosque. Al-Zawahiri spoke sweetly at his funeral.
Having destroyed the Soviets, as he pretentiously viewed it, bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia as the prodigal become all-conquering hero. The manner began to resemble those self-righteous superannuated rock stars with delusions of grandeur who harangue world leaders about Africa. He tried to interest the Saudi regime in his plans to destroy the Marxist government of the newly minted Republic of Yemen. Yemeni pressure resulted in the confiscation of bin Laden’s passport. He warned Riyadh of the threat posed by the secular dictatorship of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, even as the latter was fabricating tensions in order to invade neighbouring Kuwait. When this took place, unleashing a reign of Iraqi terror on the inoffensive little emirate, the desperate Saudis immediately availed themselves of US offers of assistance to prevent Saddam from extending his campaign towards their oilfields. Despite their binge-purchasing of Western armaments, for which the ruling clique were rewarded with bribes and kickbacks, the fact remained that the Saudi army numbered only fifty-eight thousand troops, facing a highly mechanised foe with a standing army of one million. In order to prevent the stationing of defensive US forces in the kingdom, bin Laden offered to raise a force of ‘one hundred thousand’ from the Arab Afghan mujaheddin and the kingdom’s own large numbers of male idle. This offer was rejected as ridiculous. Bin Laden’s mood was not improved when the senior clergy issued fatwas to permit the stationing of Christian, Jewish and female US forces in remote parts of the kingdom. Disgusted by his homeland’s craven dependence on infidels and females, bin Laden pulled strings to have his passport returned and flew back to Peshawar. Meanwhile, Saddam began to cloak himself not only in Arab nationalism—thereby securing the support of a PLO that was always the unlucky gambler—but in Islamic rectitude, inveighing against the corrupt rulers of Riyadh and proclaiming ‘Allahu Akhbar’ upon reaching the Kuwaiti shoreline. Although the multinational coalition expelled Saddam from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm, unleashing a tempest of high-tech violence that sickened even those responsible for it, in the process Saudi Arabia forfeited its unimpeachable Islamic credentials in the eyes of parts of the Muslim world. The kingdom reaped what it had sown everywhere else. It faced unprecedented domestic discontent, both from Saudis seeking to liberalise the regime through such symbolic acts as allowing women drivers, and, by way of a backlash, from radical Islamists who thought the kingdom needed to restore Islamic fundamentals. When some of these extremists were expelled, Saudi Arabia’s British ally and arms supplier inevitably provided them with a safe haven in London, where they could propagandise amusing tabloid slanders against the Saudi ruling elite entitled ‘Prince of the Month’. These were people who would give an aide £1,000 to buy a drink, and then be offended when the aide offered something so mysterious as £990 change. Even bin Laden was allowed to establish offices of a Reform and Advice Committee in the British capital. For ‘Londonistan’ would soon provide a home from home for more dangerous kinds of Islamist subversive, in one of the most complacent, decadent and irresponsible acts of policy and policing of any Western democracy, all undertaken under the delusion that there was an unwritten ‘pact of security’ in which the hosts would be safe from attack.32
One emerging rival to a discredited Saudi Arabia was the military-Islamist regime of Hassan al-Turabi in the Sudan. The Western-educated al-Turabi advocated the Islamic emancipation of women as well as reconciliation between Sunni and Shia, while waging war on the African animists and Christians of the south. His regime hosted an Arab and Islamic junket to rival the Saudi-dominated Organisation of the Islamic Conference, to some extent seeking to take over the mantle of the dead Khomeini as a beacon of radical Islam. Who contacted whom remains in doubt, but in 1991 bin Laden arrived in Khartoum. He cemented his ties with al-Turabi by taking the latter’s niece as his third wife. In a country ruined by war and political turbulence, bin Laden’s wealth counted. He deposited US$50 million in the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank, which virtually gave him control.33 He gave the Sudanese an US$80 million loan to purchase wheat to prevent mass starvation. He helped build an airport and a road from Khartoum to Port Sudan, and invested in a variety of enterprises, including an Islamic bank, a bakery, cattle stations, stud farms, and various import and export businesses. Like many unsuccessful entrepreneurs bin Laden diversified beyond his ken, as when he began importing bicycles from Azerbaijan into a country where nobody rode them. A series of farms doubled as Al Qaeda training camps, for with the aid of Sudanese passports a small multinational army of jihadi-salafists descended upon Sudan. It was one of those curious, lull-like interludes before the storm. Bin Laden spent much time horse-riding, strolling by the Nile and talking bloodstock, with Izzam al-Turabi, his host’s son. Family affairs bulked large too as he had all four of his wives, and their children, with him. One wife elected to divorce him; there were concerns about a disabled child. Money flew out at such an alarming rate that bin Laden began calling for retrenchment. This led to rancid recriminations between different ethnic groups among his supporters, and the defection of a Sudanese, ultimately into the hands of the CIA, after he had embezzled a lot of money.
The Sudan period also saw some tentative terrorist operations, especially after the head of Hizbollah’s security service, Imad Mugniyah, came to lecture in Khartoum, in the wake of which he set up a suicide-bombing course for Al Qaeda operatives in Lebanon. He had been the prime mover behind the 1983 bombing of US and French peacekeeping troops in Beirut. The first targets were two hotels in Aden where US troops often rested en route to Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. No Americans were hurt in two bomb attacks which killed an Australian tourist and a Yemeni waiter. Ten months later bin Laden’s envoys, drawn like mosquitoes to a swamp, watched as khat-crazed Somalia militiamen downed two US helicopters and barbarously killed their crews and US commandos in the middle of Mogadishu. Bin Laden would subsequently claim that it had been Al Qaeda men who shot the Black Hawks down, although in reality his men had run away. Still, behind the retrospective boasting, an idea took shape. His Egyptian mentor was not idle either.
Al-Zawahiri had taken the remnants of al-Jihad to Khartoum because he needed bin Laden’s money to pay his men after a month-long fund-raising trip to California had yielded a paltry US$2,000. Although he was effectively on bin Laden’s payroll thereafter, al-Zawahiri ran his own operations in his native Egypt. In August 1993 a suicide bomber on a motorbike tried to kill the Egyptian interior minister. Three months later al-Zawahiri tried to murder the prime minister, Atef Sidqi, with a car bomb designed to coincide with the trials of a large number of jihadists. The bomb killed a young girl instead, leading to cries of ‘Terrorism is the enemy of God’ at her well-attended funeral. Al-Zawahiri would persist in these attacks until they led to Al Qaeda being expelled from Sudan. The next level of violence followed a series of events that remobilised the ummah in ways not seen since the response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the wake of this, Al Qaeda would emerge as the brightest star in a vaster nebula of violence.
VI ANGER, RAGE AND TV
For much of the 1980s the struggle of the Afghan mujaheddin against the Soviets eclipsed the Palestinian cause as an emotional rallying point for many Muslims. Afghanistan was where the Gulf money flowed, partly because events in the Middle East failed to conform to the simple binary enmities that all myths require. Some neighbouring Arab states like Egypt and Jordan made their cold peace with the Israelis, and the PLO entered into a protracted US-driven process while continuing to practise terrorism. This climate changed with the two Palestinian Intifadas. Together with wars in Bosnia and Chechnya, these provided endless scenes of Muslim victimhood, and sacred causes which legitimised jihadist violence.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has never been the sole conflict in the Middle East, but the formula ‘Jews = News’ might lead one to imagine that. The world’s Muslims see things this way; judging by the indifference of Western Christians to the predicament of their Maronite co-religionists in the Lebanon, a sense of oecumene is much weaker among Christians despite efforts by the Barnabas Trust to raise awareness. A brief recapitulation of Palestinian history is needed to situate the two Intifadas. The PLO had dissipated its energies in the civil wars of the Lebanon, resulting in the ejection of its fighters from Beirut in August 1982 and a Syrian-backed mutiny within the PLO against Arafat. In December 1983, the Saudis brokered a deal with Syria, which was about to crush Arafat’s northern redoubt in Tripoli, permitting him and his men to withdraw by sea to Tunis. One minor victory, in the midst of this final debacle, lay in the 4,500 Palestinian prisoners the Israelis exchanged for six of their own captives as the IDF pulled out of Lebanon. These would play a crucial role in events that put the plight of the Palestinians back in the world’s spotlight.
There was always strain between the PLO’s foreign-based representatives, with their nice apartments, suits and ties, and their hotel suites in Europe, and the Palestinians in the occupied territories. To them the PLO counselled ‘fortitude’ or ‘steadfastness’ while Arafat vainly attempted to defend Fatah’s military presence in the Lebanon, whence liberation would come from outside. Arafat may have enjoyed immense personal prestige among the Palestinians as the father of their nation, but his madcap diplomatic gambits had become near irrelevant to the grim experiences of young Palestinians in the occupied territories.34
The Gaza Strip is twenty-eight miles long and between three and eight miles wide, and in the 1980s was home to 650,000 Palestinians, including those crammed densely and insalubriously into refugee camps, a burden resented by the indigenous Arab population. There are also powerful clans, which operate somewhere between extended families and Mafia gangs, with memberships of up to five thousand. When it suits them, they adopt titles like Army of Islam to disguise the crime of kidnapping for ransoms. Half the population were under fifteen, the result of an exceptionally high birth rate. Unemployed young men hung around, angry and bored, in the burning summer heat, a problem afflicting the Arab world from the Gulf to the Algerian Maghreb, which teems with superfluous young men, a problem common to many post-industrial Western societies. A skeletal Israeli Civil Administration controlled the Strip with a rigorous inefficiency against which there was little legal redress. The Strip was riddled with undercover officers of the domestic security agency Shin Beth, on the lookout for pliant informers. Although standards of education were good, thanks to external aid, job opportunities were few, with the lucky hundred thousand or so performing manual labour for neighbouring Israelis. Demeaning treatment by Arab or Israeli contractors, squeezing muscles as if they were assessing a mule, was followed by degrading treatment at the exit checkpoints, where bored guards sometimes gave meaning to their dull day by messing Arabs around with that irritating air of nonchalant gun-toting punctiliousness. Every hour in a queue was an hour’s lost pay and less for a family to eat. Passive anti-Arab racism was as consequential as the active variety which exists in Israel. The majority of Israelis averted their eyes from the occupied territories and the festering hatreds they were engendering. Their government regarded disturbances as episodic and containable, the handiwork of malign extraneous influences.
The first Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, originated in a sequence of bizarrely random events that crowned months of tension. In May 1987 six members of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad broke out of Gaza Central prison, where they had been confined for such acts as killing Israeli taxi drivers. Sunni admirers of the ayatollah Khomeini, Islamic Jihad’s three hundred militants were armed and directed by Islamist elements in Fatah’s Western Sector command. Although the fugitives were mostly run to ground, while on the loose they continued their terrorist attacks, thereby acquiring folkloric kudos among young people receptive to their calls for the liberation of Palestine as the prelude to a wider Islamic revival. Even when Shin Beth agents ambushed and killed three of the Islamic Jihad fugitives in October, they lived on in handbills as ‘ghosts who will pursue the Jews everywhere and for all time’.
The autumn months of 1987 saw a spate of stabbings of lone Israelis, culminating on 6 December when an Israeli was knifed to death in Gaza’s main market. Two days later, the driver of an Israeli truck lost control and hit a car, killing four Palestinian day labourers. A flyer connected the two events as an act of revenge by the Israelis for the earlier stabbing, although the two episodes were wholly unconnected. Thousands of mourners attended the funerals of the four men, shouting ‘Jihad! Jihad!’ at the fifty-five Israeli reservists holed up in their post in Jebalya, with its sixty thousand inhabitants, the largest of the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. When patrols sallied forth they came under hails of stones from demonstrators who would not disperse. Further patrols the following day got into difficulties when one unit stopped to pursue a rock-throwing teenager into a house, a move that resulted in their being surrounded by an angry mob. The reservists had no equipment or training to deal with a civilian riot. Warning shots in the air, which had become so frequent during riots that they were ignored, were followed by shots at the demonstrators’ legs, and the death of a seventeen-year-old boy. Rioting spread to other sites within the Gaza Strip, each flashpoint marked by acrid smoke from piles of burning rubber tyres. The uprising quickly spread to the West Bank, where similarly only one in eight Palestinian graduates of the seven universities entered a profession, while tensions simmered over such issues as electricity and water. Palestinians needed permits for everything, which were sometimes irrationally denied. In the early 1990s the Israeli authorities rejected a request from Yehiya Abdal-Tif Ayyash, a Palestinian electronics graduate from Rafat, to do a masters degree in Jordan. He had no terrorist hinterland or connections, and, as became abundantly clear, it would have been better had the Israelis let him progress in his chosen career. General Ariel Sharon’s provocative purchase of an apartment in east Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, despite his Negev ranch and his right as a minister to use the capital’s luxury hotels, seemed symbolic of a wider, abrasive stance, whether from American or Russian settlers seeking to establish facts on the ground, or a Likud party whose rhetoric tilted rightwards to dark talk, on the part of Israeli right-wing blow-hards, of transferring the Palestinians to Jordan.
The storm-like force of this ‘rock revolution’ caught both the Israelis and the PLO napping, although the latter’s functionaries hastened to take charge. The leadership of the Intifada was elusively mysterious, while its footsoldiers quickly encompassed labourers and devout shopkeepers. As they picked up the first hundred or so putative ringleaders, Israeli interrogators were baffled to discover how apolitical the demonstrators appeared to be. Most were ignorant of even the most elementary PLO platforms. They were young male labourers, rather than students, who had had enough of high-handed treatment by the Israelis. Their tactics mutated too, from a straightforward riot to more sophisticated passive resistance, involving a wholesale disengagement from the Israeli economy. Bits of ground were used to grow vegetables, while chicken coops and rabbit hutches proliferated on roofs.
Nor did the Israelis have a coherent strategy for dealing with riots that involved women and children as well as young men. If it had once sufficed for an Israeli soldier to expose himself to send prudish Palestinian women fleeing, now women appeared to be egging on the demonstrating males. A fifth of the casualties of the first three months’ riots were among women, a further outrage to Muslim sensibilities. Soon even grannies were involved, although as they were the bearers of the inter-generational national flame this is perhaps unsurprising.
Historically, revolutions often develop when a regime has many soldiers but few police; the opposite was true of nineteenth-century London, which had plenty of police and no 1848 revolution. The Intifada exposed a fatal blind-spot in Israel’s security capability. Soldiers were useless against women and children hurling rocks or firing catapults from within large crowds. Under the massing lenses of the world’s photographers and TV, the Israelis blundered into a propaganda disaster, which not only diminished international sympathy, but in its simple-minded misrepresentation of events outraged the wider Muslim world. Although Muslims did not stop to ponder this, Israel is a democracy which allows open access to the media, in marked contrast to conditions prevailing in the entire Arab world. Domestic opponents of the Israeli government gave interviews to the world’s press, avenues which do not exist for critics of the governments of, for example, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco or Saudi Arabia, unless they are among well-populated exiled diasporas. Inevitably coverage concentrated on instances of Israeli brutality, without inquiring about the ways in which prolonged exposure of conscripts and reservists to mob violence was responsible for this. Arguably, Israel has never recovered from this public relations disaster, acquiring the reputation of a thuggish bully among mainly left-liberal and Christian circles, already fed up with Jewish moralising about the European Holocaust. Their ranks included an increasing number of liberal Jews in the US too, although for them the Holocaust was alternatively a surrogate religion.35
As the Intifada spread to shopkeepers, the Israelis first forced them to keep their shops open, and then welded up their shutters if they refused. This was a small price to pay compared to what the rioters would have done to them. Many of these shopkeepers were devout middle-class Muslims, a matter of import to how the social composition of the uprising mutated from rock-throwing teenagers to more respectable people. A few communities were subjected to collective punishments, involving cutting power supplies and restricting the inflow of food. Although it was infinitely preferable to shooting rioters, the decision to arm soldiers with batons (manufactured by other Palestinians in Gaza) was a public relations disaster, for the world’s media focused on outrageous scenes of Israeli troops kicking and bludgeoning Palestinians beyond anything resembling proportionate force, as several cases of people with broken ribs, collarbones or arms that came before Israeli courts confirmed. In the most disgraceful incidents, Israeli high-school students on outings, or drivers ferrying officers about, had been invited to beat up detainees inside army camps. The deployment of rubber rounds was also a mixed blessing as these can be fatal when fired into someone’s face. Adverse press coverage, from Israeli and international media, led frustrated IDF soldiers to take out their resentments on journalists and photographers, who met nothing but willingness from the other side, an arrangement that in turn impacted on how the Intifada was reported. The uprising began to leach towards the hitherto quiescent eight hundred thousand Israeli Arabs, who donated blood, medicines and money to the mounting casualties of the uprising.
The PLO leadership succeeded in re-establishing a vestige of remote control over the local Unified National Command which steered the Intifada. This used secretly produced flyers to co-ordinate the myriad grassroots committees that controlled each local epicentre of riot. Local mainstays of both levels of command were students and academics, especially from Bir Zeit university, and the thousands of security prisoners Israel had released in exchange for six soldiers taken hostage, men who had coolly taken the measure of their enemy while in jail.36 Many of these former detainees joined the strong-arm security squads that proliferated to enforce the Intifada among the Palestinians. Inevitably, the international media did not descend in the same strength on victims of Palestinian violence, notably the Arab ‘collaborators’, seventy of whom the Intifada’s ad-hoc security units killed, or the countless Arabs for whom there was no court to redress the beatings and intimidation they received from Fatah and the Intifada’s grassroots supporters, and increasingly from a new actor amid the Days of Rage.
There was a further Israeli own-goal, the result of an idea that both CIA and State Department officials thought ‘tried to be too sexy’. As the PLO’s bureaucrats and intellectuals clambered aboard the Intifada’s bandwagon, a very different type of organisation bid for control. The Civil Administration in the Gaza Strip had encouraged Islamic fundamentalist groups as a way of confounding the left-leaning PLO, especially if they eschewed the terrorism of Islamic Jihad. Defence minister Moshe Arens recalled viewing the rise of radical Islamism ‘as a healthy phenomenon’. Right-wingers, by contrast, may have been hoping that the rise of Islamism among the Palestinians would permanently scupper the lengthy talks known as the Oslo peace-process by dividing the enemy.37
Funded by the Jordanians, Israelis and Saudis, the number of mosques in Gaza rose from 77 to 160 within two decades, with forty new mosques constructed in the West Bank each year. Despite warnings from moderate Gazan Muslims, the Israelis elected to ignore the rampant anti-Semitism of the Islamic Congress, the local guise of the Muslim Brotherhood. They regarded its charitable and educational surface activities as preferable, in their steady incremental way, to the bomb and gun attacks of Fatah terrorists. Even better, the Congress’s supreme leader, the quadriplegic sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yassin, regularly denounced Arafat and the PLO leadership as ‘pork eaters and wine drinkers’ who even allowed women into their senior councils. Born in 1938 into a middle-class farming family, Yassin grew up in the al-Shati refugee camp. At twelve he was injured in a wrestling bout; as his condition deteriorated he went from crutches to a wheelchair. After studying at Cairo’s Ain Shams university, he returned to Gaza to work as a teacher, and religio-political agitator, until his disabilities forced him to retire in 1984, by which time he had had eleven children. That year the Israelis discovered an arms cache in the mosque Yassin preached in, which flatly contradicted the strategy of encouraging a pacific Islamist rival to Fatah terrorism. Although Yassin received a fifteen-year jail sentence, he was one of those released in exchange for Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon.38
Yassin led a formidable Islamist network, which included al-Azhar university in Gaza, from which Communist and Fatah rivals were expelled by stabbings and acid attacks in an entirely symptomatic striving for totalitarian control. Everywhere the network physically manifested itself: places selling alcohol, displaying female models or playing pop music were smashed up, as was anyone presuming to eat with his or her left hand. The intention was to extrude anything that smacked of a Western hedonism and materialism which, the Islamists thought, was destroying Palestinian resistance by corrupting its austere spirit. Unlike the PLO, the Islamic Congress offered personal redemption as well as national salvation; unlike the PLO it abandoned any attempts to camouflage hatred of Jews. This was a starkly compelling platform for younger people rebelling against both the social hierarchy and the politics of their parents’ generation, who could relate to the old sheikh in ways they could not with PLO bosses as they sped from diplomatic junket to junket, or from sell-out to sell-out, in their fleets of Mercedes, in between tripping the light fantastic in villas and luxury hotels. Islamism licensed defiance of the older generation, breaking the narrow bonds of clan or custom in favour of vaster loyalties that at the same time were warmly personal through God.
Yassin was one of the founders in February 1988 of the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, whose Arabic acronym was altered from HMS to Hamas, the word for zeal. The others were sheikh Salah Shehada, from the Islamic university in Gaza, an engineer called Issa al-Nasshaar, a doctor, Ibrahim al-Yazuri, Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi, another doctor from Khan Younis, a headmaster and a schoolteacher, all aged between forty and fifty years old.39 These people did not use the same diplomatic niceties as the PLO. Arriving in Kuwait after being expelled from Gaza, one of its leaders, Halil Koka, baldly announced: ‘Allah brought the Jews together in Palestine not to benefit from a homeland but to dig their grave there and save the world from their pollution. Just as the Muslim pilgrim redeems his soul in Mecca by offering up a sacrifice, so the Jews will be slaughtered on the rocks of al-Aqsa.’
In its rivalry with the PLO, Hamas began to dictate the pace of events in the Intifada, by deliberately establishing its own cycle of demonstrations, shop closures and strikes like an alternative calendar to that of the secular nationalists. It issued a charter, which called the destruction of Israel a religious duty. The charter was an odd document, managing as it did to call the Jews Nazis while citing the forged ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ as proof of a Jewish conspiracy for world domination from the French Revolution onwards. Even the Rotary Club gets a discredit. To call the charter ahistorical would be to understate the ways in which it collapsed time into an eternal struggle between Muslims, Jews and ‘Crusaders’ from the West.40 Hamas’s public attitude towards terrorism was also changing, although its armed wing, and secret department for killing Arab collaborators, actually predated the founding of the political movement. In July 1988 it lauded a young Gazan who knifed two prison guards while visiting a jailed relative. The organisation had for several years had a small military wing of ‘holy fighters of Palestine’ who, it now transpired, were planning terrorist attacks on Israel.
That summer, the Israelis struck first at Islamic Jihad by getting the US to force king Hussein to eject the three Fatah chieftains who planned Islamic Jihad’s operations. All three were killed by a mystery Mossad car bomb shortly after reaching their sanctuary in Cyprus. Next, Israel detained hundreds of Hamas activists, confining them in Khediot detention camp, where they continued to direct operations by passing and receiving messages through kisses from their families. After initially sparing sheikh Yassin, the Israelis finally detained him too. Despite his disabilities, he and one of his younger sons seem to have been treated in a brutal manner unworthy of a quadriplegic, including being slapped in the face and bashed on the head with a metal tray. Repression only increased the domestic and international appeal of Hamas. Its candidates began to win elections on Palestinian professional bodies, while in 1990 Kuwait alone donated US$60 million to Hamas as opposed to US$27 million to the PLO. The PLO’s attempts to neutralise Hamas by co-opting it on to the umbrella Palestinian National Council, as it had done with the PFLP and the Communists, failed when Hamas demanded half the Council seats. The PLO’s acceptance of Israel and public renunciation of terrorism through the Oslo Accords deepened the rift between implacable Islamists and Arafat’s more diplomatically focused Fatah, however fake Arafat’s subscription to non-violence proved.
The human cost of the first Intifada was considerable. By the summer of 1990, over six hundred Palestinians had been killed by the IDF, including seventy-six children under fourteen, with a further twelve thousand people injured. Ten thousand Palestinians were held in detention camps and prisons, a shared experience that served to radicalise even further those affected. On the Israeli side, eighteen people had been killed, including ten civilians, with 3,391 injured, the majority of them soldiers.
During the 1990s Hamas increasingly made the running in terms of devastating terrorist attacks within Israel. In addition to money coming from both Saudi Arabia and Iran, Hamas built a vast charitable money-laundering operation that had important nodal points in the USA, where the Irish republican NORAID was said to have shown how easy it was to raise dollars for foreign terrorism (though NORAID has always denied the allegation that it funded the IRA). Unlike Fatah, or the smaller Marxist Palestinian terrorist groups, Hamas used tight five-man cells to insulate itself against traitors and people who caved in under Shin Beth’s notorious interrogation methods. It hit Israel at a very delicate spot when it used killers disguised as Orthodox Jews and cars with yellow Israeli licence plates to abduct and kill IDF soldiers hitchhiking home. Hamas members also ran over and abducted an Israeli border police sergeant, whose body—bearing signs of strangulation and stabbing—turned up in a desert gulley. In response to this, Israel dumped 415 Hamas organisers in the hilly no-man’s land on the border with Lebanon. Predictably, the world’s left-liberal media descended in sympathy upon these middle-aged accountants, clerics, dentists, doctors and lawyers, shivering in their coats and long-johns around dismal potages of stewed lentils. They did not note that they were fed at night by Hizbollah and Iranian Pasadren agents, who offered money and advanced terrorist training at state facilities in Iran. The men on the hillsides included Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi, Hamas’s second in command until Yassin and he were assassinated, and Ismail Haniyah, its bear-like current leader.
A by-product of this expulsion was Hamas’s Izzedine al-Qassam Brigade, one of whose first acts was to kill a young Shin Beth agent in a Jerusalem safe house, using axes, knives and hammers to do the job. The flat looked like an abattoir afterwards. They also machine-gunned two traffic policemen dozing in their idling patrol car. The decision to deny Ayyash his chance to study in Jordan to support his wife and son became fateful, as he quickly rose within Hamas as its stellar ‘Engineer’. A first attempt to bring the mores of Lebanon to Israel came in April 1993 when a suicide bomber drove a huge bomb hidden in a VW transporter between two buses parked at a crowded service station. Miraculously the blast mainly went upwards, killing a Palestinian who worked in the centre, and the bomber himself.
The murder by Baruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn-born Jewish fanatic, of fifty-five Palestinian worshippers in February 1994 led to the mobilisation of Ayyash’s talents in the service of revenge. His chosen instrument was a nineteen-year-old Palestinian, three of whose family had been killed by the Israelis. This youth drove an Opel Ascona in front of a school bus in the town of Afula, detonating five fragmentation grenades nestling within seven propane-gas cylinders, in turn wrapped with thirteen hundred carpenters’ nails. Nine young people died and fifty-five were injured. On 13 April a twenty-one-year-old Arab detonated a duffel bag on a bus in Hadera, killing six and injuring thirty. A pipe bomb exploded as the rescuers arrived, in a double tap which indicated some tactical sophistication. As Ayyash moved at each onset of dusk from safe house to safe house, this otherwise modest man assumed the celebrity of a pop star among young Palestinians. His deeds were celebrated by songs recorded on cheap cassettes. Admirers sent wigs and women’s clothing to help him with his multiple disguises. In October, Ayyash despatched a suicide bomber on a number 5 bus as it sped through the morning bustle of Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff district. The bomber detonated an Egyptian land mine which had been filled with twenty kilograms of TNT. The bomb killed twenty-one Israelis, and the nails and screws it spewed out also seriously wounded fifty people.41 Ayyash’s relentless campaign of suicide bombing began to impact on domestic Israeli politics in that successive prime ministers engaged in peace talks with the Palestinians had to visit the scenes of Ayyash’s depredations, increasingly under the gaze of hostile Jewish crowds. Ayyash was also training members of Islamic Jihad in bomb making, including Hani Abed, Islamic Jihad’s star terrorist. Abed’s sudden death in November 2004 after his Peugeot was destroyed by a booby-trap bomb led to combined operations by Hamas and Islamic Jihad with Ayyash as the mastermind. In January 2005 two men dressed in IDF uniforms blew themselves up sequentially amid soldiers returning from weekend leave. Twenty-one men died and sixty were critically injured in this bombing which occurred at a junction near Ashmoret maximum-security prison—home to sheikh Yassin. As a grim prime minister Rabin surveyed the site of this atrocity, he was lucky that a third bomber had been delayed, making it impossible for him to trigger a bomb hidden in a kitbag by the second suicide bomber. This treble tap might have killed Rabin.
Massive Israeli resources were put into killing Ayyash, who continued with a campaign of suicide bombings that reduced going out to a form of Russian roulette for many urban Israelis. Two senior Izzedine al-Qassam leaders were killed when an apartment blew up in Gaza, and another senior figure was snatched off a Nablus street after he failed to notice two sweaty Sudanese day labourers loitering outside a mosque who were Ethiopian Falasha Shin Beth agents. Islamic Jihad’s leader, Fathi Shiqaqi, was assassinated by a Mossad team on Malta. So self-confident was Mossad that, as the killer sped off on a motorbike and caught a boat to Sicily, his colleagues hung around disguised as bystanders to give Maltese police hopelessly inaccurate descriptions. Ayyash’s weakness was his family—his wife and son in Gaza, whom he regularly visited, while keeping in touch with his mother and father by mobile phone. Shin Beth stepped up pressure on his mother, with raids on the family home, and prolonged ten-hour bouts of interrogation, designed to infuriate her son. Ayyash was also too comfortable in his routines and grew sloppy.
He accepted the offer of a safe house from a Hamas member in Gaza, unaware that the man’s businessman uncle, who owned the building, was on Shin Beth’s payroll. Ayyash enjoyed the joke that his apartment was a thousand yards from a major Israeli police checkpoint. Unknown to him this was where his destiny was being settled. He had also discovered mobile phones as an alternative to erratic and easily monitored landlines. He changed them every few weeks, but not before having long calls with his mother and father. On 25 December 1995 Ayyash proudly announced that his wife had borne a second son, rashly telling his father they would speak again on 5 January. In the interim, Shin Beth technicians adapted a mobile phone, inserting fifty grams of RDX high explosive beneath the battery, and a minute detonator that could be remotely triggered. The phone still weighed the same and functioned normally. The phone was passed to his landlord’s nephew who said Ayyash could use it any time he liked. The landline in his apartment began to play up. Ayyash told his father that this mobile number, 050-507-497, was his preferred number. Freshly returned home at 4.30 a.m. after a night’s mystery activities, Ayyash removed his female clothes and settled down for a few hours’ sleep in his purple boxer shorts. The mobile rang at 8.40 a.m.; it was his father. After exchanging a few words, the father found the line disconnected. High in the sky above Gaza, an Israeli agent in a spotter plane had detonated the shaped charge in the phone that took half of Ayyash’s head off. A hundred thousand gun-toting Palestinians attended his funeral, straining for a last touch of his coffin. His landlord’s uncle was slipped away by Mossad to a new life in the US. An Israeli demolition team erased Ayyash’s family home in Riffat. Within four days of Ayyash’s death, Hamas suicide bombers killed fifty-seven people in an orgy of attacks that by May 1996 felled the government of Shimon Peres. His tough Likudnik successor, Netanyahu, decided to strike at Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas in otherwise friendly Jordan. In October 1997 two Mossad agents posing as Canadians waylaid Mashaal in his Amman offices, spraying a lethal synthetic opiate into his ear. This was designed to kill him, painfully, forty-eight hours later. Both agents were caught by the Jordanians, who were outraged by this botched violation of their sovereignty. Since king Hussein threatened to hang their agents, the Israelis were forced to hand over an antidote to the poison, and to release fifty Hamas prisoners including sheikh Yassin. When Israeli voters went to the polls they dismissed Netanyahu in favour of Ehud Barak, a war hero we have already encountered in his dealings with Black September in Beirut.
The second, so-called al-Aqsa Intifada erupted in September 2000 and concluded with Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria and the death of Arafat. Although Arafat had publicly forsworn terrorism, with some parts of his enormous security apparatus erratically co-operating with the Israelis, other elements of this simultaneously doubled as Islamic Jihad or Hamas terrorists. The Israeli navy regularly intercepted big arms shipments from Iran and elsewhere that were destined for Arafat. He also had little control over such hardened veterans of the first Intifada as Marwan Barghouti, leader of an armed Fatah cadre called Tanzim, who were impatient of diplomacy as such. Nor did Arafat control grassroots groups that formed early in the second Intifada, like the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, created by brothers Nasser and Yasser Badawi and their friend Nasser Awais, in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus about a month into the uprising.
The opposition Likud leader Ariel ‘Arik’ Sharon chose 28 September 2000 to visit Temple Mount with a large entourage of bodyguards. This was part and parcel of Sharon’s marking of territory in east Jerusalem that had begun when he purchased his apartment. Barak sought Arafat’s express permission for the visit, insisting that Sharon comport himself with an uncharacteristic dignified quietness. This was akin to telling a bull to wear slippers in his rampage through the china shop. Sharon always exuded an air of bumptious thuggishness, though his admirers say this conceals his more human side.
Predictably, Sharon’s visit triggered violent Palestinian riots which spread from Jerusalem to the West Bank and Gaza. Sixty-one Palestinians were killed and 2,657 injured in the first six days. October saw clashes between Arab and Jewish mobs, the latter screaming ‘Death to Arabs!’ A judicial inquiry under Justice Theodore Or found several faults in the police’s handling of these riots, which in any event had escalated into terrorist atrocities. On 12 October 2000, two Israeli reservists in a civilian car got lost in Ramallah, where a funeral was being held for a seventeen-year-old shot by the IDF the day before. They were arrested by Palestinian police and held in a police station. This was attacked by five thousand irate Palestinians chanting ‘Kill the Jews!’ Although the local Palestinian police chief tried to save the two Israelis, he was overwhelmed by the mob, which beat and stabbed the men to death, throwing one out of the window to be dragged and trampled below. Israelis were horrified by these depredations; their government launched retaliatory air strikes on Palestinian Authority buildings in Ramallah.42
Mob violence escalated into all-out armed conflict. Bomb makers trained by Ayyash provided the weapons for new waves of Hamas suicide bombers. These have engendered much incomprehension, despite what we know of medieval Assassins, of Japanese kamikaze pilots, and of airmen and soldiers the world over who undertake missions in which the odds are lethal. Terrorist suicide bombings are far from being an exclusively Muslim thing. The tactic has been most employed by Marxist Tamil separatists of predominantly Hindu extraction in their war with the Buddhist Sinhalese, as well as by Marxist Kurdish separatists in their conflict with Muslim Turks. In fact, Muslim fundamentalism may paradoxically discourage certain categories of suicide bombers, especially women, who belong in the crib and kitchen. It was the secular Fatah organisation that encouraged women fighters, while men like Hamas’s sheikh Yassin were on record as actively opposing this. This may explain why female suicide bombers make up 5 per cent of the total in Palestinian operations, although Hamas has changed its line since.
Hamas adopted the tactic for two reasons. Suicide bombing enabled it to establish a distinctly implacable market share, distinguishing it from Fatah and secular Palestinian terrorist groups. Secondly, its carefully calibrated suicide attacks were designed to scupper the ongoing peace process, while encouraging even the most diehard proponents of Greater Israel to be shot of these unyielding maniacs. The advent of Ariel Sharon as prime minister and his policy of unilateral withdrawal was, in the eyes of Hamas, a development to be welcomed.
Suicide bombing has a comprehensible military logic beneath the superficial insanity of actions from which the genuinely mentally ill are assiduously weeded out by alert handlers. The Palestinians see it as a means of rebalancing the asymmetry due to their lack of aircraft and armour. Whether walk-in volunteers or recruited from among ‘sad cases’, suicide bombers are expendable extras, rather than highly trained core cadres whose loss might be missed. They do not require much technical training to push a button on their belt or backpack, but they do need a few weeks’ or months’ careful handling by experienced operators, designed to eliminate doubts and to focus their minds on the mission. The handlers are cold-eyed operators capable of juggling one set of values they apply in their own lives with another that sends others to their deaths. The bombers are shepherded to the point of no return, a moment symbolised by the recording of a video will in which they are surrounded by the martyr’s paraphernalia. This helps recruit more suicide killers. Then they are told their target. After that it would be dishonourable to back out, although some do. Handlers routinely escort the bomber on their penultimate journey, making distracting small talk or extolling the delights of the afterlife. Then, briefly, the bomber is on his or her own, smiling sweetly at a representative group of Israelis on their way to work, absorbed in their newspapers, sandwiches or taped music.
Since most terrorists make very careful plans for their escape after an attack, suicide bombing cuts out an entire layer of planning. The tactic enables the bomber to get close to his or her target, giving rise to death tolls that are considerable—in fact four to six times more lethal—compared with gun or grenade attacks below the level of car bombs. Costing an average of US$150 to mount, suicide bombings are cheap.
If we take the Al-Aqsa Intifada, between September 2000 and September 2005 there were 144 successful suicide attacks in Israel among some 36,000 terrorist incidents. Although suicide bombings accounted for a mere 0.5 per cent of all attacks, they caused 50 per cent of deaths and casualties during this period. There is something else worth noting about suicide bombing too. When successful, there is no one to capture—unless the mission fails—while the willingness to die indicates a fanatical belief in a cause. The sheer ordinariness of the bomber indicates that there must be a limitless supply of such people lurking in the hostile population. Denied an obvious object of vengeance, much of the energy of the bewildered opponent goes into working out the motives of why these men and women kill themselves. Such bizarre phenomena as the small child who, in a 2007 Hamas TV advert, swears she is going to follow her deceased mother by becoming a suicide bomber, or the mothers who appear to welcome the deaths of their martyred sons, encourage the view that this is all the fanatical face of a pathological society. In fact, some of the mothers who do not grieve have been bribed, drugged or otherwise intimidated by men, with an interest in ensuring that the martyrs are celebrated.
Israel has around 250 unsuccessful suicide bombers in its prisons, who have been the subjects of extensive investigation by expert psychologists. Some are alive because they lost their nerve, others because their bombs malfunctioned. Their age range begins at fourteen, a boy whom the Israelis captured trying to blow himself up. Many of them were motivated to kill Jews (as they invariably put it) by the loss of family or friends through Israeli military or police action. It is a matter of revenge in a society where blood feuds last generations. This multiplies the carnage. Others saw suicide bombing as a way out of a dysfunctional family, dishonour—especially in the case of women—or sheer boredom. Wafa Idris, a Palestinian woman suicide bomber, had been divorced by her husband after it became apparent she was infertile. Her husband remarried and moved his new wife into a neighbouring house where he threw a party when their first child was born. This sent Wafa Idris over the edge. Several female suicide bombers seem to have disgraced themselves by becoming pregnant with Fatah lovers, or had otherwise acquired a reputation for looseness which shahid or martyrdom would expunge.43 In 2004, Hamas’s first woman suicide, a woman with two children, was driven by her husband to the checkpoint where she blew herself up after she confessed to having had an extramarital liaison.
Ironically, some young female would-be suicide bombers saw joining a terrorist group as an opportunity to meet males without supervision. One of them explained: ‘We do not live in the West. When I went to training, I told my father that I was going to a girlfriend … I had freedom, even though our family is religious. It is natural to go and see girlfriends.’ She got cold feet only when the males informed her that the object of these training trysts was for the girls to blow themselves up. One shahida explained that when her father refused to allow her to marry a (poor) disabled man with whom she had fallen in love, she got her revenge by becoming a suicide bomber. The vision of life in the Garden of Eden overcame her depression. For women there would not be the seventy-two virgins, but an abundance of food and a doting martyr-warrior. A male failed suicide bomber explained his vision of heavenly delights, much of which was haram to Muslims: ‘All that is forbidden in this world is permitted in the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden has everything—God, freedom, the Prophet Mohammed and my friends, the “shahids” … There are seventy-two virgins. There are lots of things I can’t even describe … I’ll find everything in the Garden of Eden, a river of honey, a river of beer and alcohol …’44 Once dead, the suicide bomber joins the rollcall of martyrs, his or her photo ringed with a golden frame at home, and plastered everywhere on posters. Proud parents announce the death in the weddings, rather than obituaries, columns of newspapers. By 2001 Hamas was paying them between US$3,000 and US$5,000 in death benefits. Saddam Hussein raised this to US$25,000, with further perks such as clocks, rugs and TVs. Expectations are so low in places like Gaza and Jenin, that killing oneself can seem like an attractive career option, and a form of social mobility for the entire family or clan. Social endorsement of martyrdom further destroyed residual taboos about suicide, which in any case had been qualified by many Islamist clerics.
Suicide attacks were accompanied by vicious battles between armed elements of the Intifada and the IDF. One of these raged for ten days in a refugee camp at Jenin, home to fifteen thousand people. This was an Islamist stronghold variously described as ‘the capital of martyrs’ or ‘a nest of cockroaches’ depending on one’s point of view. Hamas and Islamic Jihad wanted to turn this into an Arab Stalingrad, wiring it with booby-traps and sniping from amid the mounting rubble. As the inhabitants were slow to abandon their homes, they also hoped that any Israeli assault would deliver a propaganda victory, with talk of massacre finding its way from journalists to human rights agencies. In fact, talk of ‘hundreds’ or even ‘thousands’ of victims, relayed by Western media outlets, whose presenters could hardly contain their own rage, was misplaced. The final agreed death toll was thirty-two Palestinian armed militants, twenty-two Palestinian civilians, and twenty-three Israeli soldiers. Instead of a non-existent massacre there was steady physical erasure, as helicopters and tanks fired missiles and shells into buildings, while sixty-ton armoured bulldozers nudged down houses and ground down the rubble. If there were human rights violations, these included the Palestinian and IDF decisions to fight a pitched battle in a refugee camp, and Israel’s denial of medical and humanitarian relief to civilians caught in the fighting. Scenes like these, repeated endlessly on the world’s TV channels, further fuelled the anger of the virtual ummah. They were not alone. In 2003 Asif Muhammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, Anglo-Pakistanis in their twenties, who had met studying Islamism under Omar Bakri Mohammed at a college in Derby, volunteered their services to Hamas. They met a Hamas instructor in Syria and then entered Israel via Jordan, mingling with European left-wing activists arriving to insert themselves into the Intifada as part of an Alternative Tourism Group. They seem to have been ferried around various Palestinian towns by a left-wing Italian woman journalist who did not realise they were terrorists, having accepted their cover stories about being interested in Palestinian medical centres. In Gaza they were kitted out with suicide belts and the Italian woman drove them into Israel. Hanif blew himself up outside Mike’s Place, a popular Tel Aviv blues bar on the city’s waterfront, killing three people. Sharif fled, after a bomb concealed in a book failed to detonate, and his body was washed up on the shore a few weeks later, having drowned in mysterious circumstances.
The mother of a professional Saudi soldier was watching the news with her son one evening in the early 1990s: ‘Look what they are doing, they are raping our sisters and killing our brothers. My son, get up, and go, and I don’t want to see you again.’ Abu Saif, the soldier, and a friend called Abu Hamad al-Otaibi, were soon at the village of Bjala-Bucha in Bosnia. When the Serbs attacked, most of Abu Hamad’s head was blown off by a 120 mm shell. Abu Saif was shot dead in the same battle. As they were lowered into one grave, their fellow Arab jihadists said: ‘They loved each other in this world and they shall love each other in the next.’ Over in east London at the same time, Bangladeshi and Pakistani students at Tower Hamlets College watched a short film, The Killing Fields of Bosnia, which made many of them weep. At the London School of Economics, the ‘Tottenham Ayatollah’, sheikh Omar Bakri, the Syrian-born spiritual head of the extremist Hizb ut-Tahir, had Muslim students jumping to their feet shouting ‘Jihad for Bosnia!’ after one of his rabble-rousing performances in the main lecture theatre.45
Perceptions of Muslims as victims were massively enhanced by the terrible wars that erupted amid the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The Balkans inspired anger, with tales of Serbs using ropes attached to cars to drag the testicles off Muslim males. In March 1992, the predominantly Muslim Bosnia-Herzogovina declared its independence, thereby reminding Muslims elsewhere that they had two million Serbo-Croat-speaking co-religionists indigenous to this part of Europe, South Slavs who had been Islamised under the Ottomans. However, after decades of Communism and secular education, and rates of urban intermarriage of 30 per cent by the 1980s, the Bosnian Muslims were largely Muslim by virtue of culture and tradition rather than fervency. Certain distinct customs and habits marked them out—like drinking coffee from cups with no handles, infant circumcision and distinctive names—but they also drank alcohol and ate pork, and were heavily Europeanised and scarcely hostile to a Western world they regarded as superior to Communism.46
Bosnia has an indigenous Islamist tradition, although this was confined to a tiny handful of intellectuals. Alija Izetbegović, the first Bosnian president, was typical of most of these, however, in that he had matured from the Muslim Brotherhood influences of his youth, which had repeatedly landed him in the jails of the Communist dictator Tito, to an endorsement of democracy and an openness towards Western culture. He bent over backwards to accommodate Croat and Serb sensitivities as an independent Bosnia developed. This relatively enlightened position was in marked contrast to the crudity with which former Communists, like Slobodan Miloŝević, espoused an extreme Serbian Orthodox Christian national socialism which played upon the still visceral mythology of the Second World War. In Serbian eyes, the Croats were latterday Ustashe—the Catholic Fascist party that Hitler and Mussolini had helped into power—while the two million Bosnian Muslims were Islamist fundamentalists. Ethnically speaking, they were nothing more than Romanised or Islamised Serbs. As had already happened when Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence, Miloŝević used the combined muscle of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav federal army and sinister ethnic-Serb paramilitaries to fuse the exclaves of territory which he sought to incorporate into a Greater Serbia. This tactic was stymied by the Croats, leaving Miloŝević to divert this malign energy towards Bosnia, where the psychiatrist turned politician Radovan Karadžić had already declared Serbian Autonomous Regions as a newly independent Bosnia was recognised by the EEC in April 1992.
West European politicians adopted the idiosyncratic strategy of extruding the US from what they protectively claimed was a European problem, while evincing a patrician disdain worthy of Bismarck for the warring savages in the Balkans. They clutched at any historical cliche in their expensively educated imaginations to justify a fateful inertia. By denying the Bosnian Muslims arms, they left them at the mercy of Serb forces with huge stockpiled (and manufacturing) capacity that was immune to an impartial UN arms embargo. British patricians used every slippery evasion to do nothing while butchery, rape and ethnic cleansing took place right under their noses, until the world’s media—above all Penny Marshall of ITN—made this impossible by publicising scenes almost worthy of Bergen-Belsen. Western Christians and Jews were as appalled by what they saw as anyone else, in many cases forcing their reluctant governments to do something about it by comparing it with the Holocaust.
At first, the organised Muslim world did not know how to respond to the plight of a Muslim community they knew next to nothing about. In 1992 the subject was discussed at Islamic conferences in Istanbul and Jeddah. The Iranians were the first to offer practical aid, shipping arms and training instructors via Turkey and Croatia to Bosnia, a supply stream that the US tolerated to redress the imbalance between Bosnia and Croatia and Serbia, for many of these weapons fell out of their crates in Zagreb. Egypt and Saudi Arabia donated respectively humanitarian aid and US$150 million, while discouraging a repetition of the Afghan Arab jihad that was already blowing back streams of militants into their countries. Inevitably, since the fall of Kabul in 1992, the free electrons of the jihad were drawn to Bosnia as if by a powerful magnet. Unless they went deeper into Afghanistan, they had nowhere to go, for home was not an option. Pakistan had also blocked the passage of further Arabs into that country. Men connected to Al Qaeda installed the personnel to receive both Arab Afghan mujaheddin and local recruits from among Muslim European immigrants as they made their way to Bosnia via Croatia.
A forty-two-year-old Saudi, sheikh Abu Abdel Aziz ‘Barbaros’—the latter word referring to his two-foot-long henna-red beard—was a veteran Arab Afghan also known by the term ‘Hown’ after the Soviet Hound artillery shell he had used so proficiently. He was one of the first recruits to Al Qaeda. Although he initially thought Bosnia might be situated in the US, Aziz quickly pronounced that the conflict was a legitimate holy war for his fellow jihadi-salafists. Another key participant was a radical cleric, an Egyptian called sheikh Anwar Shaaban, imam of Milan’s Islamic Cultural Institute, a mosque installed in a former garage. There are ten mosques in Milan, serving a Muslim population of about one hundred thousand. Most of them are moderate, but the ICI was not, following its London equivalent in Finsbury Park in encouraging worshippers to occupy the pavements in aggressive defiance of motorists and shopkeepers. The mosque was also the hub of an extortion racket which monopolised the supply of halal meat to butchers it terrified into being sole customers.47 The ICI performed an equivalent role to Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar during the Afghan wars, and both the Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza al-Masri in London, in despatching fighters to Bosnia. The hook-handed Hamza went to Bosnia in person, but soon fell out with Algerian Islamists he encountered. Another Italian-based cleric, Mohamed Ben Brahim Saidani, head of a mosque in Bologna, was the direct link between the Bosnian jihad and bin Laden. Beyond these two, a network of Islamist clerics including sheikh Abu Talal al-Qasimy in Cairo and sheikh Omar bin Ahmad in Yemen banged the drum to lure young men to Bosnia. While these clerics provided the theological legitimisation, and many recruits, for this new field of jihad, Algerian and Egyptian veterans of Afghanistan, like Boudella al-Hajj, Moataz Billah and Wahiudeen al-Masri organised the military training at two camps which the jihadists operated from Mehurici and Zenica.
A motley array of volunteers descended on Bosnia. A Bahraini prince and one of the nation’s soccer stars, a Qatari handball player and young British Muslim medical students rubbed shoulders with bulky Arab-Americans from Detroit. The group’s official cameraman was a young German Muslim who as a teenager discovered that his German parents had adopted him from a Turkish couple, whom he rejoined. At the age of twenty-one Abu Musa went to Bosnia to fight and film for the mujaheddin, one of his key tasks being to capture the smile on the faces of dying jihadists. A shadowy network of Islamist charities, based in the US, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, many of which had proven links to Al Qaeda terrorists and which would move its money around too, oiled the assembly and supply of this army. The names, Human Concern International or Third World Relief Agency, belied the evil intent.
The core fighters were wild people, in their Afghan-style flat caps and long quilted jackets, whose cries of ‘Allahu Akhbar!’ sent a shudder down the spines of UN peacekeepers, who were under orders not to fire at them. They frightened their Bosnian allies, who generally wanted to live, as well as villagers whose pigs they shot. The Arab jihadist presence in Bosnia led to a new apocalyptic rhetoric, in which this complex struggle was portrayed as ‘a war between Islam and Christianity … a war carried out by the entire West against the Islamic world’. It also led to the introduction of Afghan mores, as when the heads of three captured Serbs were displayed on poles, while others were crudely circumcised with a commando knife. Another Serb prisoner described what happened to him in Arab jihadist captivity: ‘As soon as we arrived, the mujaheddins tied us with a hose, into which they let air under pressure, to make it expand and press our legs. This caused terrible pains and Gojko Vujeiae swore [to] God, so one of the mujaheddin took him aside and cut his head off. I did not see what he used to do the cutting, but I know that he brought the head into the room and forced all of us to kiss it. Then the mujaheddin hung the head on a nail in the wall.’ Unsurprisingly, captured Serbs, like captured Soviets in Afghanistan, began to accept offers to convert to Islam.
When in 1993 the Arab mujaheddin and their Bosnian allies found themselves fighting the Croats as well as the Serbs, similar atrocities occurred. On one occasion, the jihadists had to be restrained by their Bosnian allies as they attempted to blow up an ancient monastery after they had already scraped images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary from the murals around the altar. Elsewhere they grabbed four young men in a village, cut their throats, and collected the blood so as to tip it back over the victims’ heads.48 Western aid workers became targets too, notoriously when three British men were kidnapped, which resulted in the execution-style killing of Paul Goodhall, and the shooting of two of his friends as they fled the same fate at the hands of the jihadists. Tensions between the Bosnian army and their indispensable foreign friends led to the formation of a separate Battalion of Holy Warriors, whose semi-suicidal propensities were in evidence in several major battles. They were owed a debt of blood by the Bosnian government. This explains why that government ignored warnings that the networks that sustained these foreign fighters were simultaneously engaged in acts of terrorism. In 1995, Algerian jihadists were sent from Bosnia to blast with shotguns an imam of a Paris mosque who had co-founded the Islamic Salvation Front, which by then had fallen foul of the more extreme Armed Islamic Group or GIA. Others connected to the ‘charity’ Human Concern International were responsible for two bomb attacks on the Paris Métro—the first of which killed ten and injured 116—as well as a failed attempt to derail a high-speed TGV near Lyons, an early indication that the jihadists were bent on indiscriminate mass casualties.
Warnings from Egypt about this viper’s nest in Europe’s midst were also ignored by most European governments. After an attempt was foiled to assassinate Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptians decided to strike back. They had the Croatian police arrest Talal al-Qasimy, simultaneously the patron of the Bosnian jihadists and the international spokesman of Al-Gama’at, the terror organisation which had co-operated with Al Qaeda in a bid to murder the Egyptian leader in Addis Ababa. In an early example of CIA-supervised rendition under US president Bill Clinton (for George W. Bush did not patent the policy), al-Qasimy was ‘de-territorialised’ by being moved to a US warship, and then handed over to the Egyptians. After a spell in the so-called ghost villas maintained by the Egyptian secret service, he was executed in accordance with a death sentence passed in 1992.49 A decade before major terrorist atrocities in Europe, the Egyptian government issued a clear warning in Al-Ahram:
His [al-Qasimy’s] arrest proves what we have always said, which is that these terror groups are operating on a worldwide scale, using places like Afghanistan and Bosnia to form their fighters who come back to the Middle East … European countries like Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, England and others, which give sanctuary to these terrorists, should now understand it will come back to haunt them where they live.
Virtually every European government, with the honourable exception of the French, ignored a warning whose chill truth is evident a decade later.
As sixty thousand NATO peacekeepers descended on Bosnia in the wake of the Dayton Agreements to halt the carnage, the Bosnian government enabled many of the Arab jihadists, including those who had married locally, to become citizens by issuing them with batches of blank passports. This got around the provision in Dayton that the jihadists had thirty days to leave the country. The villages where they settled acquired roadsigns warning ‘FEAR ALLAH’. Since the jihadists regarded the peace deal as a sell-out, and viewed Western NATO troops as enemies of Islam, any number of ugly incidents occurred when the two sides met, even as a Canadian suicide bomber attacked a Croatian police station in revenge for the abduction of al-Qasimy. In December, a nineteen-year-old British suicide bomber was killed when a car bomb he was readying for use against Croat forces prematurely exploded. A spiral of violence ensued, especially after Croat troops ambushed and assassinated sheikh Anwar Shaaban, the key figure in the entire Bosnian jihad. As Christmas was celebrated for the first time in four years in Bosnia, the mujaheddin shot up Croat soldiers returning from mass.
What happened in Bosnia is important for several reasons. The wars mobilised Muslim opinion across the world, simplifying complex internecine conflicts into a war between Christianity and Islam—a view somewhat undermined by the enormous relief efforts made by Christians in the West who would have recoiled from the nationalist Orthodox Christianity of the Serbs, whose only firm allies were their Russian co-religionists. The foreign jihadists acquired further combat experience and extended the organisational sinews of terrorism into Europe, under the noses of security services that had yet to learn that Human Concern International was not quite what the words implied. Yet there was something else too. The war was resolved by another Pax Americana and the presence of large numbers of NATO troops, including many from Muslim countries like Turkey. The jihadists’ attempt to plant Islamist palms in the snows of the Bosnian hills had failed. The local Muslim population resembled a body that rejects an organ transplant. Faced with what the jihadists represented, the Bosnian Muslims opted for their local tradition of confining their religion to the private sphere, laughing off radical calls to ban Father Christmas. That this was all the local Islamist radicals called for was a victory of a notable kind. The trouble was that this evolving reality did not moderate the scenes of jihad that circulated on the internet or via DVDs, for these had joined the timeless fairytale too.50
A third conflict enraged the jihadi-salafist imagination by supplying lurid images of Muslim suffering and, one strongly suspects, scenes of retaliatory savagery that often reflected a psychopathic bloodlust. When would-be Anglo-Pakistani jihadists sit down of a night in some dilapidated northern English suburb to watch their spiritual comrades in action, the most gruesome scenes invariably stem from the Chechen wars, whose agonies and complexities have been reduced to a jihadist splatter movie on a DVD costing about US$20.
The implosion of the Soviet Union in December 1991 brought not only the collapse of the Soviet outer empire, but demands for greater autonomy within the newly minted Russian federation, 30 per cent of whose citizens were not ethnic Russians. Only two federal subjects refused to sign the 1992 Federation Treaty, and by 1994 Tatarstan had negotiated a special accord granting it enhanced autonomy. That left Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim part of the former Chechen-Ingush Soviet Republic, a million of whose people Stalin had deported in 1944 to Kazakhstan, from which the remnants returned home in 1957. They found that eight hundred mosques and four hundred religious colleges had been shut down, while the mazars or shrines, essential to the Sufi brotherhoods to which many Chechens belonged, had been closed or demolished. Although the Muslim world is entirely unaware of this, it has largely been conservative Western scholars like Robert Conquest and John Dunlop who have spent decades investigating the crimes of the Soviet Union against the Chechen people, studies partly informed by the spirit of the Cold War, but also honouring the struggle of a small nation against a chauvinistic totalitarianism. Others have increased our understanding of Islam’s role in Chechen society. The vast majority of Chechens practise a popular Sufi strain of Islam that incorporates local customs, drum and string music, and venerable paganisms; since the 1980s, some 10 per cent have adopted the more bracing beliefs of the Wahhabis.
On 6 September 1991, militant Chechen separatists led by former Soviet general Dzokhar Dudayev, a Chechen married to a Russian woman, stormed the Chechen-Ingush Supreme Soviet, killing the Communist leader of the capital Grozny and effectively dissolving the government. After having himself elected president by a suspiciously large margin, Dudayev unilaterally declared Chechen independence. When Russia’s president Boris Yeltsin declared a state of emergency and flew Interior Ministry troops to Grozny, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev declared his action illegal. The Chechens rounded up the Russian troops and bussed them home. Two months later, Shamil Basayev, whose first name evoked the legendary imam Shamil who had fought tsarist invaders in the mid-nineteenth century, hijacked a Russian plane and 178 passengers en route to Ankara in Turkey. He threatened to blow them up unless Yeltsin rescinded the state of emergency. The incident was settled peacefully, but strikingly president Dudayev made Basayev a colonel and gave him a command in his Presidential Guard, a worrying response to an act of terrorism.
In 1992 Dudayev sent Basayev to aid Muslim Azerbaijani national forces fighting Russian-backed Christian Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, and then to help Abkhazians fighting for freedom from Georgia. The rumours were ominous. One of the reasons why two hundred thousand ethnic Georgians fled Abkhazia in terror was that, after decapitating a hundred prisoners, Basayev had organised soccer matches for his men playing with the heads of these captives. He returned to Chechnya with a band of brutal ‘wolves’, although the human variety were a great deal more sinister than the four-legged ones. In 1994 Basayev and twenty of his best men flew to Pakistan where the ISI sent them for advanced training at a mujaheddin camp in Afghanistan. He returned home to Chechnya after being taken ill handling chemical weapons, they and nuclear explosives being a constant in the apocalyptic imprecations he rained down upon Russia.
When a Moscow-backed opposition emerged against President Dudayev’s dictatorial rule, Basayev played a leading role in suppressing them, defeating a squadron of Russian tanks operating as freelance mercenaries on the rebel side. Not so covert Russian support for the rebels became an all-out onslaught once the Chechen leader refused an ultimatum from Yeltsin for all sides to disarm and desist. The Russian attack was a shambles, as officers and men refused to participate in actions of dubious legality, while nervous conscripts drafted in from neighbouring regions trembled as they approached formidable Chechen fighters. Encountering resistance in Grozny, most of whose citizens were ethnic Russians, the Russians spent five weeks bombarding the city with heavy artillery and waves of bombers. As the Chechen rebels had fallen back to wage a guerrilla campaign from the mountains, most of the twenty-seven thousand dead in the ruined city were innocent civilians, who unlike the Chechens had no village teips or clans to seek sanctuary with.
The Chechen wars were fought with terrible brutality on both sides, even before the Chechens resorted to spectacular terrorist violence. The Chechens used mines and ambushes to disrupt Russian movement, while the Russians, many of whose commanders were routinely drunk, pulverised towns and villages with artillery fire that took no account of a civilian presence. Torture of prisoners was similarly normal on both sides. After the Russians killed eleven members of Basayev’s family by dropping two six-ton bombs on his uncle’s house, fatalities which included the rebel commander’s wife and child, no captured Russian pilot would survive. Basayev made two fateful decisions.
First, he decided to take the war to Russia, or, as he had it, to make the Russians see what blood looks like, the second of many acts of terrorism he committed. These acts played into Russian propaganda that built on the widespread reputation Chechens had among ordinary Russians for Mafia-style activities. In the summer of 1995 he hid 145 of his men in trucks, while others, disguised as Russian policemen, claimed that the vehicles contained the bodies of Russian troops killed in Chechnya. Bribes ensured that the convoy swept through Russian checkpoints until they were stopped in the southerly town of Budennovsk. Escorted to the town police station, Basayev’s men leaped from the trucks and killed all the policemen, before initiating a full-scale gun battle with police reinforcements in the town centre. Basayev initially secured the town hospital, situated in a former monastery, so as to treat his wounded, but then decided to use it as a last redoubt. He herded hundreds of civilian hostages into the building, wiring explosives to the entrances and exits. As there were a total of sixteen hundred hostages, this was the biggest incident of its kind in modern history. To show his earnestness, and to settle an old score, he personally shot dead six Russian pilots he unearthed among the patients.
Refusing all offers of compromise, and entreaties from general Aslan Maskhadov downwards, Basayev warned that he would kill everyone in the building if the Russians did not abandon their campaign in Chechnya. When he was told the Russians were planning to round up and shoot two thousand Chechens, he effectively indicated that they could kill every Chechen in Russia and he ‘would not even flinch’. The Russian defence minister decided that four days of this were enough. Russian troops were ordered to storm the building, which resulted in the deaths of over a hundred hostages by the time they had fought their way to the first floor. The following day, prime minister Viktor Chernomirdin decided to negotiate with Basayev, live on TV. As a result of these talks, Basayev and his men (shielded by 139 volunteer hostages) set off back to Chechnya in six trucks, with a refrigerated lorry bringing up the rear with their dead. A peace agreement was signed that July.51
Basayev’s second stunt was to call upon the services of a Saudi he had fought with in Abkhazia, Samir bin Salekh al-Suweilum, also known as al-Khattab, or as he was variously called ‘one-handed Akhmed’, ‘the Black Arab’ or ‘the Lion of Chechnya’. Dark, flat-nosed, heavy-set and bearded in an ursine way, al-Khattab’s menacing face adorns thousands of DVD covers issued by Hamas and the like (one of his hands had been mangled by a home-made grenade). He had turned down the chance to study in the US in favour of waging jihad in Afghanistan where he fought, for six years, under the aegis of Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden. Perhaps because he claimed that his mother hailed from the Caucasus, or more simply because he saw the fighting there on TV, he went to help the Muslim Azeris, followed by a stint killing Russians in Tajikistan. Having already met Basayev, al-Khattab surfaced in Chechnya in early 1995, bringing eight more Arabs who were contracted as ‘consultants’ to train Chechen fighters. He brought in more Afghan Arabs, and men he had fought with in Dagestan, to form his own Islamic Regiment. That autumn about forty of these men decimated a hundred Russian troops in an ambush. In their next outing, in April 1996, they attacked a convoy of fifty Russian trucks, killing two hundred Russian soldiers in an action that was videotaped from beginning to end. Al-Khattab is seen brandishing the severed heads of Russian officers, shouting ‘Allahu Akhbar!’ In August 1996 Basayev and al-Khattab stormed the Russian garrison in Grozny; al-Khattab was given Ichkeria’s (Chechnya’s) highest decorations and promoted to general. Four months later he murdered six Red Cross relief workers in a hospital, after warning them that he found the ubiquitous crosses offensive. That autumn he also opened the first of four Wahhabist training camps, to which international jihadists flocked for two - to six-month courses in ambushing, hostage taking, armed and unarmed combat, and sabotage. Saudi money paid for the Wahhabist religious infrastructure, which was supposed to presage an Islamic Republic of the Caucasus in embryo, for the plan was to link up Wahhabi enclaves in neighbouring Dagestan after a coup.
General Aslan Maskhadov, a former Red Army artillery officer, was largely responsible for the Chechen separatists getting the upper hand in the First Chechen War. It was he who in December 1996 negotiated a ceasefire at Khasar-Yurt with the Afghanistan war hero general Alexander Lebed. The Russians undertook to withdraw their troops, while agreeing to talks, scheduled for early 2001, to determine Chechnya’s future relations with the Russian Federation. Dudayev had been killed in April 1996 by a Russian missile, and Maskhadov succeeded him as president in early 1997. In Russian eyes he was the lesser evil in relation to the other main candidate, Shamil Basayev.
A Second Chechen War erupted in August 1999 as the Russians sought to reverse the de-facto independence that Maskhadov had achieved in the first war against Russia’s conscript rabble. From a Russian perspective there were various grounds to restart the war. General lawlessness and kidnappings for huge ransoms were endemic in Chechnya, while the Chechen diaspora in Russia itself was heavily involved in organised crime. Obviously there were many gangsters from other nationalities, but the Chechens enjoyed a reputation for blood feuds and savagery low even by local standards. Worse, if Chechnya gained independence, other regions might make similar bids for freedom, triggering a domino effect that might menace Russia’s southern oil and gas supply routes from the Caspian region. There was also a growing Islamic dimension. In order to placate Basayev and the jihadists, Maskhadov introduced sharia law, publicly executing a few offenders at a time when Russia abolished the death penalty, and turned to the Gulf and beyond for external support. He was unable to correct the impression that he was not on top of gangsters and warlords or that the jihadists were out of control. On Basayev’s command, al-Khattab and his Arab jihadists attacked Russian troops in neighbouring Dagestan. Suspecting that this was part of a wider effort to Islamise the entire northern Caucasus, the Russian air force was despatched, dropping fuel-air explosive bombs on Chechen villages and killing hundreds of people.
Some people, most of them nowadays dead, view the Second Chechen War as part of a dark conspiracy on the part of the secret police/ industrial complex to terminate Russia’s passing fling with democracy and free markets. The former KGB lieutenant-colonel Vladimir Putin has been the main beneficiary, and sundry oligarchs the chief losers, as mysterious acts of terror were exploited to reverse the liberalising gains of the Yeltsin era. In September 1999 explosions demolished entire apartment blocks in Moscow and other Russian cities. Hundreds of people were killed. These bombings were attributed to Chechen separatist terrorists, meaning that hapless Chechen emigrants were rounded up and framed by the FSB (the KGB’s successor). Discovery of FSB involvement in a bomb that failed to explode in Ryazan was covered up with claims that the whole operation was an ‘exercise’ involving harmless sugar rather than the explosive hexogen. People who argued otherwise subsequently found that the brakes of their cars failed or, like journalist Anna Politkovskaya, were shot dead or otherwise murdered (former agent Alexander Litvinenko was very publicly poisoned by FSB-connected assassins in the middle of London).
Putin progressed from prime minister to president in a toxic atmosphere of chauvinism, fear and resentment about loss of empire. Using air power and contract professional soldiers rather than hapless conscripts, the Russians attacked Chechen separatists that autumn. They dropped cluster bombs and hit villages with artillery shells and rockets, without any regard for civilian casualties. The Russians dominated the northern Chechen plains and pulverised the ruins of Chechnya’s cities. In February 2000 they took Grozny after weeks of fighting that had reduced it to the condition of Dresden in 1945. The deployment of eighty thousand regular troops, and countless security agents, forced the Chechen separatists into fighting a guerrilla war from the mountains and to launch a full-scale terror campaign, whose international ramifications meant that after 9/11 Chechen groups were put on various Western watch lists.
Both sides fought viciously and without rules. As Putin once remarked: ‘We’ll get them anywhere. If we find terrorists in the shit-house, then we’ll waste them in the shithouse. That’s all there is to it.’ The FSB reached out to ‘touch’ al-Khattab in 2002 after discovering that his mother in Saudi Arabia regularly sent mail to him via Baku in Azerbaijan which was always picked up by the same courier. In March the courier brought a package containing a Sony video-camera—to record him cutting off heads—a watch and a letter. Al-Khattab retreated to open the letter; he returned deathly pale fifteen minutes later and dropped dead. He had been poisoned with botulism smeared on the letter. His patron Basayev shot dead the courier who he suspected was on the FSB payroll.
As if to signal that al-Khattab’s death changed nothing, that summer a massive mine blew up in the midst of a Russian military parade commemorating the end of the Great Patriotic War. On 22 October a large gang of Chechen terrorists—including several women, some in their forties, whose husbands or relatives had died at the hands of the Russians—seized a theatre in Moscow’s Dubrovka suburb during the second act of a musical. They took eight hundred people hostage, wiring the auditorium with explosives and strutting about with explosive belts wrapped with nails, nuts and bolts. They started to shoot hostages so as to pressure Russia into withdrawing its forces from Chechnya. At about 3 a.m. on 26 October, Russian commandos released an obscure gas into the theatre, knocking out several hostages and a few terrorists in the front-row seats near an orchestra pit that by this time was the communal lavatory. Two hundred Russian commandos then stormed into the building, killing forty-one terrorists, mostly with a single shot to the forehead. One hundred and thirty hostages also died, since the authorities failed to inform the local hospitals about the type of gas they had used in the assault.
Adopting tactics pioneered by the Israelis, the Russians demolished the family homes of all those terrorists killed in the Dubrovka theatre siege. They dropped fuel-air explosives on the Vedeno Gorge in an attempt to kill Basayev. By this time sporting a wooden leg after stepping on a mine, Basayev was publicly threatening to use Cruise missiles or nuclear bombs, in the ‘Whirlwind of Terror’ he wished to visit on Russian cities. On 13 February 2004, FSB assassins killed the former acting Chechen president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev with a car bomb at a villa in Doha, in Qatar, owned by a prominent Saudi arms dealer. The Russians were caught, tried and imprisoned, although their local controller evaded justice by claiming diplomatic immunity. Basayev hit back when a bomb built into the VIP section of the Dynamo Stadium in Grozny killed the pro-Russian Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov and several members of his government. This killing stopped Putin’s policy of Chechenising the conflict through local clients, while triggering a blood feud between Basayev and the dead president’s son Ramzan Kadyrov.
Basayev mounted his most dastardly action that autumn, managing to grab the world’s attention even though the Russian authorities disbarred and harassed foreign reporters and put psychotropic drugs in the tea of the more venturesome local journalists who flew in to cover it. On 1 September 2004, the Day of Knowledge in the Russian school calendar, thirty-two heavily armed Chechen terrorists took over School Number One at Beslan in Ossetia.
They held twelve hundred schoolchildren, parents and teachers hostage in the gymnasium, immediately killing anyone who spoke Ossetic rather than Russian and fifteen to twenty men whose physique indicated that they might offer resistance. Dehydrated and hungry children were forced to strip off in the terrible heat. While negotiations to resolve the crisis dragged into a third day, explosions inside the school led to an assault by hundreds of men from poorly co-ordinated secret service, military and police formations. While army conscripts fled the scene, local civilians arrived armed to the teeth, causing further chaos and confusion. The roof was set alight with flame throwers while tanks fired anti-personnel shells into the school; the exhausted and confused hostages were too weak to flee. An escaping terrorist was lynched by crazed parents, while the school rapidly burned down in front of one antiquated fire engine with no water. There were no ambulances either to take casualties to hospital. Nearly four hundred hostages died in this chaos, together with eleven Russian commandos and all but one of the thirty-two terrorists. Two of the latter were British Algerians based in London with links to Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque. Before he disappeared into the Russian prison system, the surviving terrorist, Nur-Pashi Kulayev, explained the strategy behind murdering children, namely to trigger a religious war between the Orthodox Christian Ossetians and the Muslim Chechens and Ingush that would engulf the whole Caucasus. On 21 September 2005 Russian special forces tracked down and killed Aslan Maskhadov, by then designated a terrorist fugitive with a US$10 million bounty on his head. A Russian soldier allegedly threw a grenade into his hideout by mistake. On 10 July 2006, FSB agents used an improvised explosive device to kill Shamil Basayev as he drove in a car alongside a truck filled with explosives. The youthful Ramzan Kadyrov still manages to act as Chechen president, with his menage of pet tigers and hordes of heavily armed men.
Given this poisoned atmosphere, it was inevitable that dark forces would gravitate to Chechnya. In November 2006 Russian police stopped a minivan carrying three men, one of whom identified himself as Abdullah Imam Mohammed Amin, as was confirmed by his Sudanese passport. The photo of a middle-aged man in a suit and tie with neat hair suggested nothing untoward. However, in the van there was US$6,400 in seven currencies, a laptop, a satellite phone, a fax machine and piles of medical textbooks. Closer inspection revealed a visa application for Taiwan, bank statements from a bank in Guandong, China, a receipt for a modem purchased in Dubai, a registration certificate for a company in Malaysia, and details of a bank account in Missouri. The fake Sudanese passport had multiple stamps from Taiwan, Singapore and Yemen. The Russian police called in the FSB, who sent the laptop to Moscow for analysis. Mr ‘Amin’ was detained for five months, during which time letters flooded in from local Muslim clerics protesting his innocence. At his trial, the judge decided to believe his claims that he was a pious merchant—the accused repeatedly dropped to his knees to pray in the dock—come to scout the prices of leather. He received a six-month sentence for illegal entry, most of which he had already served. In his diary, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for it was he, wrote that ‘God blinded them to our identities.’ After spending ten days free in Dagestan nursing an ulcer, he left to join bin Laden in Afghanistan.52
There was one other conflict in the 1990s whose complexities did not impinge on any Muslim with a crassly polarised view of the world. After the Algerian military had ‘interrupted’ the January 1992 elections, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was banned and some forty thousand Islamist militants were despatched to camps in the Sahara. The problem with FIS was that although many of its supporters called themselves democrats, others believed in ‘one man, one vote, one time’. Armed Islamism predated this coup, since the Algerian Islamic Movement (MIA) was formed in the early 1980s, evolving into the AIS or Islamic Salvation Army a little later, while the rival GIA emerged in 1991. The two organisations fought different types of campaign. Sometimes they briefly merged, more often they attempted to kill each other. Both organisations had a heavy representation of Algerian veterans of Afghanistan, who basked in the glory of successful jihad, members of the FIS who had gone underground, as well as criminals and unemployed street toughs who, combining Levi 501s, the Kalashnikov and the Koran, imposed totalitarian Islamism on their neighbourhoods. Ideologically, the groups encompassed people who still wished to pursue a democratic course from a position of armed might, and jihadi-salafists who regarded democracy as un-Islamic and the entire Algerian population as kuffar apostates. This unstable composition led to deadly faction fights within these groups, which were subject to the murderous attentions of the Algerian military and murky intelligence agencies that regard torture as routine. Islamist prisoners arriving at a prison at Blida, where use of a blow torch was normal, were told: ‘There is no God or Amnesty International here: you talk or you die.’
In the early 1990s the GIA murdered about ninety Western employees in the oil and gas industry, forcing a mass exodus of six thousand Europeans from Algeria. Twelve Croat technicians were abducted and, their hands bound with wire, had their throats cut in an empty swimming pool. The French interior minister, Charles Pasqua, deported seventeen Islamist clerics to Burkina Faso. The GIA also murdered forty francophone Algerian journalists, writers and doctors, including the Kabylia magazine editor and novelist Taher Djaout, whose Last Summer of Reason describes Islamist destruction of the dying remnants of Algeria’s cosmopolitan culture. This great left-wing writer was shot dead outside his home in an Algiers suburb. His film-maker friend Merzak Allouache caught the hypocrisy and paranoia of the Islamists in his Bab el-Oued City, filmed in an atmosphere so dangerous that he could not return to do second takes in that quarter of the capital. The GIA also abducted and executed an Islamist cleric who refused to issue a fatwa licensing their activities, and in 1998 murdered Lounès Matoub, one of Kabylia’s leading raï singers. Some six hundred schools were burned down in an effort to eradicate secular education, while sociologists and psychiatrists found themselves token victims of disciplines that the jihadists did not like. Women who did not conform to Islamist notions of decorum were threatened, raped and murdered; people who persisted in accessing ‘pornographic’ French satellite TV were warned before their severed heads ended up in disconnected dishes.
Late in 1994, four GIA hijackers took over an Air France jet at Boumedienne airport with a view to smashing it into the streets of central Paris. French commandos stormed the plane when it refuelled at Marseilles, freeing 171 passengers and killing the four hijackers. The aim of this attack was to force France to abandon ties with Algeria, thereby weakening the Algerian government to the point of collapse. All it achieved was for the French to stop issuing visas in Algeria, using a central service in Nantes instead, and for Air France to cease flights to Algeria. Although many French people thought that Algeria could ‘go hang itself’, the French government came under intense US pressure to encourage the military regime to extend its political base. In Algeria itself, the government began arming village patriots to fend off the jihadists who came to commit murder in the dead of night.
The GIA was run by a swift succession of violent emirs, as most met grisly ends. The then emir, Djamel Zitouni, the son of a poultry merchant with a secondary education, alienated many Islamists when he had two leading Islamist ideologues murdered. He exceeded himself when in May 1996 seven French Trappist monks from the desert monastery of Tibhirine were kidnapped and beheaded. That brought to nineteen the number of Christian clergy killed by Algerian Islamists, culminating in the murder of Pierre Claverie, bishop of Oran. The murder of these monks, whose security the GIA had guaranteed, was too much even for Abu Qatada, the GIA mouthpiece in London, who suspended publication of the GIA’s Al-Ansar bulletin. Zitouni was shot dead, by GIA members fed up with him, a while later. His twenty-six-year-old successor, Antar Zouabri, found a new spiritual guide to replace Qatada in the shape of Londonistan’s hook-handed Abu Hamza. They satisfied themselves that the main problem in Algeria was that the majority of the population had become apostates because they were not pursuing their duty of jihad. In the autumn of 1997 several hundred Algerian villagers had their throats cut, including women, who had first been raped, as well as children whose heads were smashed against walls. Attempts to blame this on the Algerian security services, one of whose members claimed that his former colleagues were really behind the GIA, were confounded when Zouabri acknowledged his own authorship of a vulgarly phrased communique that called all Algerians ‘kuffar, apostates and hypocrites’. As the US journalist Robert Kaplan reported, relatives of the people massacred by Islamists knew that they rather than the secret police were responsible, although shady army and police units undoubtedly killed many people, sometimes with a view to discrediting the Islamists in the eyes of Western opinion.53
In 1998, and with encouragement on a satellite phone from Osama bin Laden, the Salafist Group for Prayer and Combat emerged out of the wreckage of the GIA. The GSPC took several steps back from the GIA’s universal war on Algerian society, while simultaneously subscribing to the international jihad. It sought to destroy the Algerian military regime, replacing it with a sharia-based Islamist state, while pursuing the cause of the ‘rightly guided caliphate’ against Jews and Christians. Even as the GSPC evolved into one of the world’s most deadly terrorist organisations, with a network of supporters throughout Europe, the AIS came in from the cold, accepting an Algerian government amnesty and the introduction of the presidential elections that put veteran foreign minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika in power. It is widely believed that about two hundred thousand Muslim Algerians were killed in the struggle between Islamists and the government during the 1990s. The head of the Algerian secret police, General Smaïn Lamari, was fully prepared to kill up to three million people in order to wipe Islamism out. No longer willing to treat Algeria as France’s backyard, the US has built up a large CIA presence in Algiers, spreading its eagle wings over the Bouteflika regime, which has become an eager partner in the ‘war on terror’.54
VII TARGETING AMERICA BEFORE 9/11 AND IRAQ
Seeming inevitabilities unravel if one goes back a generation or two. In 1957, a year after US president Eisenhower brutally brought the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Suez to a halt, he inaugurated a new building on Washington’s Embassy Row. This was a mosque. It was built after a Palestinian tycoon had attended the funeral of a Turkish diplomat. He had said to the Egyptian ambassador, ‘Isn’t it a shame that the prayer for such a great Muslim is not held in a mosque?’ An Italian architect designed the building, incorporating details recommended by the court architect in Egypt. Eisenhower dedicated the building: ‘America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience. This concept is indeed a part of America, and without that concept we would be something else than what we are.’ Today, three thousand people attend the Friday prayers in a building that is the equivalent of the Episcopalian National Cathedral.
Nineteen fifty-seven is ancient history to most Muslims today, the majority of whom are so young that they come up to the average Westerner’s waist. The jihadi-salafist imagination deals in racial essences and ahistorical archetypes, to which history is a necessary corrective. In their view, the Jews are inherently malevolent, using the USA, the IMF, the World Bank and the UN for their nefarious purposes. This explains the bizarre concept of ‘Crusader-Zionists’. Anyone with even a sketchy recollection of medieval history knows that nothing links medieval Christian crusaders, who on occasion massacred Rhenish Jews prefatory to slaughtering Arabs, with a political movement born in the nineteenth century, primarily as an antidote to European anti-Semitism. But facts do not seem to inhibit emotion and prejudice. Even in countries where there are few Jews, like Indonesia, the local jihadi-salafists find them by imagining mercantile ‘Chinese-Zionists’. In a sense this proves that anti-Semitism links all jihadists. They are like the man looking at an empty salt cellar who is compelled to talk about Jewish domination of the medieval salt trade or a monopoly ‘they’ have recently acquired in the Camargue. Although Israel is home to large numbers of conservative Orthodox Jews, it is also an outpost of Western secular modernity. That last part is what Islamists hate, especially when it is combined with the manifest superiority of the high-tech Israeli economy in the region. Instead of allowing this to fructify the neighbourhood commercially, the jihadists are bent on enveloping it in the chaos and violence they create everywhere.
In their view, Israel is the modern incarnation of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, a crusader outpost planted among Muslims by an imperialist West which the Jews control, a claim that passes over the half-millennium that separates the crusades from the age of European imperialism, and accords ‘the Jews’ more power than they could conceivably possess. Intervening events, like the Protestant revolt against the medieval papacy, and the multiplication of hundreds of Protestant denominations, figure not at all in Islamist understanding of the West, which is routinely chastised for not comprehending the division between Sunni and Shia. This is because Islam, at least in Arabia, has overwritten societies where kin or clan are paramount, resulting in indifference or hostility to what lies beyond. In the very few instances where Christians have attacked Muslims (and vice versa), such as Serbia or Indonesia, these attacks have not been endorsed by any Christian religious authorities of any standing. There have been no Christian calls for an anti-Muslim crusade, unlike the many voices demanding warlike jihad.55
There is something narcissistic about this assumption that the West is obsessed with Islam and seeks to destroy it. It is not. It is obsessed with itself, followed by China, India and Russia which jostle for Westerners’ short attention span. It is drawn, wearily, into so many Middle Eastern crises because this region, with a manufacturing capacity only equal to that of the telecommunications giant Nokia in Finland, is the primary source of instability in the modern world and sits on top of two-thirds of known oil reserves. If huge oil deposits were to be discovered beneath Canada, the West would disengage from the Middle East tomorrow, leaving it to implode amid its multiple conflicts. The West’s crusading impulse is allegedly ‘in our blood’, despatching armed might into the Muslim heartlands to dole out death at the flick of a switch on a console. This massive technological superiority was bitterly resented as it made Arabs seem impotent on any conventional battlefield, reduced to hot spots on the computer screens of electronic weapons systems. Crude conspiracy theories mask entirely local responsibilities. The ‘English agent’ and ‘Jewish criminal’ Kemal Atatürk’s abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924 destroyed the only institutional basis for resistance, an institution the most extreme jihadists intend to restore.
Some Western secular trends come among traditional societies silently like thieves in the night, notably monogamy and the atomisation of the family, common nowadays among middle-class Iranians. But, notwithstanding the corruption, drugs and vice endemic in many Muslim societies, in their eyes the West is uniquely decadent, hedonistic and secular (despite the US being the most religious society on the planet), spreading its moral pollution, not only through Coca-Cola capitalism, Baywatch and MTV, but via the indiscriminate exportation of a vulgar architectural modernism that dwarfed the delicate traditional Islamic architecture of the Middle Ages, not least the minarets of mosques. Globalisation has a way of making mutual hypocrisies visible. Rich Arabs get drunk, gamble, shop and whore in London or Paris. From Dubai to the Maldives, streams of Western tourists descend on traditional societies courtesy of cheap air travel, blissfully unaware of how others might perceive them and wholly ignorant of local mores.56 If this was one seamy side of globalisation, international jihadist terrorism was another—although this is, emphatically, not to imply any justification or moral equivalence between sunbathing and bombing. As distances shrank and barriers to movement dissolved, terrorists who availed themselves of all the scientific technologies of the contemporary world—much of it manufactured in China and Japan—flailed out in rage against the undermining of their religious identity as they had reconstructed this as an ideology. Religious self-assertion replaced scrutiny of why the Muslim world has made no significant scientific discoveries in the last four hundred years. Although a war would be declared on terrorism—which is a tactic used by a kaleidoscope of groups—a better analogy would have been with the containment of a contagious disease that can never be entirely eliminated, any more than governments can destroy international organised crime.
Farce preceded tragedy when malevolent minds turned to a devastating strike against the West itself. In September 1992, two men arrived at New York’s JFK airport in the first-class section of a Pakistani aircraft, for jihadists like to travel in style. (Advised by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on tradecraft, they seek the deference given to the rich by travelling business or first class and put down a five-star hotel on immigration forms, moving never by taxi but by subway or bus to a cheaper place the following day). This time something went wrong. Immigration officers focused on Ahmad Mohammed Ajaj, a bearded Palestinian, with a Swedish passport whose photograph peeled off in an agent’s hand to reveal the image of someone else beneath. Ajaj started shouting that his mother was Swedish, an irrelevance to the fact his face and the passport’s real photo did not match. A secondary search revealed British, Jordanian and Saudi passports in his leather case. There were also manuals about forging documents and making bombs, one of which had the words Al Qaeda on the cover. At another immigration desk, Ramzi Yousef, dressed in a colourful confection that included baggy pantaloons, presented an Iraqi passport, with no US visa, and a laminated identity card from an Islamic centre in Arizona, although the names on the two documents did not match. He smiled politely, his face dominated by a bulbous nose and hooded eyes, and requested political asylum. After averring that he was a victim of persecution and giving his correct name, Yousef was told to attend a hearing in three months and released. Apparently the airport detention centre was full that day. Ajaj was sent straight to jail.
Ramzi Yousef was Abdul Basit Mahmud Abdul Karim, the thirty-year-old son of a Palestinian mother and a Pakistani father domiciled in Kuwait. We have encountered him already as the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, though the latter was not much older. After studying electrical engineering at the West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education in Swansea, where high foreign fees talk, and the Muslim Brothers Swansea chapter was active, Yousef had been through an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He had the light sensitivity and the burn marks on his hands and feet to prove it, for he was an expert in making bombs. He hated Israel, and the US for supporting it; US civilians were fair game as they paid taxes which indirectly propped up the Zionist regime. Besides, from firebombing Tokyo, via Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the US itself rained death on civilians. Noam Chomsky, John Pilger or Harold Pinter might have written his script. In fact, Yousef was not especially motivated by religious zeal; he was driven more by a sort of criminal fertility that operated under cover of Islam.57
Still posing as an Iraqi, Yousef quickly got his bearings in Brooklyn’s Arab community, establishing contacts with the Alkifah Refugee Center, a ‘charity’ established by Abdullah Azzam to funnel money to the jihad in Afghanistan. He frequented mosques in Jersey City, where the blind sheikh Omar Rahman—unconscionably having been given a visa by the US embassy in Sudan—preached. Egyptian requests for his extradition had been refused. Yousef and the sheikh spoke several times on the phone. Yousef recruited a small team of migrant ne’er-do-wells and set about manufacturing sixteen hundred pounds of explosives from commercially purchased chemicals, designed to blow up the World Trade Center. It took three weeks of mixing, spreading and drying, to assemble enough explosives for a gigantic bomb which was kept in rental storage. The detonation system was trickier, so much so that Yousef actually phoned Ajaj in prison to see if he could help. Other comical moments occurred when three of the bombers were almost killed after their car careered out of control late one night, hospitalising Yousef, who nonetheless ordered more chemicals from his hospital bed. The driver, Mohammed Salameh, even though he had failed his test four times, and even though his visa had expired, successfully rented a Ryder van for which he put down a US$400 deposit. In one of his few sentient acts, he even remembered to rent one that would clear the height barriers. Hell bent on collapsing both towers so as to kill a quarter of a million people, Yousef added one last refinement to his ammonium-nitrate and fuel-oil bomb. These were four cylinders of hydrogen gas, intended to propel the initial blast further forwards.
On 26 October 1993, Yousef and a Jordanian, Eyad Ismoil, parked the truck in the basement of the World Trade Center, where it detonated shortly after noon. The blast went through three floors down and two floors up, killing six people, building workers having lunch, and injuring more than a thousand. Yousef flew to Karachi that night while Ismoil took a flight to Jordan. Salameh hung around, brooding about his US$400 deposit. By the time he went to claim it, haggling the sum up from zero to US$200 with an undercover FBI agent, FBI forensic experts had identified the truck used to house the bomb. He was arrested after he left the rental office. Although the attack had killed six and caused half a billion dollars’ worth of structural damage, the jihadists around the blind sheikh were not satisfied. Urging them on to greater depravities was the imprisoned Egyptian El-Sayyid Nosair, serving seven years for assassinating the fanatic rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990. Osama bin Laden had paid his legal bills. A motley group, eventually numbering eleven, resolved to blow up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels into Manhattan. Cars, bomb-making materials and timers were acquired. Justification was sought from sheikh Omar, unaware that one of the key conspirators worked for the FBI and that all of the group were under electronic surveillance. A long series of trials put several of these men, including the sheikh, in jail for the rest of their lives. One of the sheikh’s defence lawyers would more recently follow him behind bars for colluding in passing messages from his prison.
These events had no direct connection with bin Laden save that the master bomber had been through his training programme, and he has vowed to wreak havoc if and when the elderly sheikh finally expires from the multiple illnesses he is afflicted by. Refusing medication, the sheikh scoffs immense quantities of fast food from prison canteens so that his diabetes and high blood pressure may expedite this murderous outcome. In 1995 al-Zawahiri’s expatriate campaign of terror in Egypt led to the ejection of the entire al-Jihad group from Sudan. Aided by Sudanese intelligence officers, al-Zawahiri conspired to assassinate Hosni Mubarak as he attended an African Unity conference in Addis Ababa. The plan—referred to above in the context of Bosnia—was to kill him as his motorcade drove from the airport into the capital, using teams of shooters equipped with RPGs and automatic rifles. The plot failed, although not before two Egyptian bodyguards had been killed, as Mubarak sped by.
The Egyptian government lashed out at Islamist sympathisers, commissioning five new prisons to house them. Its intelligence agencies decided to strike directly at al-Zawahiri. They kidnapped the young sons of two leading fundamentalists connected to al-Jihad and Al Qaeda, who were drugged and then photographed being sodomised. These compromising photographs were enough to turn them into spies, and to agree to plant a bomb outside al-Zawahiri’s Khartoum home. The first bomb was discovered by al-Zawahiri’s Sudanese protectors before it went off. Meanwhile one of the boys was being treated for malaria, ironically by al-Zawahiri. The Egyptians tried again, equipping the first boy with a suitcase bomb to kill al-Zawahiri as he attended a meeting. The boy bomber was caught by the Sudanese, who also picked up his ailing companion. Both boys were tried by a sharia court presided over by al-Zawahiri who had them both shot. Their confessions and execution were filmed to discourage others.
This evidence of a state operating within a state angered the Sudanese so much that they ordered al-Zawahiri to leave immediately together with his al-Jihad followers. He fled to Yemen. But he had not finished with the Egyptians. On 19 November 1995, two men fired on the guards outside the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, scattering them so that two suicide bombers could drive a pick-up truck inside, which exploded killing both drivers and sixteen other people. The Pakistani authorities rounded up two hundred Arab Afghan jihadists; bin Laden appeared offering air tickets to take them to the Sudan. But relations were cooling there too. The Americans had joined the Egyptians and the Saudis in putting pressure on Turabi to expel bin Laden. This was an irresistible combination. Bin Laden might have slept more soundly had he known that White House lawyers, the US military and the CIA were simultaneously frustrating suggestions from counter-terrorism officials that the US simply snatch him in Sudan. Faced with the choice of either staying put, in closely monitored inactivity, or leaving for Afghanistan, bin Laden chose to revisit the scene of his early glories. The crooked Sudanese stripped him of his considerable assets before he flew to Jalalabad. Their claims that they offered up bin Laden to the uninterested Americans are probably lies, even if it is true that at this time the CIA regarded him merely as a ‘financier of terrorism’. That year, however, it did set up a special office, code-named ‘Alec’, the first time it had concentrated such resources on an individual terrorist.58
Bin Laden sought refuge among the Taliban, the Pashtu word for students, an Islamist movement supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which built and financed the madrassas from which the Taliban came. In the eyes of Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the Taliban would restore order after four years of civil war, a necessary precondition for Pakistan to tranship oil and gas from Turkmenistan to its burgeoning industries. This was the line she sold to the Clinton administration, for whom the Taliban were like some orientalist fable come alive. Bhutto’s armed forces also calculated that a Pashtun-dominated Afghanistan would enable Pakistani forces to regroup there if the east of the country ever fell to Indian arms. Saudi Arabia’s motives were more straightforward: the Taliban would be a useful Sunni bulwark against Iran. The Saudis dictated the terms of settlement for the wandering prodigal, since they insisted that the Taliban keep bin Laden quiet on the farm he purchased near Jalalabad with a view to going into the production of honey. His men were housed in the expanded facilities of Tora Bora near by. They were not happy, because compared to that oasis of ‘progress and civilisation’ in Yemen, Afghanistan was a desolate place, ‘worse than a tomb’ as one Yemeni put it. Nothing worked, with every journey spent perched on an eighth of a car seat, over rutted tracks. The Afghans were child-like, barbaric and venal with an unhealthy interest in boys. There were also clashes of personality, which probably explains why bin Laden initially based himself in Jalalabad rather than Taliban-dominated Kandahar.
Bin Laden’s host, mullah Omar, was a tall, forbidding figure with a dark beard, whose sinister air was intensified by his having lost an eye as fragments of Russian shrapnel excavated the upper half of his face. His voice was an almost inaudible whisper. Mullah Omar and his Taliban had their own foundational myth. After experiencing a vision of the Prophet, mullah Omar believed that he had been chosen to deliver Afghanistan from chaos. He gathered together a small group of madrassa students who initially went around like Robin Hoods, rescuing boys and girls from warlord sodomites and rapists. Within a year his band had multiplied into an army of twenty-four thousand that took over most of southern Afghanistan, with Pakistani volunteers arriving at critical moments in the fighting against the Iranian - and Russian-backed Northern Alliance. On 4 April 1996 this obscure village mullah literally wrapped himself in the mantle of the Prophet when he removed a robe from a shrine in Kandahar that was said to be Mohammed’s. Ecstatic crowds cheered as he paraded on a roof, clutching this garment, the event that gave rise to the only known photograph of him. From that moment he was unstoppable, going on to take Kabul itself that September. One of the Taliban’s first acts was to enter a UN compound from which they dragged out the Communist-era president Najibullah and his brother. Both men were castrated and tortured, shot, dragged behind a car and then hanged from a concrete pillar with cigarettes in the fingers and money spilling from their pockets.
As Pashtun peasant boys who had been through refugee camps and the prayer mills of fanaticism, the Taliban looked with hatred on the sophisticated Dari-speaking inhabitants of Kabul, a city that had had two experiences of cosmopolitan sophistication under the monarchy and the Soviets. Women (who made up 40 per cent of doctors and 70 per cent of teachers) were dismissed from the workplace, the university and schools. Since years of fighting had left many widows, this meant that the streets were littered with black sacks holding their hands out amid their starving children, for all women, including beggars, had to wear the burqa in public, their eyes dimly perceptible behind a sort of mesh. Public buildings fell into desuetude since, to the Taliban, government was an irrelevance; instead senior clerics dictated permissions or prohibitions which were jotted down on chits and simply disbursed wads of notes from a treasure chest to reward some needy supplicant. This was ‘government’ as it had been in Europe in the ninth or tenth centuries, in a country so ruined that, as an American put it, one would have to bomb it up to the Stone Age. The Taliban concentrated on obliterating vice, banning chess, dog and pigeon racing, songbirds and the national pastime of flying kites. Poles were set up from which dangled smashed tape recorders, televisions, computers and VCRs, all enmeshed in unwound audiotapes ripped from people’s cars. Even the animals in the zoo were not safe, until a theologian at Kabul’s university ruled that the Prophet himself had kept pets. An aged lion called Marjan ripped off the arm of a Talib who had climbed into his den boasting ‘I am the lion now,’ and then killed him. Marjan was later blinded in one eye by a hand grenade tossed in by the dead man’s friends. A deer was shot with an AK-47 after it had bitten a Talib’s hand. The sole elephant was killed when a missile strayed off target. Two mangy wolves and a couple of wild boar were safe.
The only licensed entertainment took place each Friday in the Soviet-era stadium where the pop of a Kalashnikov AK-47 and a collapsed burqa indicated the demise of some unfortunate accused of adultery. Since there were no taxes or regulations, commerce thrived, including opium-poppy cultivation which took off in southern Helmand. Despite their insistence on virtue, the Taliban took their cut, estimated at US$20 million a year, of a trade that has resulted in there being four million heroin addicts in Iran alone.59 Then the Taliban turned on their Iranian-and Russian-backed enemies in the north. In the town of Mazar-e-Sharif they spent two days killing anything that moved, whether human or four-legged, leaving the bodies unburied for an un-Islamic six days to make their point. They rounded up Shia Hazara, a Turko-Mongol mountain people, raping the women and killing the men by shutting them in giant metal containers which were then dumped in the surrounding desert. Taliban clerics gave the surviving Shia three choices: convert to Sunni Islam, leave or die. Between six and eight thousand Shia died. The dead included eleven Iranian consular officials and secret agents, who were taken to a basement and shot.60
Bin Laden had various residences in Afghanistan, including a hundred-acre complex at Tarnak Farm outside Kandahar. This consisted of about eighty buildings surrounded by a ten-foot-high mud wall, separating it from the surrounding scrub. Bin Laden also used various villas in Kandahar itself, shifting his location frequently in dim awareness of the US satellites miles above his head. Relations with the Taliban leader were not smooth. The ultra-shy mullah Omar resented bin Laden’s obsessions with the modern media, or, as two Al Qaeda men reported it to al-Zawahiri, ‘the disease of screens, flashes, fans and applause’. Bin Laden was obliged to acknowledge the supremacy of his host, which may have rankled as he was forever bailing out the feckless Taliban with prodigious amounts of money when they ran through the US$40 million they had received in aid from the Pakistanis. Using one-type code systems, Al Qaeda tried to conceal itself within the language of international business. The mullah might have been surprised by coded references to himself and the Taliban as the ‘Omar Brothers Company’, business partners of the ‘Abdullah Contracting Company’, meaning bin Laden and comrades, traders (jihadis) in competition with ‘foreign competitors’, that is the CIA and MI6.61 Despite these frictions, the Taliban became major state sponsors of terrorism, adopting many aspects of the jihadi-salafist platform. They enabled bin Laden to set up a network of training camps, from which he despatched guerrilla fighters (the majority of those trained) and terrorists to attack in dozens of places, coming and going without visas, while bin Laden himself sped about freely in a heavily armed convoy.
The training camps were multi-purpose, designed to build bodies, minds and skills. They were where the Taliban themselves learned how to calculate artillery ranges, to use high explosives like C-4, and other guerrilla tactics. A special Arab unit called Brigade 005 was deployed to help the Taliban at crucial times in its struggle with the Northern Alliance. The training camps were also useful to the Pakistanis for they were where men destined for Kashmir learned to use M-16s, more suited to Kashmir than the shorter-range AK-47. All Al Qaeda recruits began with a fifteen-day session of physical preparation, involving leaping over gaps or through fiery hoops. Each day began with dawn prayers and ended at about eight at night. This was followed by a forty-five-day period of learning the art of war, from map reading to handling various weapons. A more select band went on to another forty-five-day course in counter-surveillance, counter-interrogation, agent recruitment, forgery, hijacking, assassination and bomb making. Much of this knowledge was codified in a training manual, discovered by British police in Manchester, that eventually reached twelve volumes before being put on a CD-Rom; if one wanted to brew up ricin poisons this was where to look before the internet offered many alternatives. With the help of Pakistani scientists, there were attempts to use such biological and chemical agents as anthrax and cyanide, experiments confined to dogs in glass cages. Indoctrination sessions forged a group mindset, while films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and other US action movies were shown for relaxation and to pick up useful tips.62
It was from amid this charming world that in August 1996 bin Laden issued his ‘Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places’. This so-called occupation had gone on for seven years rather than the few months promised by Saudi’s rulers. The declaration ingratiated itself with the Saudi in the street by describing the corruption and economic downturn afflicting the kingdom, blaming this on the US military presence in remote desert provinces. In a long literal passage about the joys of martyrdom, bin Laden announced: ‘Men of the radiant future of our ummah of Mohammed, raise the banner of jihad up high against the Judaeo-American alliance that has occupied the holy places of Islam.’ He quoted poetry to describe his type of holy warrior:
I am willing to sacrifice self and wealth
for knights who never disappointed me.
Knights who are never fed up or deterred by death,
even if the mill wheel of war turns.
In the heat of battle they do not care,
and cure the insanity of the enemy by their ‘insane’ courage.63
In an interview that November with Australian Muslim activists, bin Laden praised the bombing of the World Trade Center, and more recent attacks on Americans in Riyadh and at the Khobar Towers apartment complex which killed respectively seven and nineteen people, the majority US servicemen, even though these were Iranian - rather than Al Qaeda-sponsored operations. That operations of an almost fantastic ambition were then entertained was due to a visit by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, with a story that stretched all the way to Kuala Lumpur and Manila as he searched for a way of hitting the USA.
Khalid Sheikh had come from Karachi where he notionally worked as a public works engineer. He travelled extensively posing as a Saudi businessman. One of his supposed business ventures was in Kuala Lumpur, where his partner was the Indonesian Encep Nurjaman who went by the name of Hambali in honour of an eighth-century Muslim saint. Born in West Java, Hambali had gone to Malaysia in 1985 to deepen his acquaintance with Islam. After a period fighting in Afghanistan, he returned to Malaysia in 1989, settling in Sungai Manngis, a hamlet about sixty kilometres west of Kuala Lumpur, where Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and Abdullah Sungkar, the exiled founders of Jemaah Islamiyah, also lived. This was Terror Central for South Asia. The schemes hatched here were oddly at variance with the ambient squalor. These men hated cosmopolitan and prosperous Singapore, finding local cell members who felt that its materialism and order were spiritually vacuous or who were unnerved by the rational choices a modern society involves. They wanted more certain rules than even this most law-abiding society involved. Perhaps they could stoke enough strife between Chinese and Malays to trigger a war from which the Islamist vanguard would emerge victorious? Hambali lived with his wife in a hut with a zinc roof, one light fitting and a lavatory that was a hole in the ground. He eked out a living selling kebabs and slaughtering poultry. But most of his time was spent preaching and leading discussion groups called usrah. These enabled him to identify potential jihadists, whom he sent for military training either with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which operated in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. The MILF was not the only sympathetic group in the Philippines. The port city of Zamboanga was a hotbed of jihadist militancy. Bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, had a branch of his International Islamic Relief Organisation there, which had close links with a breakaway MILF faction, of bandits, kidnappers and pirates, called Abu Sayyaf or Bearers of the Sword, named in honour of a giant Afghan jihadist. In March 2000 Abu Sayyaf is said to have received US$25 million from Libya’s Colonel Ghaddafi, acting as money man for three European governments, after it released a large number of foreign hostages, money it used to acquire high-powered speedboats.
Hambali became both the operational head of Jemaah Islamiyah, the transnational terror group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic State of South Asia, and the number four in Al Qaeda, the only non-Arab in such a senior position.64 It is likely that he directed Khalid Sheikh’s eyes eastwards. Khalid’s terrorist nephew, Ramzi Yousef, lived in Karachi too, where he spent much time with Abdul Murad, a friend who had trained as a pilot, but having failed the exam so many times could not find a job. Their talk turned to killing, for that is what Murad liked to do. ‘I enjoy it. You can kill them [Americans] by umm, gas. You can kill them by gun. You can kill them by knife. You can kill them by explosion. There’s many kinds,’ as he later told Filipino investigators. Murad suggested dive-bombing the CIA headquarters at Langley or the Pentagon with a light aircraft packed with chemicals and explosives, a scheme that caught Yousef’s imagination, although he thought spraying the building with deadly chemicals from a crop duster might be more lethal. Osama bin Laden then intervened from afar, suggesting that Yousef assassinate Bill Clinton in November 1994 when he was due to arrive on a five-day tour of Asia. There was talk of using a Stinger missile to down Air Force One as it came in to land. These men were not adolescent fantasists talking large in some Pakistani suburb of Beeston or Leeds, but professional killers with huge rewards on their heads.
Yousef moved into an apartment with Murad where he manufactured bombs. While scraping lead azide from a container—it being a volatile substance used in detonators—it exploded in his face. After a spell in hospital, he flew to Bangkok, not for a rest, but to try to blow up the Israeli embassy. He and Islamist Thai accomplices rented a truck and driver. They strangled the driver and put his corpse in the back, along with a one-tonne bomb wired up to the transmission. Never lucky with his choice of driver, Yousef was appalled when the man he selected crashed the truck into cars and pedal-taxis at an intersection near the embassy. There it remained as the police cars arrived. After a two-month break back in Pakistan, Yousef took up an offer from the Iranian rebel movement, the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq Organisation, to launch a bomb attack on a Shia shrine in Iran. At the height of the Ashura festival, a high-explosive C-4 device made by him demolished a wall at the shrine of Reza, killing twenty-six Muslim pilgrims and injuring two hundred others.
Khalid Sheikh and Yousef plus one Wali Shah arrived in Manila, where the two younger men had already acquired girlfriends in the Philippine capital’s many go-go bars. Khalid Sheikh, by now using the name Abdul Majid, and Shah rented apartments there while Yousef took up residence in the Manor hotel. They held meetings in the city’s karaoke and go-go bars, plotting holy murder in places filled with mirrors, flashing lights and half-naked dancers. They hired a helicopter to survey the city. Khalid Sheikh took up with a Filipina dentist, sometimes phoning her from the helicopters so she could look up and wave at her paramour. They purchased priests’ robes and Bibles, for the reason they were in Manila was to assassinate pope John Paul II, having given up on the heavily protected US president. To that end they rented an apartment along the route his holiness was most likely to take. This was not the only plot under way because, since his discussions with Murad, Yousef had become obsessed with downing large planes. He developed a new bomb, involving nitroglycerine disguised in containers for contact-lens solution, and a timer made from a Casio Databank watch which had the advantage of an alarm that could be set for up to twelve months ahead. The batteries used to power the lightbulbs which (their glass having been deliberately weakened) would set the thing off could be hidden in the heels of shoes, as they did not come within the range of airport X-ray machinery. He tried out a mini-version of this device in a Manila cinema. Then he summoned the pilot Murad. On 8 December, Yousef took a flight from Manila to Tokyo. He assembled his little bomb in the lavatory, and then attached it below his seat, leaving the plane when it refuelled at Cebu. An hour into its second leg, the bomb killed a young Japanese engineer, Haruki Ikegami, who happened to sit where Yousef had placed the device. It ripped the lower half of his body to pieces and almost sent the plane out of control when it burned through the aileron cables controlling the flaps. The pilot managed to force the plane into a turn before landing it on Okinawa, saving the lives of 272 passengers and twenty crew.
Returned to Manila, Yousef moved into the apartment block where the pope would pass by, joining Wali Shah who lived below. Neighbours began to gossip when they noticed the rare spectacle of these Arab men struggling upstairs with boxes and bottles in the torpid heat. They might have found it even odder that on 21 December Yousef threw Manila’s only party to celebrate the sixteenth anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am 103. Just after Christmas Khalid Sheikh and Murad arrived, for it was all gloved hands to the pump as two plots got under way, to kill the pope, and something called Boijinka, a made-up word Khalid Sheikh had picked up from Afghanistan or Bosnia. Yousef told Murad to be ready to fly to Singapore on 14 January 1995, one of five men who were going to explode ten Boeing 747 aircraft over the Pacific, by changing planes after the initial legs of their journeys. Yousef reserved for himself the tricky exercise of boarding and leaving three different flights. About three thousand people would have died had this plot been a success.
The 6th of January was intended to be clean-up day in Manila. Yousef was burning off superfluous chemicals on the stove when the flat filled with a cloud of dark smoke too thick to disperse through the windows. It billowed into the hall too, discommoding the neighbours. The fire brigade were called, who arrived with a policeman. Seeing that there was no fire, they accepted Yousef’s claim, delivered in the hall where he was frantically dispersing smoke, that he was making fireworks for a belated New Year’s party. Firemen and police returned when a fire alarm finally detected the fumes. Police thought they had wandered into the lab of a mad scientist, with nitroglycerine in grape-juice containers, switches, timers, wires, soldering irons, cassocks and maps of the pope’s visit. After the two men had fled, Yousef told Murad to retrieve his laptop from the flat. He did. The police arrested him, along with Shah the following day.
While undergoing interrogation by senior superintendent Rodolfo ‘Boogie’ Mendoza, with the aid of a rubber hose occasionally debouching water into the suspect’s lungs, Murad fell for the classic gambit of being told ‘You’re a shit, a nothing to me’ by boasting that he was one of the World Trade Center bombers and an associate of the fabled Ramzi Yousef. Assaults on human vanity usually work for the skilled interrogator. Yousef was holed up in an Islamabad hotel, whose location was betrayed by a potential recruit who had turned him down before deciding to collect the US$2 million reward money. Pakistani and US diplomatic security agents burst in upon him in February 1995, dragging him out blindfolded as he demanded to see the necessary paperwork. On the long flight to New York he bragged about his own atrocities to agents who went to the lavatory to jot down his words. At his trial, in between trying to chat up the pretty blonde court sketch artist, Yousef volunteered that he was a terrorist. On his computer the FBI discovered a business card with ‘international terrorist’ given as his profession. Yousef is currently imprisoned for life, in solitary confinement and without possibility of parole, in a federal Supermax facility in Colorado.
Khalid Sheikh, who had been staying on the ground floor of the same hotel, used one of his twenty passports to slip away to Doha in Qatar where he had many friends and sympathisers. US pressure on the Qatari government to arrest him, after senior US officials had talked themselves out of a snatch operation, led to Khalid Sheikh’s visit to bin Laden, with a portfolio of plans that had been hatched by his ever fertile nephew. Khalid Sheikh mentioned Murad’s idea of crashing a plane into Langley or the Pentagon, to which bin Laden responded: ‘Why use an axe when you can use a bulldozer?’ The plan to crash ten aircraft simultaneously seemed over-ambitious and dependent upon too many changes of planes. Of course, one could combine the two projects, by smashing fewer aircraft into prominent symbolic targets in the US itself, which would be unmistakable from the air. Bin Laden authorised Khalid Sheikh to commence planning such an operation; the Saudi would finance it, and provide the manpower from Al Qaeda training camps. This would not come to fruition until 11 September 2001.
In the course of 1998, the CIA’s bin Laden unit studied satellite imagery of the Tarnak Farm. US agents based in Islamabad recruited about thirty Afghan tribesmen for an armed raid to snatch bin Laden. This operation was vetoed at an advanced stage by the CIA itself, because of worries about the legality of assassination, if bin Laden refused to come quietly, and about collateral casualties, because bin Laden and his associates had many women and children around them. Attempts to use newly developed armed Predator drones to kill the Al Qaeda leadership were frustrated by the military’s concern that the CIA should pay for them.
Unaware of these deliberations, bin Laden activated an Al Qaeda operation whose feasibility had been established in 1995 when he sent Ali Mohammed to Nairobi. The latter spent four or five days scouting and photographing targets until he had recorded on his Apple PowerBook that the US embassy fronted the street and was lightly protected by Kenyan policemen. No lessons had been learned from the 1983 Beirut bombings about strengthening embassy security, despite a report on this subject by admiral Bobby Inman. A Kenyan Al Qaeda cell had been established in 1994. A Palestinian, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, opened a fishing business in Mombasa, while Wadi el-Hage opened an NGO called Help Africa People in Nairobi, where he lived with his wife and five children. Other recruits included Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a native of the Comoros, and Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali. They rented a single-storey house where an Egyptian bomb maker arrived to assemble a device consisting of 2,000 pounds of TNT concealed in a brown Toyota truck. On 7 August 1998, the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US forces in Saudi Arabia, al-Owhali and a man known only as Azzam drove this truck towards the embassy’s small underground garage, after a Kenyan guard had waved them away from the public car park. Al-Owhali dismounted to open the barred gate, dispersing the guards by throwing a grenade, after which he fled.
This bang made many people in surrounding offices rush to the windows. Azzam detonated the truck bomb. The concrete face of the embassy was ripped off, killing twelve Americans, and injuring ambassador Prudence Bushnell, but most of the blast struck a neighbouring secretarial college, while also hitting a bus and passers-by in this busy commercial district. Two hundred and one Africans were killed, with a further 4,500 injured, the majority blinded or cut by shards of flying glass when they had gone to their windows after the grenade had exploded, only to be caught in the second huge blast. Nine minutes later, an Egyptian called Ahmed Abdullah, known as Ahmed the German because of his fair hair, drove a petrol truck laden with gas canisters packed around a similar bomb into the US embassy in Dar-es-Salaam. Luckily, a water tanker absorbed most of the blast, although not enough to save eleven Tanzanian visa applicants who were killed or the eighty-five wounded. The upper half of Ahmed Abdullah hit the embassy roof, still clutching the steering wheel.65
In the White House the first priority had been to provide rescue experts while arranging to fly the most serious African casualties to hospitals in Europe. Israel flew in specialist sniffer-dog units which played a major role in rescuing victims buried under tons of rubble. Kenya’s emergency services, geared up for a mass catastrophe involving at most sixty people, were overwhelmed. There was no heavy lifting gear, insufficient reserves of blood, and not enough room in the mortuaries. The US offered US$2 billion by way of compensation and reconstruction, although individuals would receive only US$500 for injury and relatives only US$11,000 for a death. The hunt for the perpetrators was relentless, with five hundred FBI agents and hardened CIA counter-terrorism operatives like Gary Berntsen descending on Nairobi in C-130s. Odeh was arrested using a false passport when he flew into Pakistan. At Nairobi airport he was greeted with chilling politeness by Kenyan police: ‘Welcome back to Nairobi, Mr Odeh. We have been waiting for you.’ He was soon going to talk one way or another. Al-Owahli had been injured in the attack and had visited a hospital. This enabled the Kenyan police and FBI agents to trace him to a hotel outside the city. That his clothes, including his belt and shoes, were pristine despite evidence of cuts on his hands and back was enough to arrest him. His cover story broke when the FBI found bullets and the key to the Toyota on a sill in the hospital. When the CIA produced evidence that Al Qaeda was planning a meeting for 20 August to review the success of these attacks, president Clinton took the decision to launch strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan, where two of the Nairobi bombers had recently surfaced.
Because the Pakistanis could not be trusted, and because they might regard incoming missiles as a sneak Indian attack, a US general was despatched to Islamabad for a dinner with a Pakistani colleague, during which the American would explain that the missiles entering Pakistani airspace were not Indian. Right until the last minute, and despite the concurrent pressures of the Monica Lewinsky affair, Clinton agonised over certain targets in Sudan, but not including the Shifa chemical plant that the CIA had linked to bin Laden because of suspicious trace elements in the compound’s soil. Tomahawk Cruise missiles rotated in their tubes on several destroyers in the Arabian Sea as their gyroscopes were orientated. Seventy-five missiles were launched, some circling until the whole flock set off on their contour-hugging two-hour flight into Afghanistan. Each was about twenty feet long, and armed with an assortment of warheads. Some had one-thousand-pound bombs, designed to flatten buildings, if necessary entering via their windows, others were laden with cluster bomblets to kill softer human targets. Each had a payload equal to a Second World War V2 ballistic rocket. During the night these missiles hit six Al Qaeda training camps near Khost, at US$75,000,000 an expensive way of killing a total of six people. Although the National Security Agency (NSA) had been eavesdropping on a satellite phone call made by al-Zawahiri, which might have enabled the US to pinpoint the location of the Al Qaeda leadership, this information was not shared with those who launched Operation Big Reach, which became Big Propaganda Flop. For the Al Qaeda chemical plant in Sudan had been sold on; it was a legitimate business selling repackaged pharmaceuticals locally. Despite this failure, Clinton stationed two nuclear submarines armed with Cruise missiles off the coast of Pakistan, to decrease the response time between actionable intelligence and any attack, while secretly authorising the CIA to use lethal force to deal with bin Laden, thereby breaking with US policy since the Ford era.
These missile attacks led to expressions of anger, easily incited on the streets of Pakistan, while boosting bin Laden’s prestige in the Muslim world as his voice announced on radio, ‘By the grace of God, I am alive.’ Weighing up whether he wanted the US as an enemy, mullah Omar moved closer to bin Laden, who prudently took an oath to Omar as ‘the emir of the faithful’. Omar himself vowed in return: ‘Even if all the countries of the world unite, we would defend Osama with our blood.’66 By this time, bin Laden was ensuring his personal primacy over the various separate terrorist ‘nations’ that had washed up in Afghanistan with a view to waging jihad by making them swear an oath he had devised himself: ‘I recall the commitment to God, in order to listen to and obey my superiors, who are accomplishing this task with energy, difficulty and giving of self, and in order that God may protect us so God’s words are the highest and his religion victorious.’
One of those to swear this was a young Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the Bayt al-Imam terrorist group who in 1999 had been freed from a fifteen-year jail sentence as part of a broader amnesty of three thousand prisoners. Al-Zarqawi was a reformed juvenile delinquent from the rough town of Zarqa from which he took his name. Embarrassingly for a jihadist he was covered in tattoos, including a nautical anchor, although he later tried to remove these with hydrochloric acid. People called him ‘the green man’ because of his body art. He had drifted from crime to radical jihadism, spending time in Afghanistan from 1989. His three years in Jordan’s tough Suwaqah prison had been spent body-building and extending his gang of forty Islamist inmates by recruiting imprisoned drug addicts and felons. His prison charisma was cemented by beating people up and washing the bodies of the sick. People obeyed when he blinked his eyes. On returning to Afghanistan, al-Zarqawi and forty of his Jordanian comrades were recruited into Al Qaeda by their high-ranking fellow countryman Abu Zubaydah. Something of a maverick, al-Zarqawi was allowed to establish a training complex near the Iranian border at Herat, whose primary function was to infiltrate Iraqi Kurdistan via a jihadist group called Ansar al-Islam, whose leader mullah Krekar lives in Norway. This would not only help establish an Al Qaeda sanctuary, if they were ever driven from Afghanistan, but also provide a Europe-wide network of Kurdish terrorists who could be co-opted into Al Qaeda. They in turn would be the primary recruiters of European suicide jihadists who went to Iraq to fight Americans after the 2003 invasion.
Al-Zarqawi was also deeply involved in bin Laden’s plans for the millennium. One scheme was to blow up the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman, which would be packed with American Christians, and the King Hussein Bridge connecting Jordan to Israel. Fortunately, the Jordanians unmasked the plot and tried twenty-seven terrorists, including the absent al-Zarqawi who received fifteen years in jail.67 Another plot, to sink the destroyer USS The Sullivans off Aden, failed when the boat that was carrying explosives sank a few minutes after being launched as it could not bear the weight. Thousands of miles away, an Algerian named Ahmad Ressam readied himself to cross from Canada to the US, having received US$12,000 expenses from Al Qaeda for his operation. Fortunately, an alert customs officer called Diana Dean was suspicious of the nervous Ressam as he drove off a ferry at Port Angeles, Washington State. She and her colleagues made him open the boot of his car where they found a hundred pounds of urea (to make fertiliser bombs) and quantities of sulphate as well as timing devices. Ressam bolted but was caught within a few blocks trying to steal a car. It dawned on investigators that he was part of a network of US-based sleeper cells that extended from Montreal to Boston and New York. His car contained a map of Los Angeles International Airport, which was his target. All over the US anxious counter-terrorist agents breathed sighs of relief when New Year’s Eve passed with nothing louder than fireworks.
There was a further millennium plot under way in the heart of Europe, where the relevant authorities were in a sort of narcoleptic trance. On the night of 20 December 1999, German intelligence officers broke into a Frankfurt apartment being used by an Algerian terrorist cell. They had brought a tracking device as they had learned that a bag of weapons had recently arrived. They found two such bags, and therefore had to choose one in which to insert a trace as they had brought only one device. Early on Christmas Eve, Scotland Yard intercepted a call from a member of this cell to Abu Doha in London in which there was direct talk of an imminent attack. Abu Doha was one of the founders of the Salafist Group for Prayer and Combat, or GSPC. The excesses of the GIA in Algeria during the 1990s had even alienated such spiritual godfathers as Abu Qatada, the Palestinian Omar Mahmoud Othman, who issued the GIA’s newsletter Al-Ansar from London. One result of this was the formation of the GSPC, which while refraining from the GIA’s mindless violence inside Algeria made up for it by swimming into the wake of Al Qaeda. Abu Doha met bin Laden in Afghanistan and agreed to put his European network at his disposal like a temporary franchising operation. That was how Ahmad Ressam ended up crossing the Canadian-US border to blow up LAX. The call from Frankfurt to London forced the German police to act. They raided the Frankfurt flat, arresting four of the five-man cell. Two of them were failed asylum seekers living in Britain who, despite committing crimes like drug dealing, had not been deported by the British. Another was a convicted GIA terrorist with French citizenship, which did not stop him moving freely between Britain, France and Germany. A fourth was an Algerian who had been refused leave to stay by the Germans when he admitted having procured arms and ammunition for the FIS, but who then disappeared anyway, except when he was repeatedly arrested for theft.
In an apartment used by this cell, German police found thirty kilograms of potassium permanganate, a chemical usually sold in quantities of five to ten grams to treat children with eczema. It is also suitable for making bombs. The men had disguised themselves as respectable doctors embarking on an aid mission to Africa, who visited forty-eight pharmacies near Frankfurt airport claiming they had forgotten they needed prescriptions for the chemical in their haste to reach the paediatric clinics where they intended to do good. This hard-luck story worked on most pharmacists. In another apartment rented by the group, the German police found a twenty-minute videotape recording a journey from Baden-Baden to Strasbourg. In Strasbourg the camera focused on the cathedral façade, and especially on shoppers in the Christmas market. There was a soundtrack in Arabic: ‘These are the enemies of God taking a stroll … These are the enemies of God. You will go to hell. God willing.’ The plan seems to have been to put bombs inside pressure cookers, but there is no certainty, for at their trial the defendants maintained silence, only to shriek, ‘You are all Jews. I don’t need the court. Allah is my defender. Our only judge is Allah,’ as they were sentenced. The entire plot had been organised from London, where many members of the cell lived. The British arrested Abu Qatada, and then Abu Doha as he tried to flee from Heathrow. Italian police rolled up a Milan-based cell after their extensive electronic eavesdropping revealed that a Munich-based Libyan was trying to replay the Strasbourg attack with the aid of a toxic-gas attack.68
The continent’s lax asylum laws meant that, whereas in 1983 there were eighty thousand asylum seekers, by 1992 the figure was seven hundred thousand, with highly organised smuggling rings bringing in many more illegally, often in deplorable circumstances. This laxity enabled several serious Islamist players to gain a foothold, despite the fact that they routinely told multiple lies to gain the requisite permissions, as when Abu Hamza contracted a bigamous marriage with an Englishwoman in order to gain leave to stay. Even when they broke the terms of their asylum or committed crimes, as in the case of the entire Strasbourg group, it was the exception rather than the rule that any European government would deport those concerned. The Yemeni Ramzi bin al-Shibh claimed to German authorities that he was ‘Omar’ fleeing persecution in his native Sudan. Even before they rejected his claim, Ramzi bin al-Shibh had acquired the correct registration papers, in his real name, for a German university which he used to obtain a student visa from the embassy in Yemen.69 There was virtually no co-ordination between courts, interior ministry, immigration authorities, prisons and police, in contrast to the teams of legal activists such men could mobilise if ever they were arrested. At a rarefied level police and intelligence services co-operated, but lower down national jurisdictions ensured no co-ordination of policy in any depth. A conversation recorded by Italian intelligence agents reveals how such men regarded Europe as a soft touch, even without the aid of sympathetic immigration and human rights lawyers, professions that have successfully insulated themselves from all criticism. The named speaker was Mahmoud Abdelkader Es Sayed, a high ranking Egyptian Al Qaeda member, who had anticipated the Italians’ curiosity by admitting connections with Islamic Jihad:
Unknown man: Did you get political asylum?
Es Sayed: Yes, when I got here I went to Rome. I came to Milan only after obtaining the asylum. Anyway, when I came here, I shaved my beard and I ‘shaped up’.
Man: Yes [laughing] of course they never got to know anything about your extremism …
Es Sayed: I filed my claim in Rome … [laughing] naturally I told them I have three brothers in jail … I also told them I had been in jail.
Man: Even with the brothers from the Aden Army [he meant the Yemeni Islamic Army of Aden]?
Es Sayed: This is a thing … I left Egypt a long time ago … I told them I was a wanted man … I told them I was unjustly persecuted … that my wife had a car accident … bad luck … but I told them that the accident had been caused by the Egyptian secret service.
Man: Very nice!
Es Sayed: All this seemed like persecution and, as a consequence, they gave me the asylum in the month of November … December.
Italy was in the process of updating its asylum laws, a subject the two discussed later in this conversation, in a passage which readers might like to reflect on:
Es Sayed: Now there is a law in Italy which requires that asylum claims, even those that have already been approved, have to be reviewed every three months to see if the initial conditions are still in place … this is a very strange thing … by doing so a person can suffer oppression.
Man: This is a form of terrorism.
Es Sayed: Of course it is terrorism … Italy is a terrorist country … it is a criminal country … all this shows you that in Italy you cannot obtain a real political asylum … the intent of the government is to take advantage of the Muslims living in this country.70
A further abuse involved European welfare systems, which are administered by those who have ingested the full multicultural credo. Abu Qatada received £400 a week in government benefits, broken down as £322 for housing and £70 a week disability allowances. Abu Hamza’s rent was paid by the taxpayer, to the tune of £2,400 a month, for a substantial home in a west London suburb. With his large family, Omar Bakri received a total of £275,000 in welfare payments, which extended to a £31,000 Ford Galaxy people-carrier to ferry them about. Europe’s traditions of freedom of worship meant that powerful taboos protected the main sites of Islamist activity. Mosques, together with the archipelagos of community centres that accompanied them, were one crucial nodal point in the elaboration of a pan-European jihadist network. To put this in perspective, French security authorities calculate that of France’s 1,685 mosques, which are regularly attended by only 10 per cent of five million French Muslims, eighty or 4.7 per cent gave cause for concern, with 1.1 per cent actually controlled, rather than contested, by radical salafists. Most imams were actually rather meek people, avoiding controversy so as not to offend their congregations or the presbyterian-like mosque committees that controlled the money from collections. The committees often preferred to hire these foreign village preachers because they were cheaper than employing someone with a Western education ranging beyond mastery of the Koran. Control of such committees was one way for radicals to hot up the temperature in the mosque. Radical Islamists were recipients of centralised funding, whether from a local organisation in the host country or from an external source like Wahhabist Saudi Arabia. Unlike some aged peasant cleric preaching in an Urdu that young second-generation Muslims found difficult to comprehend, the radicals frequently operated in the national vernacular, or in authentic Arabic, and were the first to utilise the most modern technologies.71
They also knew just which aspects of the local culture to adopt, so that, for example, sheikh Omar Bakri managed to combine the belligerence of his native Syria with a comedic touch worthy of Bernard Manning, an unlamented British racist comedian of a vulgar disposition. Any attempt by moderates to say ‘yes, but’ could be slammed down with citations from the holy book by ‘sheikhs’ and ‘imams’ with no theological grounding whatsoever, but with a feel for life as young Muslims live it. Masters of vituperation, these figures had angry young men eating out of their hands, especially if they bore the physical stigmata of some foreign jihad. Battles for control were fought over moderate mosques, sometimes leading to the bizarre spectacle of a moderate preaching upstairs and a maniac in the basement, or, as in the case of Abu Hamza, out in a London street under the gaze of bored policemen. As in Milan, radicals set up ad-hoc mosques in a former garage or similar premises, or, as in the case of Stepney’s East London mosque, gravitated to an alternative venue that they totally controlled. This is what the French call ‘Islam des caves’, of the basements and cellars in huge public housing projects. Muslim student societies, for this was the generation that enjoyed mass tertiary education, were quickly dominated by bodies like the Young Muslim Organisation, one of the routes into more radically subversive groups such as Hizb ut-Tahir. British academics refused to ‘spy’ on their students, although they still monitor signs of drug abuse or mental instability. At enormous cost, some European governments, notably the Netherlands, have belatedly commissioned university-based licensing programmes for imams, the goal being to combine Islamic learning with a plural, rationalistic Western education. That 70 per cent of the students are female is not encouraging for the scheme seems doomed to failure in such a male-dominated culture.72
The ayatollah Khomeini’s parting gift to the world before his death in June 1989 was the issuance of a fatwa calling upon the world’s Muslims to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie for insulting the Prophet. This outrage was a bid to reassert Iran’s hegemony in the Muslim world—now defined to mean everywhere Muslims lived—after the conclusion of the Saudi-sponsored victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan. It also stymied the efforts of Iranian moderates to reopen doors to the West. After a significant lapse of time, Muslims in India and Pakistan succeeded in whipping up a fury among their co-religionists in Britain. A country that had blithely ignored the religious implications of mass migration, assuming that all immigrants would happily melt into the prevailing secular hedonism, was shocked by scenes of angry people burning books and effigies in northern British cities. This anger has not gone away; it has been regularly re-incited over the last twenty years, to the decreasing amusement of natives who are wearying of the fist-waving and finger-jabbing, the flames and the insatiable anger.
For many European Muslims, their last vision of a functioning multicultural society ends when they leave the false dawn of multi-ethnic, multi-faith primary schools for an increasingly segregated secondary school system. There is something deeply tragic about the way this has happened, and it is difficult to see how things can be rectified. These divisions are an inevitable consequence of the formation of de-facto ghettos, the ‘dish cities’ where the TV satellite receiver is tuned to other shores. Five per cent of British citizens are Muslims, but in some towns they constitute 15 per cent of the population. In a town like Blackburn in Lancashire, people in the Muslim south live separate lives from white people in the north. School children are bussed back and forth, as if visiting a church or mosque in the other part of town was like a trip abroad. According to a recent BBC television programme in May 2007, ‘white flight’ will result in entirely South Asian or entirely white cities. Politicians express grave concern about such ghettos, but have no idea how to break them up since each fresh initiative seems to fail. In Britain they have to bear in mind that some fifty or so Labour Party MPs are heavily dependent on the Muslim vote, which can be influenced this way or that by telephone calls from a religious or political leader in Pakistan or by fraudulent manipulation of postal voting systems. Politicians of all stripes, except Labour MPs with constituencies containing large numbers of poor whites, ignore polls in which 70 per cent of Britons express their wish to tighten immigration criteria, preferring to side with bien-pensant opinion rather than with what their fellow countrymen—including many Asians and Afro-Caribbeans—actually think. Even to raise these issues was once to be dismissed as a Fascist, a racist or, bizarrely, a eugenicist, a creed that had some purchase on the left too.73
One of the major problems is that something for which we already had the neutral term cosmopolitanism, that is all the everyday things about mixed ethnic communities we historically liked, was elided with the activist ideology of multiculturalism, which means far more than buying coffee from a purportedly Algerian store on a gay street in London’s Soho run by Italians and Poles, or the fact of (highly ordered) multi-ethnic city states like Hong Kong or Singapore. Some Jews do not like the word cosmopolitan, seeing it as a coded synonym for nineteenth-century Berlin or Vienna, but that is insufficient reason to avoid it.
Multiculturalism means that each diverse group adopted a story of victimhood so as to put itself beyond close scrutiny, enveloping itself in the myth of moral purity that comes with being the historically oppressed. These diverse communities spoke to government through their so-called community leaders, a liberal version of an imperial power dealing through nabobs and tribes with the natives. In fact, the self-appointed leaders of victim minorities can be oppressors too, as anyone familiar with the Bogside, Falls Road or Short Strand will know. There are bullies aplenty in Muslim communities too, in societies like Hizb ut-Tahir that function like gangs. Wild charges of institutionalised or systemic racism shut down discussion of Muslim subordination of women or the hatred they expressed towards gays and Jews, just as some Jews have for decades inhibited criticism of Israel, or of dubious acts involving individual Jews, by automatically insinuating charges of anti-Semitism.74
Originating in the Western left university, as a fall-back position after the collapse of Marxism, this creed of multiculturalism was designed to assemble a progressive coalition of minority interests as a counterweight to the nasty nativist majority. It became the prevailing orthodoxy in the Churches, local government, the left-liberal media and wherever cultural self-repudiation has become dominant. In Britain an entire television station, Channel 4, was progressively devoted to propagating it with programmes that are nowadays difficult to parody within the degraded tacky rubbish which it commissions. Like the urgently reactive concern with a merely symbolic Britishness or Dutchness, multiculturalism is similarly negligent of the shared moral values that make civilised living possible, especially when these involve notions of honour or shame and the need for social taboos rather than self-regarding talk of decency or tolerance which are just as traditional in Portugal or Sweden.
There are other insidious aspects of multiculturalism. Behaviour becomes a mere expression of difference rather than of right or wrong, better or worse, civilised or backward, attitudes which have led the police and social services to turn a deaf ear, even towards children being tortured to eject evil spirits, or women facing murder for defying arranged relationships. This policy was most comprehensively pursued by centre-left governments in Britain and the Netherlands, with the passive acquiescence of centre-right opponents terrified of being accused of racism. Centre-left governments have long since walked quietly away from it, but multiculturalism is the bridge between reactionary Islamists and the anti-Semitic and anti-US far left.75 Only France, with its republican insistence on equality, integration and secularism, was conspicuously opposed to this divisive philosophy. Instead of giving immigrants the training to pursue an economic vocation, this creed actively encouraged a soft form of apartheid, whether by providing translations of official documents, making it unnecessary to learn the dominant language, or actively encouraging welfare entitlement among populations with low levels of educational attainment. Whereas many earlier immigrants, like the Jews, Indians, Greeks and Chinese, regarded welfare payments, assuming they existed, as demeaning handouts, they have now become part of a culture of rights, responsible for such extraordinary facts as Denmark’s 5 per cent Muslim minority receiving 40 per cent of its welfare budget. A phenomenon called Islamophobia invented in 1998—which perhaps should be called ‘terrorophobia’, or the fear of being killed by Islamist bombers—spares anyone the need to examine what has gone so radically wrong within these communities. BBC news services reflexively help by never connecting terrorists with the constituency they operate in, even when the bombers are last heard crying ‘Allah, Allah,’ while nervously monitoring its anxieties about a purely hypothetical nativist backlash.76
Adolescence and young adulthood bring unique tests for those from a traditional family background who have to make their way in modern, liberal, Western society. Chinese, Indians and Turks seem to have negotiated this very well. Being suspended between Britain and Pakistan, Germany and Turkey, or France, Italy, Spain and North Africa is the common lot of many second - and third-generation Muslims in Europe. Cultural rather than economic issues become hugely significant, for there are no major obstacles to social mobility among South Asians. Do you retreat into the close village your parents have replicated in a suburb of Leeds, Lille or Limburg or do you immerse yourself in a majority society whose mores you find bewildering, decadent and tempting? There seems to be a gender problem too. Whereas Muslim girls toe the line at home, study hard and then rise through work or marriage, Muslim males, cosseted as the ‘little prince’, seem frequently to go off the rails, with violence as an outlet for pervasive sexual repression in their communities. No wonder they are hell-bent on blowing up scantily dressed ‘slags’ in British nightclubs, by which they mean young British clerks, nurses and teachers having a night out in clubs and discotheques. Partly by way of generational revolt, many second - or third-generation Muslims turned to Islamism, where they found brotherhood, identity and respect, thereby solving their own existential crises while imbibing a worldview with a clear definition of good and evil. Paradoxically, as Shiv Malik has shown, the ultra-reactionary could be strangely liberating. In addition to rejecting the innocuous piety of their parents, they could also slip free of such traditional practices as arranged marriages with faraway cousins, claiming that this was a Hindu custom falsely adopted by Pakistanis, turning their attentions to the large pool of pious females who donned the hijab, in itself allegedly a form of liberation from the predatory eyes of men. But the veil is also simultaneously totalitarian in the sense that women who do not wear it are routinely intimidated into doing so.77 Others found their way to radical Islam by way of atonement for a life of crime. Between 50 and 70 per cent of those in French jails are Muslims, while in Spain Muslims are one in ten of prison inmates. British authorities predict that by 2012 a thousand Islamists will be in the prison system, where they already seek to subvert institutional order. Such numbers mean that many jails already have Islamist inmate gangs, who provide security and solidarity to new prisoners and a co-ordinated response, up to riot and mutiny, when one of them is confronted by a prison officer. Many of them are bitter and disillusioned, prey for Islamist recruiters operating either among fellow inmates or as social workers and chaplains. Poorly educated, these men are like empty vessels for jihadist recruiters who can peddle them any version of Islam they wish provided it is implacable enough and promises personal redemption through focusing their aggression on the host society. As Irfan Chishti, an imam who leads prayers at Buckley Hall Prison in Rochdale, has commented: ‘You’ve got someone preaching to an empty shell, someone who has been told Islam is the answer to all their problems, the void can be filled.’ With their instrumental view of human beings, Islamist recruiters are infinitely understanding rather than condemnatory, focusing a delinquent’s violence on a higher cause. The objects include men like Domenico Quaranta or Ruddy Terranova, street toughs respectively from Sicily and Marseilles, who both converted to Islam while in jail. They even acquired a newfound humility and serenity to conceal the violence raging beneath. Both of these men became active jihadist terrorists.78
Richard Reid, the hulking son of a Jamaican father and a white English mother, was typical. His father was so frequently in jail that his wife divorced him. Their son Richard rapidly went astray, as an easily led add-on to south-east London’s juvenile gangland. He was the one who was always caught. A stint in a young offenders’ institution led to a three-year jail sentence after he was convicted of fifty burglaries. During this time the nominal Christian Reid discovered Islam, pursuing this interest on his release in 1996 at Brixton’s Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre. From there he gravitated into the much more charged scene around Abu Hamza, as externally manifest in his acquired habit of wearing a camouflage combat jacket over flowing white Arab robes. He found a new idol to worship in the bulky form of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French Moroccan who had washed up in Brixton in 1986. As a graduate of business studies at South Bank University, Moussaoui was better educated and more intelligent than the gormless Reid, although he was considerably more volatile. In 1998 Reid moved into the Finsbury Park mosque, where he was talent-spotted by an Al Qaeda recruiter, the Algerian Djamel Beghal. A period of training in Afghanistan followed. Back in Britain by the summer of 2001, Reid went to Brussels where his first act was to put his passport through a washing machine. That got him a new one, without the visa stamps he had acquired en route to Afghanistan. Equipped with a blank passport, he flew to Israel, noting the security levels on the El Al flight, and carried out reconnaissance of various targets in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. His tradecraft was good, including taking empty alcohol bottles back to his hotel to leave around the room, in case Shin Beth poked around. He went via Egypt and Turkey to Pakistan, before returning to Britain to undertake the ill-fated operation involving his shoes that would land him in the Colorado Supermax for life.
Of course, it is wrong to imagine that all jihadi-salafists come from deprived or troubled backgrounds. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is currently on death row in Islamabad for his involvement in hacking the head off Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, was not one of life’s dispossessed, but a spoiled child. His father ran a successful clothing business, which enabled him to send Ahmed Omar to a minor Essex public school, where he drank too much and vandalised cars. He had his first flirtations with radical Islam when his parents took him back to Pakistan to straighten him out in Lahore. Back at Forest School by the time he was sixteen, he had evolved into a bullying fantasist, touring local pubs as an arm wrestler. He got decent enough A Level grades to get into the London School of Economics to read maths and statistics, but didn’t leave much of an impression amid the Eurotrash and Americans doing ‘Let’s See Europe’. In 1993 he joined an Islamist Convoy of Mercy to Bosnia, but turned back ill at Croatia. After weapons training at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, he was despatched to India to lure Western backpackers into the hands of Kashmiri terrorists. During such an episode, he terrified hostages by alternately talking cricket and showing how he would cut their throat. He was eventually shot by Indian police and given five years in prison. When Kashmiri terrorists hijacked an Indian jet, Ahmed Omar was one of those released in exchange for the passengers. He went via Afghanistan to Pakistan, while the British government—whose citizens he had recently kidnapped—forswore opportunities to prosecute him. The latest twist is instructive. Al Qaeda puts a premium on well-educated middle-class professional operatives because they live otherwise model lives, and can move around with relative impunity under the cover of doing good, especially if they are doctors employed with minimal vetting by the British NHS.79
While German police thwarted the Frankfurt cell, they could not criminalise or investigate every single grouping of dedicated Islamists. During 1998 a tight circle of Islamist friends had congregated in a flat they rented in Hamburg. The group eventually included the dozen men who passed through in the course of the next two years. As far as one can see, they had no grouses against Germany, which had bent over backwards to accommodate them. The key members were the Yemeni Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an Egyptian urban-planning student, Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta, a Lebanese applied-sciences student, Ziad Jarrah, and Marwan al-Shehi, an Emirates soldier taking time out to study marine engineering once he had mastered German. With the exception of Marwan, whose father was a village muezzin, all of these men came from relatively prosperous backgrounds, from which they had been sent to Europe to do well in their designated careers. They spoke European languages, in Atta’s case English and German, and they knew how to act and dress Europeanised. Of the group, Atta was the most grimly resolute, while Shibh had the organisational talent.
This group had come to the peripheral attention of German police when they commenced surveillance on Mohammed Haydar Zamar, a loud-mouthed unemployed auto mechanic, and a Syrian businessman, after they had been contacted by an Iraqi jihadist the US had identified as a senior Al Qaeda agent. One reason given for not taking a closer look at the younger men, apart from limitations of police manpower, was that their espousal of an intense Islam was so open; they successfully petitioned Hamburg’s Technical university, where Atta was writing a thesis about the architecture of medieval Aleppo, for a prayer room. Much of the group’s time was spent praying, listening to taped sermons by Abu Qatada, or watching horror documentaries from Bosnia and Chechnya. The 9/11 Commission Report says that a series of chance encounters, including one with a stranger on a train, led them to wage jihad in Afghanistan rather than Chechnya. A few gaps in our knowledge of Atta’s earlier movements make this seem improbable. In late 1999 four of the cell members flew to Pakistan, for the long bus journey to a Taliban office at Quetta, the final staging post en route to bin Laden’s Afghan training camps. There they met his operational chief, Mohammed Atef, while Atta, the designated group leader, spent time alone with the sheikh himself.80
In January and February 2000 they returned to Germany, equipping themselves with new passports along the way, so as to lose the Pakistani visas. They needed US visas for the flight-training programmes they planned to join as ordered by bin Laden and Atef. Atta, Jarrah and Shehi got theirs without a hitch; as a Yemeni putative economic migrant, Shibh was turned down. Their US$120,000 expenses were wired regularly from the United Arab Emirates by Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, with Shibh making up any shortfall from the men’s own German bank accounts over which he had powers of attorney. After flying to the US, the three enrolled at two Florida flight schools. Assiduous students, they mastered light aircraft and rented time on simulators for large commercial jets. Across the country in San Diego, two Saudi men, who could scarcely speak English, attempted to enrol at other flight schools. Although both men had been known as terrorist suspects by the CIA, which had monitored their movements in Malaysia, the preferred route to the States, this information had never been passed on to the consular authorities who granted them visas. After frantic attempts to get a visa, Shibh gave up, but not before visiting London where he recruited Zacarias Moussaoui, who, already enrolled at a flight school in Norman, Oklahoma, went first to be appraised by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of this operation. By the time he reached Pakistan, Khalid Sheikh had identified Hani Hanjour, a Saudi living in the US, who already had a commercial pilot’s licence. Shibh’s role thenceforth would be as the key fixer, an old friend of the Hamburg cell members now in the US, and, as a Yemeni, someone bin Laden would trust, as he urged Khalid Sheikh to set the plot in motion. Another key element was the thirteen men, all but one a Saudi, who arrived in the US in the spring of 2001. These were the muscle-men who would commandeer aircraft to enable the suicide hijackers briefly to fly them. They left videotaped statements in Afghanistan:
I am writing this with my full conscience and I am writing this in expectation of the end, which is near. An end that is really a beginning. We will get you. We will humiliate you. We will never stop following you … May God reward all those who trained me on this path and was behind this noble act and a special mention should be made of the Mujahid leader sheikh Osama bin Laden, may God protect him. May God accept our deeds.
While the muscle-men waited in motels, making extensive use of local gyms, the suicide pilots embarked on non-stop transcontinental travel to explore airport security systems and the routines on commercial jets. They usually travelled first class so as to take a close look at cockpit security, noticing that the door was often open during the ten minutes after takeoff. Many of them acquired Virginia driving licences, which were easy to acquire and would make identifying themselves easier than having to use foreign passports. In July Atta flew alone to Madrid where he spent a week with Shibh, settling the final details of their enterprise. Shibh had obtained two satellite phones, one of which he used to keep in touch with his masters in Afghanistan. On 13 August the suspicious behaviour of Moussaoui at his Oklahoma flight school led to his arrest on immigration-violation charges by the FBI. Although an agent noted down that he was crazy enough to fly a plane into the World Trade Center, no one thought to get permission to search the hard drive of his laptop. In mid-August Atta used an internet chatroom to send Shibh a message: ‘The first semester commences in three weeks. There are no changes. All is well.’ The internet facilitated Al Qaeda communications, while enabling them to operate various websites such as As Saba, or ‘The Clouds’. Messages could be exchanged through chatrooms, or buried within sites dedicated to such things as pornography, the last place anyone might look. Stanographic software programs enabled them to leave messages concealed within innocuous images. By sharing a common password, it was also possible to access messages left in the draft box of a computer, which technically, therefore, were read but never sent, thereby preventing the NSA from intercepting them. Intelligence of Atta’s readiness was relayed by Shibh to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The attack was coming on 11 September 2001. Atta, Khalid Sheikh and bin Laden had determined on four targets: the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the US Capitol, ruling out the White House on the grounds of difficulty and the potential absence of its occupant. At Congress it would be full house.
The hijackers’ last night alive was well prepared so as to pre-empt doubt, nerves and fear. A fifteen-point list contained military-style instructions about knowing the plan backwards, marshalling the necessary kit and inspecting weapons. They were to don tight-fitting socks and to tie their shoelaces tight, little tasks that concentrated the mind. The shaving of all body hair and dousing with perfume was more ritualistic. They were enjoined to be oblivious to the world: ‘For the time for playing has passed, and the time has arrived for the rendezvous with the eternal Truth.’ The moment of death would take seconds, before they embarked on the ‘gladness’ of their wedding and their eternal life with the martyrs and prophets. For this was truly a group death cult. The hijackers were enjoined to recite the words of God: ‘You were wishing for death before you encountered it, then you saw it, and are looking for it. And you wanted it.’ In Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his comrades experienced vivid dreams, bin Laden’s consisting of an America reduced to ashes. That he slept at all was partly due to the fact that on 9 September two of his men, posing as Arab television journalists, had assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance, and the first person the US would turn to when George W. Bush sought just vengeance, as he undoubtedly would, for what was forty-eight hours away. The assassination also pacified mullah Omar, who in animated discussions had been keener to direct major operations against the Jews than against the USA.
The twin towers of the World Trade Center were built to sway, like tall poplars in a heavy wind. This is what they initially did, as Atta, murmuring prayers, slammed American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower, destroying floors 93—99, while Shehi directed United Airlines Flight 175 into the south tower. They were not built to withstand the temperatures of 1,300 degrees Centigrade that erupted when ten thousand gallons of aviation fuel from each plane’s heavily laden tanks exploded. The fires collapsed floors and burned through ceilings, melting all that the flames found, while giving out dense black smoke. Trapped inside on the higher floors were, among others, traders from Cantor Fitzgerald and caterers from the Windows on the World restaurant, all starting another day at work on a clear sunny morning. With emergency exists and elevators blocked or incapacitated, terrified people had the non-choice of either burning and choking to death or throwing themselves from broken windows. Fifty to two hundred people made that latter decision, a sight that is so connected to our subconscious terrors that photographic images were quickly taken out of circulation, replaced by epic vistas of the towers burning. Then the towers collapsed, concertinaing hundreds of floors into a seven-storey hill of wreckage as dense clouds of dust billowed down Manhattan streets. Firemen, policemen and priests were among those who died in heroic rescue attempts. A total of 2,792 people perished in a terrorist strike, which included the Pentagon as well as United Airlines Flight 93 which ploughed into a field in Pennsylvania, so major that it resembled an act of war. It had lasted 102 minutes from initial impact to the towers’ collapse. George W. Bush was given news of the attacks as he listened to children reading at a Florida primary school, before he was whisked away by the Secret Service to a secure base in Nebraska. The attack spelled the end of his campaign promise to restrict the liberal humanitarian interventionism of his predecessor in favour of a more modest foreign policy. In the White House Presidential Emergency Operation Center, vice-president Dick Cheney watched CNN as the south tower collapsed, his fingers locked under his chin. The room groaned. Cheney closed his eyes after watching the crucial moment, his mind turning to the bureaucratic mechanisms that would wreak destruction on whomever was responsible for this.81
VIII AFTERMATHS IN AN AGE OF ANXIETY
While for leading advocates of globalisation, the world out there had become a terrifying other, in their remote Afghan bases the perpetrators paradoxically took a more global view of what they had done. In Afghanistan, bin Laden and his comrades heard news of these attacks over the BBC’s Arabic Service. Bin Laden counted off the falling targets on his fingers. Immediately after the attacks he recorded a discussion involving himself, al-Zawahiri and the visiting Saudi militant Khaled al-Harbi, whose mother reported that she had been taking congratulatory calls all day. This tape was released to the press in December. Bin Laden said:
The sermons they [the 9/11 hijackers] gave in New York and Washington, made the whole world hear—the Arabs, the non-Arabs, the Indians, the Chinese—and are worth much more than millions of books and cassettes and pamphlets [promoting Islam]. Maybe you have heard, but I heard it myself on the radio, that at one of the Islamic centres in Holland, the number of those who have converted to Islam after the strikes, in the first few days after the attacks, is greater than all those who converted in the last eleven years.
‘Glory be to God,’ added his colleagues exultantly. Bin Laden claimed that he and his planners had expected only the passengers in the planes and people immediately where they crashed to die. But he added, ‘I was the most optimistic. Due to the nature of my profession and work in construction, I figured the fuel in the plane would raise the temperature of the steel to the point that it becomes red and almost loses its properties. So if the plane hits the building here [gestures with his hands], the portion of the building above will collapse. That was the most we expected; that the floors above the point of entry would fall.’82 In his Karachi hidey-hole Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had set up multiple VCRs to tape his handiwork. He was a little disappointed until the towers collapsed. As the US authorities began to estimate the damage, insurance and reconstruction costs, and loss of airline revenue caused by 9/11, in the billions, bin Laden repeatedly emphasised that the entire operation had cost Al Qaeda US$500,000. He may have spoken of the collapsed towers in terms of the smashing of the ancient Meccan moon idol Hudal, but this did not preclude thinking about it in very material modern terms. By 29 September, when an interview found its way into a Pakistani newspaper, bin Laden was cheekily suggesting that the US should look for the culprits among dissidents in ‘the US system’ or among other systems: ‘They can be anyone, from Russia to Israel, and from India to Serbia.’ Following the logic of Oliver Stone and The X-Files, he suggested the CIA might have criminalised ‘Osama and the Taliban’ to secure their funding stream after the end of the Cold War. There was a secret government within a government within the US which knew the truth of the attacks.
Material damage, increased conversion and CIA plots joined the anticipatory assassination of Massoud in bin Laden’s estimation of the effects of 9/11. However, he was only one player in the battle that emerged, operating in an environment that his many enemies would shape thereafter. After a remarkably restrained lull, which surprised even close allies, the US government response was to secure the necessary powers to wage what was rapidly, and unsatisfactorily, described as ‘the war on terror’. This was meaningless as one cannot declare war on a tactic. The Red Army declared war not on Blitzkrieg but on Hitler’s Germany. Had the word been used in the sense of a war on drugs or organised crime—that is, so as to mobilise all resources to minimise these anti-social activities—then that would have been fine. But it was not used like that at all. The word war was used because the mood called for exemplary displays of military might, even though the best way to fight terrorists is through intelligence, undercover operations, informers, propaganda initiatives and so forth, which do not yield instant victories and which are fought beyond the omnipresent eyes and voracious appetites of a media hungry to consume big events.83 Congress and the Senate authorised Bush ‘to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organisations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11 2001, or harboured such organisations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organisations or persons’. A request to include the United States itself within this sweeping mandate was removed before the motion passed, 98 to 0 in the Senate and 420 to 1 in the House of Representatives. At the time, Washington took no cognisance of the fact that its European NATO allies regarded terrorism as a crime, rather than an act of war amenable to military solutions. Use of the word war inadvertently lifted groups of criminals on to another moral plane where civilised societies also have rules.84
Policy was decided in an atmosphere in which ‘flies walking on eyeballs’ guys like CIA head of counter-terrorism Cofer Black spoke darkly of sticking terrorists’ heads on poles or bringing them back in refrigerator boxes. When a skull thought to be that of Ayman al-Zawahiri was offered to US military intelligence by Afghans hoping to claim the huge reward, the CIA sought to identify it through a DNA match on a brother in custody in Cairo. Egyptian intelligence offered to ‘cut off his arm and send it over’. The CIA settled for a blood sample.
Mainstream CIA spooks were unsettled by this, and by the wholesale recourse to freelance paramilitary contractors, many of whom might otherwise have been robbing banks had it not been for 9/11.85 The mores of a Wild West movie prevailed as charts appeared with photos and matching biographies of the major culprits who could be crossed out when they were caught or killed. The Texan president talked like a little sheriff about bringing in ‘evildoers’ dead or alive, terms which sat ill with the military operations he was undertaking. Such talk excited the media, which ignored the duller stuff of orientating vast rival bureaucracies for the war on terror. The CIA and NSA were belatedly forced into reorientating their main activities from a non-existent Soviet threat, so as to focus on myriad shadowy groups capable of mounting international terrorist operations. The CIA’s many critics warned that the burgeoning intelligence services attached to the Defense Department might do its job for it, or that the whole field might be contracted out to the private sector. The FBI, with its woeful lack of Arabic speakers—about eight at the time—was told to sharpen up its act and to co-operate with the CIA, a shotgun marriage eventually arranged by the appointment of a coordinator of national intelligence reporting directly to the president.
Having located the source of the attacks, the plan was to step up the CIA field presence in Afghanistan, in order to combine armed opponents of the Taliban with incoming special-forces soldiers, who would smash the regime (and Al Qaeda) with the aid of US airpower coming in from Diego Garcia or direct from Missouri. CIA agents hurried around Afghanistan with aluminium suitcases and holdalls crammed with millions of dollars to bribe Afghan warlords to fight the Taliban. All this conformed with Donald Rumsfeld’s doctrine of using US ground forces lightly, chiefly to guide in precision airpower.
Within weeks of 9/11 Bush became the first US president to acknowledge the desirability of a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine, in an attempt to cauterise the issue that so antagonises the Muslim world. He then spent six years doing nothing about it. But there was another opportunity that was taken. Despite weak evidence that Al Qaeda had any connection with Saddam Hussein, a belligerently abrasive clique, including former Trotskyites turned ‘neo-conservatives’, who are wearying to listen to, were bent on fusing their long-standing campaign to rid the world of his presence, preparatory to redesigning the entire Middle East around a democratised Iraq. That chimed with grudges lurking within the Bush family, involving the unfinished business of the first Gulf War and Saddam’s attempt to kill Bush’s father, and a desire, partly born of 9/11, to downgrade the untrustworthy Saudis. The Afghan plan was implemented with extraordinary success, with Al Qaeda’s military supremo, Mohammed Atef, an early casualty of an armed Predator drone which killed him on 16 November in a Gardez hotel. His effects included evidence of a Jemaah Islamiyah reconnaissance operation on US interests, and the city subway system, in Singapore.
By that time, US and Afghan forces had killed or captured about 250 Al Qaeda fighters, while its top leadership and eight hundred fighters had fled into the inhospitable terrain of Tora Bora. The US launched a ferocious air assault on this fifteen-square-mile area, including fuel-air bombs so large that they had to be heaved off the back of a transport plane, before devastating an area six hundred yards square in a combustible mist of ammonium nitrate and aluminium whose shockwaves liquefied the internal organs of men hiding in caves. A massive device called Blu-82 was the size of a car and consisted of fifteen thousand pounds of explosives. That was dropped too, before three B-52s cruised overhead, unleashing forty five-hundred-pound bombs on the same target. Northern Alliance fighters watched in awe as their bearded, horse-riding US shadows with names like Dave or Chuck pointed laser beams at Taliban and Al Qaeda positions which were triangulated with smart bombs and missiles. The last direct communications from bin Laden were the orders he barked into the group’s short-wave radios, some of which were lifted from Al Qaeda corpses by an Arab-American agent; those who survived the bombing slipped out through a back door that was supposed to have been closed by the Afghans and a force of Army Rangers who were never despatched. Bin Laden is presumably holed up with teams of fanatical bodyguards in one of two ungovernable tribal territories in Pakistan. The hunt for him was fatally disabled when the expert trackers of Task Force 121 were taken off the case and relocated to Iraq to find Saddam and his offspring.86
Domestically, the US applied the tactics used in the 1930s to imprison Al Capone, who on learning that he was being prosecuted for tax evasion, blurted out: ‘The government can’t collect legal taxes from illegal money.’ Terrorists of various stripes rely for money not just on Islamist pseudo-charities but on organised crime. A chemical called pseudoephe-drine that is used to make anti-allergy or cold medicines is purchased in Canada, shipped to California, and then sold to Mexican drug gangs since it is one of the key ingredients of illicit metamphetamines. As the PIRA discovered, cigarette smuggling can also yield profits of US$2 million a truckload. Cigarettes are purchased in states like Virginia where the tax is 2.5 cents per pack and then resold in New York City for less than the legal price plus the local tax of US$1.50 per pack. A carton of ten packs bought for US$20 doubles in value through this process. Another major means of raising revenue is intellectual property theft, through knockout handbags, T-shirts, trainers, Prozac and Viagra. Viagra is always in demand and pills can be moved around in quantity with low risk attached. In addition to these crimes, which carry heavy penalties, US law enforcement agencies have been active since 9/11 in prosecuting instances of immigration fraud and visa violations, notably those practised by so-called students. This has been in marked contrast to Britain where cash-strapped universities solicit fee-paying customers without making much of an effort to establish their bona fides, and where deportation of bogus and failed asylum seekers is non-existent.87
The Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners represented another problem that the US would contrive to turn into a PR disaster, aided and abetted by fervent human rights lawyers who, while prepared to believe the detainees innocent of every charge of abuse, reflexively believe the worst of the US military and CIA. The phenomenon of activist lawyers aiding and abetting terrorist clients is also not unknown, as we repeatedly saw in the cases of the Red Brigades and RAF in Europe. In Britain, certain legal firms simply migrated from defending IRA Provos to representing Islamist jihadists in their grim determination to thwart the police, knowing that the country’s liberal elites—the national characters who appear on BBC Question Time or Any Questions decade in, decade out—would never dare challenge their usurpation of the civil-liberties high ground. Apart from the dizzying legal aid monies these firms rack up, there is also the under-explored historical fact of lawyers colluding with terrorist clients.
US policy towards terrorist detainees has led to unease among European allies who have likewise zealously occupied the moral high ground, partly because their domestic legal systems had more experience of dealing with terrorists, including—in Roman law systems—far wider powers of search and of investigative and preventative detention, and less restrictive rules of evidence. In these areas the Europeans were not ‘surrender-monkeys’. The French police do not need judicial warrants to search someone’s home, and the Italians seem to be able to put electronic devices where they like. The French and Italians can detain a suspect for years before he comes to trial as magistrates assemble their case. The Germans can detain prisoners after they have served their allotted sentence, on grounds of public safety. Common law systems, like those of Britain and the US, invariably bend over backwards to guarantee the rights of suspects, ruling out of court great swathes of evidence that in Roman law systems are part of detailed dossiers compiled by investigative magistrates. Rather than fundamentally rewriting the US legal system to make it conform with relatively illiberal arrangements in Europe, both the Clinton and Bush administrations relied on the laws of war. Treating international jihadists as criminals, to be arrested and brought before courts, was not much of an option, given the sanctuary such people enjoyed from the Sudan or the Taliban, who would have to be charged with aiding and abetting terrorists too. Sending in US marshals was a fantasy in these circumstances. The laws of war enabled the US to kill such people, as Clinton tried to do in 1998.88
Efforts to keep detainees out of the hands of lawyers who would, doubtless, have become celebrities during any civilian trial led to a PR disaster. Instead of following secretary of state Colin Powell’s advice to be seen to follow the rules of the Geneva Convention governing prisoners of war, so as gradually to winnow out un-uniformed enemy combatants, Cheney and his legal advisers resolved to treat them as ‘unlawful combatants’ without rights under the Convention. This right-lessness could be best guaranteed by keeping these men offshore, at a US base at Guantánamo Bay on Cuba, or in a network of CIA-run centres that was set to expand, with the connivance of the governments of Britain (Diego Garcia), Poland and Romania. Not a new gulag, as the international left preposterously claimed, in its typical ignorance of socialism’s grim record, but little pools of extra-legal darkness nonetheless. Then there was the matter of interrogation methods. The high-value target Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, for example, was delivered into the hands of the Egyptians. On the Bagram tarmac, a CIA case officer charmingly explained: ‘You’re going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there, I’m going to find your mother and fuck her.’ Renditions to Morocco are said to include encounters between penises and razor blades. The CIA was also pondering what to do with those captives it planned to interrogate itself. They needed precise definition of what was legal. This was not so much a matter of bloodlust as a concern not to fall foul of the US’s own legalistic culture, where writs come back to haunt people and modest pensions can be devoured by legal fees.
Cheney’s legal team endeavoured to unpick the Geneva Convention’s elision of torture with cruel, inhuman and degrading methods of interrogation. While agonising tortures like electric shocks or pulling out fingernails were ruled out of bounds, those that rely on extreme physical or psychological discomfort—shackling, darkness, noise and so on—or, like simulated drowning, that trigger extreme panic, were ruled in. None of the latter leaves any physical trace either. Also legalised were threats to hand the suspect over to countries like Egypt or Morocco where torture is something of a fine art. In fairness, these efforts to ‘come off Geneva’ were vigorously contested by the Justice and State Departments, while the CIA and the military were extremely anxious to ensure that what they did had precise legal cover. The US Supreme Court is still contesting vital aspects of extraterritorial military jurisdiction in actions brought by the detainees’ own military counsel. Ironically, accounts by US military interrogators (mostly civilian reservists) make it abundantly clear that psychological methods of interrogation are more effective than torture is ever likely to be, and never involve the ticking-time-bomb scenario envisioned by torture’s academic apologists. The chief advocate, from within the government, where he was deputy assistant attorney-general, was John Woo of Berkeley, while Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, perhaps best known for the acquittal of Claus von Bulow, was keen on judges issuing ‘torture warrants’.89
The US coalition defeat of the Taliban, whose leader mullah Omar was last seen speeding off on a motorbike, was accompanied by a stealthier war against minor terrorist groups whose absurd gangster names—such as Commander Robot—would not have inclined the US to take them seriously six months earlier. Kidnappings and money from media interviews were the terrorists’ main sources of income; after they had got as much as US$10,000 per interview, they logically decided to kidnap the reporters for larger ransoms. In May 2001 Abu Sayyaf terrorists based on the Philippines island of Basilan used high-powered speedboats to raid the island of Palawan (three hundred miles away) so as to kidnap Western tourist divers. This would bring big ransom money and destroy the tourist trade. Instead, they captured three Americans, a middle-aged man living with a Filipina girl, and Martin and Gracia Burnham, a pair of Christian missionaries. The kidnappers also took the Filipino chefs and servants. The group’s leader, Aldam Tilao, was built like a brown pit-bull, with a black hip-hop dorag on his head and wraparound sunglasses. He fancied himself as a bit of a DJ whenever he managed to commandeer a local radio station. A long bolo knife and an earring completed the piratical image, although this pirate sang Beatles songs as he sped away with his captives. These men were rapists and murderers who adopted Islamism as an ancillary pose. On their trek into the jungle interior, they grabbed more hostages from a coconut farm, hacking the heads off two men who annoyed them, a fateful decision as it turned out, because one of the victims was the uncle of a tennis coach who boasted that he was Tilao’s oldest friend. The US sex tourist also got on their nerves, partly because he stood in the way of the terrorists and his pretty Filipina girlfriend. He was soon led into the dense foliage where his head was cut off too. Along the route to their hideout, a further ten people were decapitated, their heads left every few yards. The survivors included children of ten, six and three, although the three-year-old turned four in the course of this ordeal.
What before 9/11 might have elicited nothing more than diplomatic expressions of concern now attracted the full attention of the CIA when president Gloria Arroyo asked George W. Bush for help in freeing the hostages. The FBI tried paying US$300,000 ransom, but this was absorbed by the Filipino police. Rather than sending in the Marines, the CIA quietly set up shop in a container parked on a naval base, bringing in tracking devices and spotter aircraft made available from Afghanistan. The tactics adopted minimised a heavy US presence. They would work through the local Marines, including colonel Juancho Sabban and captain Gieram Aragones, a Muslim convert whose hatred of the jihadists’ perversion of his religion made him vow not to shave or cut his hair until Tilao was dead. They and the CIA realised that the kidnappers’ weak point was when they used couriers to pick up supplies in towns and villages. They recruited Tilao’s oldest friend, while playing on the hip-hopper terrorist’s vanity. As a test of his friend’s reliability, he was instructed to take a local TV reporter, who had interviewed the terrorists before, on a two-day trip into the jungle, which would also establish the group’s rough whereabouts. Having tested the connection, the CIA’s Kent Clizbee complied with Tilao’s request, via his friend, for a satellite phone. This would enable them to track his whereabouts every time he used it. They also made the friend the sole source of supply, by arranging disabling accidents, like a couple of broken legs, for other known couriers. One item handed over was a backpack with a hidden tracking device.
As the Marines kept the group under surveillance, the CIA prepared to deploy a Navy SEAL team to rescue the hostages. That was preempted after the Filipino army decided to blunder in, when on 7 June 2002 they stormed Tilao’s camp, killing Martin Burnham and a Filipina nurse the group had also abducted. They freed Burnham’s wife Gracia, although she was shot in the leg too. With incredible stupidity, Tilao resolved to flee the island on the same high-powered boat he had used to reach it. The Marines turned the two-man crew and hid tracking devices aboard it. When Tilao and his men cautiously left the jungle for the darkened beach, they had no idea that two CIA spotter planes were circling overhead, while four Marine and SEAL teams cruised offshore. The CIA watched black and white images on computer consoles in their container. When the terrorists’ boat was far enough out for no one to swim back alive in shark-infested waters, it was suddenly crushed by a heavier Marine craft, hurling the terrorists over the side. Shooting while treading water is not smart since muzzle flashes reveal positions. Tilao did that and was ripped in half by a Rumpelstiltskin-like Aragones who emptied the magazine of an assault rifle into him. Aragones called Clizbee: ‘We just killed the motherfucker.’ Abu Sayyaf ceased to be anything more than a local nuisance in the southern Philippines.90
The first priority for Al Qaeda’s leaders was their physical survival and the speedy resumption of operations through networks they had cultivated already. They did obvious things like ceasing to use satellite phones, and constructing camouflaged hides with multiple exits to avoid being crushed and buried alive by bombing. One major setback, in March 2002, was a joint Pakistani-US raid on an apartment building in Faisalabad which netted twelve Al Qaeda suspects, including Abu Zubaydah, the successor of Mohammed Atef. Zubaydah had planned innumerable terrorist attacks and was rebuilding Al Qaeda from the hundreds of men he had recruited. Information gleaned from him, with the use of extreme measures, led to the arrests of Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Karachi and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi in September 2002 and March 2003. The US had the key players behind 9/11, although this is often overlooked because of the escape of bin Laden. The arrest of Zubaydah seems to have prompted Abd al-Halim Adl to write to ‘Brother Muktar’, believed to be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, complaining that bin Laden was not listening to sound advice, and rushing into ill-considered operations that were making Al Qaeda ‘a laughing stock’ of the world’s intelligence agencies.91
All terrorist groups have to adapt to their environment if they are to survive; if they do not they will have the limited life-cycle of nineteenth-century anarchists or nihilists. On the run, Al Qaeda proper decided to use Al Qaeda Plus—that is, the couple of dozen affiliated groups which Al Qaeda armed, financed, trained or influenced through its leaders.92 Al Qaeda proper would thenceforth be a form of incitement, as well as an example, method or rule that others followed without being directly part of the organisation. Widely perceived as a clever evolutionary move, it in fact reflected a concern with security that overrode the drawbacks of such a strategy.93
This networked terrorism is not new, any more than Osama bin Laden is unique as a financial sponsor of international terrorism, a role once performed in Europe by millionaire publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. The PLO was an umbrella organisation for dozens of armed groups. The German RAF had no military-style hierarchy befitting an ‘army’, and it had extensive contacts with the Red Brigades, ETA, IRA and the Palestinians. Loosely affiliated networks, especially if they consist of ad-hoc amateur groups devoted to a similar objective as the parent firm, have several strengths. Lacking a hierarchy, or state sponsorship, they cannot be decapitated or stopped by regime change. If communication with Al Qaeda merely consists of subscribing to its ideology, and allowing it to claim responsibility for one of the networked groups’ atrocities, then they are not regular or sustained enough to represent a weak point that intelligence agencies can exploit.94 The drawbacks of networked terrorism are multiple, paradoxically jeopardising the very security they are supposed to ensure by the abandonment of hierarchy. It provides opportunities to disaggregate the groups through their own internal dynamics since it is notoriously difficult to plant agents inside.
From Al Qaeda’s perspective, there are no means of controlling the operational choices or levels of violence used by remote groups not subject to the discipline of a hierarchical organisation. Indeed, they may be far more violent than the franchising group, whether in terms of launching indiscriminate attacks or killing anyone sent to restrain them. UVF terrorists in Northern Ireland complained that an admiral in the Royal Navy does not have to fear being shot by a renegade rating if the latter decides to sell drugs. Technical information on bomb making has to come from sources like the internet, which leaves plenty of scope for security agencies to fake sites filled with misinformation. This forces groups to contact the parent franchise more frequently, increasing the likelihood that these contacts will be monitored. If it is the case that, for reasons of paranoia, terrorists recruit from kin groups, then pressure on the wider kin will create the perception that this source of recruits is insecure too, and it will be if commitment to terrorism clashes with wider social obligations.
Finance is a further vulnerability. In the absence of centralised funding, and the sort of regular accounting Al Qaeda is known to practise, money has to be raised through crime. This presents opportunities for embezzlement, or the temptation to become full-time drug traffickers, extortionists and armed robbers, presenting many opportunities to be caught. Money derived from crime also has to be laundered, which routinely diminishes the proceeds to a considerable extent as each person in the laundering chain takes a cut. Even the legal hawala system, for moving money without wire transfers, intermediary correspondents or cash, usually involves deliberate under-invoicing or the disregarding of reporting requirements, which is a criminal offence in most jurisdictions. For these reasons, it may be advantageous for governments not to advertise attacks on terrorist funding, so as to spread suspicions of fraud throughout the ranks. The people who are engaged in relatively low-risk terrorist financing are widely disliked by those who take the major risks of active operations, especially if there seems to be some ethnic dimension to who does what within an organisation like Al Qaeda. The huge differences in the sentences passed by courts for the two types of activity are beneficial since they help fracture terrorist organisations through different degrees of perceived risk. That is also why Guantánamo Bay is misconceived, on pragmatic rather than moral grounds, since an indeterminate limbo land does not provide the calibrated incentives needed to turn terrorists into betraying their former comrades, in marked contrast to what the Indonesian and Saudi Arabian authorities have achieved by confounding the widespread expectation that arrested terrorists will be routinely tortured.95
When Al Qaeda struck back, it was through surrogates who quite independently had sometimes already extended their local operations to attacks on generic Western targets in conformity with global jihadist objectives. This was the case in Indonesia. Between 1999 and 2001 parts of Indonesia had been afflicted by savage violence that began (on Java) with the killing of 160 alleged sorcerers and witches, and spread into vicious sectarian pogroms in which Protestant Christians were just as liable to be the aggressors as Muslims, who were often the victims. The immediate trigger for these attacks, which involved youth gangs sporting white or red headbands to indicate whether they were Muslim or Protestant, which in turn were backed by adult criminals and elements of the security forces, was the country’s first free elections held in 1999. Beginning with axes, hammers, iron bars and knives, the weaponry used escalated to firearms. In certain areas the elections threatened to upset the delicate equilibrium with which an authoritarian state had distributed power and patronage between clients from each faith. Worse, the Muslim leaders who came to power (moderate Islamist parties having lost the election to the ecumenical and secularist party of Megawati Soekarnoputri by a margin of 34 to 20 per cent) bent over backwards to accommodate moderate Muslims and non-Muslims by eschewing an Islamic agenda. Democracy spelled defeat for the Islamists. Some of them did not like it.
Although the government got a purchase on this mindless sectarian violence, to the satisfaction of Christian rioters, on the Muslim side the pogroms provided the nationwide recruits for jihadist groups who were formed from the remnants of sectarian gangs and paramilitaries. From 2000 onwards they embarked on a campaign of bombing Christian churches. On Christmas Eve 2000 some forty churches were bombed, leaving nineteen dead and a hundred wounded. The perpetrators were from Laskar-Jihad, the locally focused terrorist group whose leader Ja’far Umar Thalib condemned 9/11 and bin Laden, and from Jemaah Islamiyah, whose leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir had more expansive aims, and whose group included Filipinos, Malaysians and Thais. Although both groups included men who had fought in Afghanistan, only Jemaah Islamiyah had significant contact with Al Qaeda. As the former US ambassador to Jakarta, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, was urging the Indonesian government to crush domestic terrorists, it was unsurprising that the latter readily took up Ayman al-Zawahiri’s request to Jemaah Islamiyah to attack a soft Western target in South Asia.
In 1999 the Jemaah Islamiyah cell in Singapore had reconnoitred several targets, taking the family out for the day to camouflage the five films an engineer called Hashim bin Abbas and a printer called Mohammed Khalim bin Jaffar recorded. These had soundtracks: ‘This is the bicycle bay as viewed from the footpath that leads to the MRT station [where a shuttle bus dropped off US troops]. You will notice that some of the boxes are placed on the motorcycles—these are the same type of boxes that we intend to use.’
An edited master disc was sent by Hambali to Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan who greenlighted the project. It was found intact in the debris of Atef’s house, along with targeting notes that he had taken as Khalim spoke with him. The Singaporean cell had about sixty to eighty members, including women and several people with well-paid jobs. They paid an extra income tax that went to Al Qaeda and to cross-subsidising Jemaah Islamiyah in Malaysia as a whole. While Atef licensed one line of attack, Jemaah Islamiyah’s leaders in Malaysia authorised the Singapore cell to attack water pipes on which the city depended and to crash a Russian airliner into Changi airport by way of avenging the Chechens. They also wanted to attack a US warship with a suicide boat at a point where a narrow channel would restrict its evasive manoeuvres. Al Qaeda had this second set of projects shelved while it pushed ahead for a spectacular.
As he put the final touches to 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s mind turned to this new venture. The idea was to rig seven trucks with ammonium nitrate and fuel-oil bombs each weighing three tons. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed despatched Farthur Roman al-Ghozi, or ‘Mike the Bomb Maker’, and an Arab code-named ‘Sammy’, the former being the master bomber behind the Christmas campaign in Indonesia. The targets were the US and Israeli embassies, the Australian and British High Commissions, a US naval base and other American commercial interests. They used codes like ‘market’ (Malaysia), ‘soup’ (Singapore), ‘book’ (passport) and ‘white meat’ for Westerners. The targets were filmed and recorded on a video CD entitled ‘Visiting Singapore Sightseeing’. As the group had four tons of ammonium nitrate in store, they only had to get a further seventeen. A friend of a friend knew a despatch clerk at a firm of chemical importers. When the friend came to buy the bomb ingredients, he was arrested. His interrogation led to the arrest of twenty-three Jemaah Islamiyah members in Singapore. The Singaporean government insisted that the dominant ethnic Chinese should not blame the Malay-Muslim minority, while explaining to the latter that they would be subject to specific security checks, on the grounds that if you are looking for a stolen Jaguar you do not stop all Mercedes. They did not bother with vacuities about hearts and minds. Lee Kuan Yew, the ever vigilant father of the nation, demanded that Singapore’s neighbours co-operate in the fight against terrorism, while simultaneously criticising distortions in Western foreign policy.96
Thwarted in their desire to cause simultaneous havoc with seven suicide truck bombs, Al Qaeda fell back on Plan B, soft Western targets in South Asia. Meetings were held in Thailand at which Noordin Top was appointed head of logistics. Dr Azahari Husin of the Technological university of Malaysia was the bomb master, and Mukhlas, a founder of Jemaah Islamiyah, was in charge of the attack. Behind all of them was Hambali, and behind him Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who contributed US$30,000 for the attacks. An engineer and computer expert, imam Samudra, was the field commander. He had named his son Osama. Mukhlas’s brother-in-law, Amrozi bin Haji Nurhasyim, bought the necessary chemicals and a car with Balinese plates, for a target had been decided on this predominantly Hindu island.97
The specific target was selected after it proved too difficult to hit the Dumai fuelling station or ExxonMobil storage tanks. Sheer racial hatred was the motivating force behind the attack, on the part of a group whose members had travelled from the larger groups with shared prejudice via a more exclusive persecutory bigotry to the obsessional killing rage that characterises many terrorists. This was about killing ‘whitey’ and nothing else, although that aspect of jihadism rarely receives much consideration. Imam Samudra recruited five young Indonesian men as suicide bombers. For three weeks he and this separate cell kept two bars on Bali’s Kuta Beach under surveillance. As Samudra recalled: ‘We sat in the car in front of the Sari Club. I saw lots of whiteys dancing, and lots of whiteys drinking there, that place—Kuta and especially Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club—was a meeting place for US terrorists and their allies, who the whole world knows to be monsters.’ When it was subsequently pointed out that most of their victims were Australians rather than Americans, Amrozi quipped: ‘Australians, Americans, whatever—they’re all white people.’
They rented a white L-300 Mitsubishi van. After removing the seats they loaded it with twelve small filing cabinets, each filled with a mix of potassium chlorate, sulphur and aluminium powder. They wired this up to ninety-four detonators made from three grams of RDX plastic explosive and a booster of TNT. Not trusting in fate, there were four separate detonation systems: a mobile phone, a trigger operated by Arnasan, one of the suicide drivers, a timer in case he could not pull this switch, and a booby-trap trigger inside one of the filing cabinets which would go off if opened. At the last minute they discovered that Arnasan could not change gears or turn a car. Ali Imron, a brother of Mukhlas, had to take his place, with Arnasan and ‘Jimi’, a suicide bomber, alongside. Imron parked the van and left.98
At five past eleven at night on 12 October 2002, Jimi walked into a crowded Paddy’s Pub on Legian Street. It was a popular haunt of young Australian and American tourists, some breaking their long journeys with an exotic holiday involving cheap booze and easy sex.99 As Jimi exploded, many patrons rushed outside, where they were incinerated in a double-tap attack by a one-ton device detonated by Arnasan in the white Mitsubishi van. The effects on the ‘white meat’ were catastrophic, although many Balinese trinket and food sellers died too as the blast set their straw-roofed shacks alight. Two hundred and two people perished, eighty-eight of them Australians, a huge loss for a relatively underpopulated country. Many victims received horrific burn injuries and had to be immersed in hotel pools. Others were flown to hospitals in Darwin and Perth. A third smaller device in a package Imron had earlier carefully dropped from a motorbike was detonated outside the US consulate in Denpasar by a mobile phone call, the detonation system representing a new level of sophistication.
Swift police work meant the arrest of the operation’s immediate commander, Amrozi, who announced, ‘Gosh, you guys are very clever, how did you find me?’ His home had the usual bombers’ paraphernalia of receipts for chemicals, training manuals and copies of speeches by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and bin Laden. A mobile phone had the stored numbers of several of his associates, who were arrested too. Ali Imron was also arrested. At a bizarre news conference, he boasted: ‘The capability of our group as one of the Indonesian nation [sic] should make people proud.’ Attempts to connect Abu Bakar Ba’asyir with the bombing failed, although he was subsequently given a two-year sentence for inciting it and other terrorist outrages. He saw himself as like the salesman of sharp knives who is not responsible for how his customers use them, a peculiar view of the role of religious preacher.100
Hambali used US$15,000 to support the families of the imprisoned terrorists. Although he did not need this pretext, from then on Australia’s prime minister John Howard, the most successful conservative leader in the world, would be a loyal ally in the ‘war on terror’, bringing his fellow countrymen’s characteristic lack of circumlocution and tough-mindedness to the issues.101 Azahari was killed during a siege by Indonesia’s elite Detachment 88 counter-terrorism unit. He threw bombs from a house, urging the police to enter so as to join him in paradise. Colonel Petrus Reingard Golose of Detachment 88 remarked: ‘he said he didn’t want to die alone, but I made it clear I didn’t want to join him’. Azahari was shot dead by police snipers. Noordin Top fled to fight another day. The most wanted man in South Asia continues to issue bloodcurdling threats against Australia. Imam Samudra set up a website devoted to justifying the Bali atrocity.102
Another soft target identified by Al Qaeda for its comeback was Europe. With Afghanistan out of bounds, predominantly Algerian European-based terrorists were despatched via Georgia to camps in Chechnya’s Pankisi Gorge for their training. Much of their training involved the use of chemical weapons, the instructor being a one-legged Palestinian jihadist called Abu Atiya. About twenty of these men returned to Europe in the autumn of 2002, entering through Spain. The French DST and two smart magistrates, Ricard and Brugière, encouraged by interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, were on the case, organising raids on several suburban Parisian apartments, which yielded high-grade arrests and a haul of cyanide, methylene blue (an antidote to cyanide), laboratory equipment and protective suits. Their likely target was the Russian embassy in Paris, as an act of revenge for Russia’s assassination of Ibn al-Khuttab, the Arab leader in Chechnya, with a poisoned letter. They were also interested in hitting the Eiffel Tower, a department store and the Metro system.
Inevitably, the sinews of this Paris-based group led to ‘Beirut-on-Thames’ or ‘Londonistan’ as the French intelligence services cynically called the British capital. One key player was ‘K’, who had been deported from Georgia back to London after he tried to enter using a false French passport. ‘K’ had been denied asylum by the British in 1998 and 2001, being granted temporary admission instead. He disappeared until use of false documents landed him in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, from which he fled when the detainees burned it down. Together with Abu Doha’s replacement Rabah Kadre, ‘K’ built an Algerian cell in Wood Green’s ‘little Algiers’. In January 2003 MI5 and the police raided a flat there after the Algerian authorities had warned that the Algerians were about to go active. Six men were arrested, somehow inhabiting a council flat occupied by an Algerian and an Ethiopian who were on benefits. Together with Rabah Kadre, they were charged with attempting to produce toxic substances, which detectives speculated may have included the über-poison ricin, which was to be spread on the handrails of Underground escalators.
On 14 January police and MI5 struck at a house in Manchester in search of a man whose name was connected to the Wood Green cell. Twenty-four unarmed policemen entered the house, where they found three men, including their suspect. A Special Branch detective thought he recognised one of the two extras in the flat. Scotland Yard radioed in the intelligence that this was Kamel Bourgass. What to the three men had seemed like a routine raid on false asylum seekers turned critical once Bourgass was asked to don a forensic suit that would reveal if he had handled toxic substances. Since none of the three was handcuffed, Bourgass lurched at a knife and attacked four officers, killing detective constable Stephen Oake. All three Algerians were failed asylum seekers who had not been deported, through the predictable combination of laxness and incompetence that was now lethal in its effects. Oake’s killer had entered the UK illegally in 2000, having already destroyed his identity papers. His requests for asylum were rejected three times, which did not stop him from committing petty crimes, or from murdering detective constable Oake.
Public outrage triggered Operation Mermant, a huge armed raid on Finsbury Park mosque, where police arrested seven men, including an Algerian described as a major player in the Algerian terrorist group. Bourgass received a life sentence for killing Oake, and another seventeen years for the ricin plot, which was probably focused on the Heathrow Express connecting London to the airport. The mosque had been a home from home, not just to Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, but to many of the Algerian terrorists in London and Paris. In April 2004, the British finally charged Abu Hamza, notwithstanding the fact that as early as 1998 his son and stepson had kidnapped Western tourists in Yemen, calling ‘Dad’ in London to report their success. The British refused Yemen’s requests to extradite him because of the existence in that country of the death penalty, one of those issues where elite opinion is massively at variance with that of the general public who understand that terrorism is not a risk-free activity. It would take a further outrage to prompt the British government to introduce tougher measures and to adopt a new tone. At the time of writing, the imprisoned Hamza is facing extradition to the US on further terrorism charges.
Medieval Islamic Spain figured prominently in the jihadi-salafist imagination long before the Spanish conservative leader José María Aznar committed thirteen hundred troops to Iraq. It was ‘Andalus’ or ‘the land of Tarek Ben Ziyad’, who had conquered southern Spain in the eighth century. Muslims liked to point out that the sprinkling fountains and cool courts of the Alhambra existed when most Europeans were living in rat-infested huts; they don’t mention medieval Europe’s cathedrals and palaces or that most Iberian Moors lived in rat-infested hovels too, nor the antecedent achievements of Visigothic Spain before the Moors arrived. Apart from this Islamist fantasy, which makes Spanish people laugh, contemporary democratic Spain was also a threat. It is a liberal, modern, prosperous society of enormous vitality, which has lured five hundred thousand legal, and five hundred thousand illegal, North Africans over the short gap separating it from the Maghreb. That is why Spanish governments now seek Catholic Latin American or eastern European migrants. Spain also wants to help transform Morocco’s absolutist state into a constitutional monarchy. Grounds for attack aplenty there.
Spanish intelligence agents believe that, from 2001 onwards, jihadist terrorists in Spain were conspiring to attack the nation’s train system, in other words long before Spain despatched troops to Iraq. Terrorists struck on the morning of 11 March 2004 when a series of bombs, triggered by mobile-phone detonators, exploded on commuter services at local stations or on trains entering Madrid from the capital’s eastern suburbs. Thirteen devices hidden in backpacks exploded on two trains entering Atocha station. They killed a hundred people, including three Moroccan Muslim immigrants, who had gone to Spain to make a new life. Had the trains been in the station, it would have collapsed, crushing thousands of commuters. On one of the trains, two young Romanian girls had flirted with a good-looking Syrian, named Basel Ghalyoun. When he rushed off the train, they shouted that he had forgotten his backpack. When it exploded, it killed one of the girls. Shortly afterwards, two more bombs went off in two suburban stations. All together, within five minutes 191 people were killed and 1,847 injured.
Islamist attacks in Spain had become a racing certainty once Aznar committed troops to the ‘coalition of the willing’. The Islamists called the Spanish prime minister Bush’s ‘tail’. A lucid communique, issued by a cyberspace Islamist think-tank, entitled ‘Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers’ claimed that Spain was the alliance’s weakest link. Al Qaeda was thinking strategically. Britain and Poland could not be bombed out of Iraq, but Spain was another matter. Sixty-seven per cent of Spanish people were opposed to the war, and the country had been devastated when seven of its intelligence agents were massacred outside Baghdad, leaving Iraqi children kicking their corpses. If Spain was forced out of Iraq, then a domino effect might lever Britain and Poland out too.
Not without reason—for three months earlier police had arrested two ETA terrorists planting bombs on trains—Aznar leaped to the conclusion that ETA was responsible for the Atocha outrages, a hard line on Basque separatism being one of the distinguishing marks in the imminent election he was predicted to win. He persisted with that line, which may have been conditioned by earlier efforts by ETA to assassinate him, even as the investigation questioned it. Telephone intercepts revealed that ETA was as surprised by the bombings as anyone else. A van was found at the station from which the bombed trains originated. Inside were detonators and a cassette of Koranic verse. This intelligence was passed to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s opposition Socialists, some commentators suspect, because elements of the security services appointed under Felipe Gonzalez were keen on a Socialist victory. A group claiming to speak for Al Qaeda released a communique which said: ‘The squadron of death has managed to penetrate the heart of Crusader Europe, striking one of the pillars of the Crusaders and their allies, Spain, with a painful blow. This is part of the old game with Crusader Spain, ally of America in its war against Islam.’ Scepticism greeted this since the same group had also claimed responsibility for a major US power outage that was not a terrorist strike at all. Meanwhile some eleven million Spanish people filled the streets in angry vigil.
On 12 March a policeman sifting through personal effects at El Pozo station found a bag with a bomb connected to a mobile phone. The police traced the phone to a shop owned by two Indians in a Madrid neighbourhood. The owners said they had sold a batch of thirty SIM cards to a Moroccan who owned a shop in Lavapiés, a Chinese and North African quarter of the city. Some of these cards had been used to trigger the bombs, but fifteen were unaccounted for. They arrested Jamal Zougam, the shop’s owner, and two men, Mohammed Bekkali Boutaliha and Mohammed Chaoui. That night a TV station was directed to a tape in which Abu Dujan al-Afgani identified himself as Al Qaeda’s chief military spokesman in Europe. He claimed responsibility for the attacks, notoriously adding, ‘You love life and we love death,’ a remark that has encouraged the view that Al Qaeda is nothing but a nihilistic death cult. It is, but it also thinks strategically. This communication decided the outcome of the Spanish elections, which the Socialists won. The troops were pulled out of Iraq, although some were quietly redeployed to Afghanistan. No wonder Jamal Zougam’s first thought as he appeared in court after five days of isolation was ‘Who won the election?’
French and Moroccan authorities had alerted the Spanish police to Zougam months before. Apparently well integrated in Spain, he was connected to Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, who had steered Spanish North African migrants to training camps in Afghanistan and Chechnya, while associating with the ominous Abu Qatada in London and mullah Krekar in Oslo. He had also facilitated the meeting between Mohammed Atta and Shibh in Madrid prior to 9/11. The Moroccans had him down as an associate of Abdelaziz Beniyach who in May 2003 had orchestrated suicide bombings in Casablanca, and of Mohammed Fazazi, who had preached to the 9/11 murderers in Hamburg. The Spanish authorities took virtually no action to follow up this huge weight of incrimination against Zougam, partly because the police did not dispose of a single Arabic speaker, except for eight over-worked civilian interpreters and translators, a problem they share with the FBI and MI5.
After Atocha they arrested about seventy people, including two of the men who had planted bombs on the trains. One of them was a professional drug dealer. The investigation gained added urgency when a bag containing twelve kilograms of the same commercial high explosive was found attached to a command wire next to the high-speed railway line from Madrid to Seville—evidence that, even though Spain had retreated from Iraq, this was not going to pre-empt further attacks. Signals from the missing SIM cards drew police to an apartment in Leganés, a lively suburb of Madrid to which commuters return at night. They surrounded a five-storey apartment block on Calle de Martin Gaite, alerting the inhabitants of a flat. Cries of ‘Allahu Akhbar!’ prefaced bursts of machine-gun fire from the occupants. There were seven men inside, the planners of the Atocha attacks. Warning the police ‘We will die killing,’ they drank holy water from Mecca and chanted verses of the Koran. They made phone calls. ‘Mom. I’m going to paradise. I am ready’ was one, and they tried to reach Abu Qatada in Belmarsh maximum security jail. In mid-evening the Spanish police assaulted the apartment, blowing off the lock and firing tear gas inside, shortly before it erupted as the men detonated twenty kilograms of explosives. A Spanish anti-terrorism officer, Francisco Javier Torronteras, was killed in the blast. The body of one of the terrorists flew out into a neighbouring swimming pool.
This was Jamal Ahmidan, a fugitive from Tetuan, where in 1993 he had murdered his accomplice in an armed robbery. Tetuan is the epicentre of Morocco’s US$12.5 billion hashish business, with local drug barons joining Lebanese dealers in West African conflict diamonds as an alternative source of terrorist funding after movements of money became harder after 9/11. He and his brother ran a small business in Lavapiés, combining this with dope dealing through his cousin Hamid. Drugs were the medium of exchange when Hamid bartered explosives from a Spanish miner who was a drug addict in return for thirty kilograms of hashish. Deported in 1993, Ahmidan had served a two-and-a-half-year sentence in Morocco where incarceration led to his vehement espousal of Islam. Back in Spain, he had a blousy girlfriend and continued to deal drugs, but he no longer consumed them himself. This was a matter of takfir, the art of deluding the infidels. You can drink, smoke, womanise, so long as you have hatred in your heart. He gathered around himself four friends from Tetuan as well as Zougam whose shop was near a barber shop and the Alhambra restaurant where the group hung around. In 2001 Zougam stabbed a stranger who presumed to bring a dog into the restaurant, a bad thing to do when Moroccan Islamists were around. This was when Yarkas, the Al Qaeda cell leader in Madrid, took an interest in this group of dealers and toughs, converting their cultural Islamism into the jihadist variety, through media that would engage their limited attention spans.
A middle-class Tunisian student provided more intellectual sobriety than the drug dealers disposed of, while Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, also known as ‘Mohammed the Egyptian’, was brought in as leader after Yarkas had been arrested. Ahmed was an electronics graduate who had served for five years in the explosives branch of the Egyptian army before going to jail for Islamist activity. By posing as a Palestinian, a common ploy to elicit automatic European sympathy, he had conned his way into Germany, using a special substance to modify his fingerprints whenever the Germans took them and compared them with their databanks. He knew how to ‘work’ Germany. One just had to rise early, eager for a day’s work, which in his case meant being the Lebach asylum centre’s resident demagogue arguing ‘rights’ with German social workers. After simply walking out of this unguarded facility, Ahmed headed for Spain. He rented the country house where the group assembled their eleven bombs, but was careful to leave Spain before the bombings. A lucky break enabled the Spanish police to track him to Milan, where the Italian secret service reported that he was working as a decorator. They bugged a flat he shared with other Egyptians. This is probably the single most important source available for insights into how a jihadist recruiter operates, insights we owe to Italian intelligence.
On 26 May they recorded his efforts to recruit a fellow Egyptian as a ‘martyr’. He had audiotapes, a two-thousand-page manual on jihad, and three hundred video-cassettes, for a morbid fascination with heads being sawn off or bomb blasts is very much part of the mindset. So too is a mastery of modern technology. The internet is what bin Laden once described as the electric current connecting the global ummah. It makes this ‘real’ and ‘warm’ at least in virtual reality, where complete strangers exchange intimate thoughts in Al Qaeda chatrooms such as ‘The Fortress’, ‘The Fields’ and ‘Reform’, none of which can be accessed without the original Arabic titles. How intimate they are can be gauged from the fact that Anthony Garcia, one of the British jihadists jailed after Operation Crevice, ‘met’, and became engaged to, Zenab Armend Pisheh, a student in Minnesota, in an internet chatroom. Associates of Garcia, whom she never physically met either, soon asked her to wire US$5,000 to support a trip they were planning to an Al Qaeda camp in Pakistan.103 The internet also provides a combination of nationhood and morality. The tens of thousands of Islamist sites represent the electronic birth of a nation, because they provide the Islamist equivalent of anthems, flags, patriotic poetry, heroes, martyrs and bloodcurdling injunctions. These sites also increasingly supply the fatwas which license homicidal and suicidal violence, giving the jihadists their peculiar code of ethics which turns homicidal suicides into martyrs. As Mohammed al-Massari, a Saudi dissident based in London, explains on his jihadist internet forum Tajdeed.net, ‘No jihadi will do any action until he is certain this action is morally acceptable.’ The acceptable includes killing innocent civilian bystanders, who will simply go to heaven or hell as they were meant to anyway. Killing children is not an issue either, as they are not accountable for sin before the onset of puberty. Gone straight to heaven, they will instantly mature to twenty and enjoy the same virgins that the martyrs get. Taxpayers and voters are all liable to be killed since they support enemies of Islam. As Khalid Kelly, a convert of Irish extraction, puts it: ‘We have a voting system here in Britain, so anyone who is voting for Tony Blair is not a civilian and therefore would be a legitimate target.’104
Wits speak of the net as ‘Sheikh Google’. These websites and blogs are simultaneously authoritative and demotic, part of a world where Everyman’s thoughts, be they banal or crazed, assume the respectability conferred on the written word. The technology enables a reversion to a pre-Gutenberg world, where anyone can chop and change a key text, rather as medieval scribes inserted their own thoughts between the lines or in the margins of manuscripts. They can be blocked, or filled with porn, by intelligence agencies and freelance counter-terrorist cybernauts, but as the jihadists have commandeered even the servers of the Arkansas Department of Highways and Transportation to bury their trail, this can seem like a losing battle. Incredibly, Al Qaeda’s own television outfit, As-Sahab or ‘The Cloud’, managed to relay itself for a few months via a Centcom satellite conveying orders to US forces in Iraq.105 The ‘television service’ consists of a webcam and a mini-editing suite installed in the back of a van, with more fancy technology available in Lahore. Trusted Arab or Afghan cameramen are also brought in to record major statements by Ayman al-Zawahiri or the latest front-man, Azzam the American. The films are copied on to CDs and then passed on through several hands to the television station Al-Jazeera.106
In Milan Ahmed and his target watched the internet for hours, taking special delight in al-Zarqawi’s beheading of Nicholas Berg, a twenty-six-year-old American businessman. ‘Watch closely. This is the policy of the sword. Slaughter him! Cut his head off! God is great!’ cried Ahmed. Judging by his actions, al-Zarqawi was addicted to the coppery smell of blood. There was a special audiotape, the one that ‘enters inside your veins’, which Ahmed repeatedly played to the Madrid jihadists until they had it memorised by heart. Ahmed was especially proud of Oxygen Phone Manager 2 software which enables a computer to command remotely all the functions of a Nokia mobile phone, as it presumably did with the detonators used at Atocha station. In the course of this long conversation, Ahmed lowered his voice and said:
There is one thing I am not going to hide from you, the attack in Madrid was my project and those who died martyrs’ deaths are my very dear friends … I wanted to plan it in order that it was something unforgettable, including me, because I wanted to blow up too, but they stopped me and we obey the will of God. I wanted a big load but I couldn’t find the means. The plan cost me a lot of study and patience, it took me two and a half years … beware … beware! Don’t you ever mention anything and never talk to Jalil, in any way, not even on the phone … You have to know that I met other brothers, that little by little I created with just a few things, before they were drug dealers, criminals, I introduced them to faith and now they are the first ones to ask me when it’s the moment for jihad.
Although seventy people were detained in connection with the Madrid attacks, and at the time of writing many have been sentenced, this does not mean that the jihadists have abandoned Spain, even as Zapatero essays inter-civilisational dialogue with the Maghreb and Iran courtesy of a Spanish-Iranian oil tycoon. Having attended one of these sessions in Madrid hosted by a foundation that has now been wound up, I can report that they consist of the usual obfuscatory cloud of ecumenical goodwill, in which Anglican female clerics trade homely platitudes with stony-faced imams and muftis in a conference centre ringed by hundreds of armed policemen. A ten-man cell of Pakistanis was broken up as they prepared attacks on high-rise buildings in Barcelona. They were also drug dealers, as 180 grams of heroin were found in their flat. In October 2004 police arrested forty people who were planning to drive five hundred kilograms of explosives into the criminal court where all terrorist cases are held. They may also have been planning suicide attacks on home supporters of Real Madrid. This group, called Martyrs of Morocco under Mohammed Achraf, an Algerian, had been formed among Muslim inmates in a Salamanca jail. They were the usual mix of drug dealers and credit-card fraudsters, contaminated while inside with hardened GIA terrorists. Astonishingly, while serving time in a Zurich jail, Achraf kept in email and mobile contact with his Spanish recruits, receiving correspondence too from Mohammed Salameh, one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, buried deep inside a US federal Supermax.
As fine studies carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland of IRA prisoners, not grouped in their hundreds in Northern Ireland’s Maze, but as half a dozen inmates of Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, have revealed, they can rapidly achieve positions of organised dominance within the prison, without the IRA threat of murdering the guards’ relatives so commonplace in Ulster that many prison officers committed suicide. They do this by teaming up with the roughest London gangsters, who admire the terrorists’ dedicated hardness and access to arms and money. Connections with criminals are then used to forge and steal documents, launder money, trade drugs and purchase arms, one of the reasons why Al Qaeda is now currently exploring the lawless ‘tri-state’ zone of northern Latin America.107 Spain is discovering the need to treat terrorism holistically, from initial radicalisation, recruitment and training to what happens after sentencing. Terrorism also ventures beyond the grave in more senses than one. The body of Francisco Javier Torronteras, the officer killed in the raid on the terrorists’ Madrid flat, was dug up one night. It was dragged away, mutilated, doused with petrol and set on fire.
The invasion of Iraq in early 2003 provided the latest of a series of inflammatory causes which further incensed many Muslims, and millions of non-Muslims too, although only the former seem to respond hysterically to Theo van Gogh’s film Submission, Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet, or, for the second time, the honouring of writer Salman Rushdie. It is interesting how this rage takes time to be fomented. This is not the place to rehearse the reasons given for war, but it would be simple-minded to pretend that the invasion and occupation of Iraq have not served to re-incite Islamist anger and grievance, which is rather different from accepting the monotone in which such people engage with the world. Despite the evidence of their eyes, most Muslims do not seem to grasp the fact that the vast majority of killings in Iraq are carried out by fellow Shia and Sunni Muslims and not by coalition soldiers, and that it is the strategy of Al Qaeda in and beyond Iraq to trigger a wider sectarian religious war.
The initial demonstration of coalition airpower seemed another instance of Goliath stamping on David, notwithstanding the fact that much of this assault involved precision weaponry devised with a view to minimising civilian casualties in a world where warfare is under twenty-four-hour media scrutiny, with legal repercussions whenever anyone screws up. The US has developed artillery systems which calculate possible collateral damage, so that at a certain point the guns cannot be automatically fired. Apparently a new generation of robot weapons with built-in moral systems to factor out such human emotions as anger and vengeance are only a couple of years from deployment. The massive investment such systems require makes no sense if the intention is to kill Muslims indiscriminately. The technology is designed to do the opposite.
It became apparent that intelligence materials had been deliberately contaminated by political concerns, specifically to support the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction whose deployment was imminent. The fact that he had used such weapons in the past, notoriously with devastating effect against the Kurds, was elided with flimsy evidence that he was planning to use them against coalition armies, and even flimsier proof that he had been consorting with Al Qaeda terrorists. This double deceit has caused long-term damage to some of the intelligence agencies involved, which may find it hard to make a plausible public case in the event of future conflicts. Promoting one of the key figures involved in putting together that intelligence to the post of director of MI6 seemed dubious to many observers. At least the US largely stuck to the line that its primary goal was to remove a dictator who had flouted any number of UN resolutions.
One consequence of an invasion whose occupying aftermath was culpably mismanaged with the passive connivance of the entire Blair government, including all hold-overs to the Brown administration, was the activation of Europe’s Al Qaeda/Ansar al-Islam networks, with the result that some hundreds of Belgian, British, German, French and Italian jihadists were recruited and sent via Kurdistan or Syria to fight coalition troops inside Iraq. The latter were perplexed to discover that one suicide bomber who attacked them was a thirty-eight-year-old blonde, white, Catholic Belgian woman called Muriel Degauque, a convert to Islam who killed herself in Iraq. They became part of a conflict that involves ‘former regime elements’, Sunnis disgruntled at losing power after ruling Iraq for the Ottomans, the British and Saddam, and some thousands of foreign jihadists of whom the monster al-Zarqawi was the first prominent commander. Although Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri had some difficulties with that monster’s indiscriminate slaughtering of workmen—especially if they were Muslims—in December 2004 bin Laden eagerly acknowledged al-Zarqawi as ‘the emir of the Al Qaeda organisation in the land of the two rivers’. Apart from the running sore of Chechnya, Iraq is likely to be the prime source of highly trained, and battle-hardened, jihadists who may make their terrorist mark in Europe. No European state has seen fit to make it a criminal offence to go abroad to fight its own, or allied, nationals, or to incite others to do the same. Although they have a good idea of who is going where to do what, intelligence and police cannot prosecute any of these fighters. High-level co-operation among European intelligence agencies is good—they have contacts going back decades and are hardwired into each other—but it is revealing that Europol, which holds data on twelve thousand terrorists, complains that national police and immigration services do not access this with apparent regularity.
After the 7/7 London bombing, the then home secretary Clarke claimed that the attack had ‘come out of the blue’, as the work of so-called ‘clean skins’. This turned out not to be accurate. In 2004 Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer showed up on the margins of an MI5 surveillance of Islamist meetings. Both men were photographed—although not identified—and Siddique Khan’s telephone number was known from his contacts with a suspect who had been monitored since 2003. On one occasion, MI5 had trailed Khan as he drove 150 miles home to Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. The two were deemed a low priority at a time when surveillance resources were stretched to the limit. No attempts were made to identify them, to get clearer pictures, or to show the existing photographs to a detainee held by a foreign intelligence agency who, in early 2004, had testified that Anglo-Pakistanis had visited Pakistan seeking meetings with Al Qaeda. Although Richard Reid had tried to blow himself up on a plane, and two Anglo-Pakistani suicide bombers had attacked Tel Aviv, the security services seem to have been reluctant to believe that British citizens would launch suicide attacks on British soil. Incredibly, they asserted that there was not a sufficiently developed climate for long-term indoctrination. The first part of that claim, evidently accepted without demur by a House of Commons intelligence committee which reports to the prime minister, was surprising, since for decades the UK had been home to several Islamist fanatics, while anyone seriously familiar with suicide bombers would know that it does not take long to recruit or activate them.
Naturally, the security services work with finite resources, and have to establish priorities, points which conflict with government claims that they receive all the funding they ask for. As the MI5 director Jonathan Evans, appointed in 2007, has underlined, a successful bomb attack is a particularly bitter pill for his agency, whose overriding priority is the safety of the British public. Partly because of the lack of a regional MI5 presence—unlike Germany’s security services or the FBI it was centred in the capital—there was little or no in depth familiarity with Islamist culture as it had formed in various central and northern cities. The British knew a lot about Belfast, and much about Arabs and North Africans in London, but their own northern provincial cities were a mystery. Instead of pseudo-academic discussions about how to define terrorism or what to call Islamist fanatics, more effort should have been put into getting a rich picture of the milieu in which jihadists are formed, radicalised and operate. The historic separation of MI5 and the foreign intelligence agency MI6 was anachronistic too in a globalised world where cheap air travel and migration linked Beeston and Bradford with Peshawar in a single continuum of malign activity. Regionally based police Special Branch sections were routinely under-funded, in the interests of high-speed traffic vehicles, helicopters and campaigns against burglars. Key appointments in the Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism Branch, notably of its head Peter Clarke in early 2002, have led to much smoother co-operation since.108
‘7 July began unsettled, with heavy showers in places. The early morning rush in London started as normal.’ Only the British could begin a report on a mass atrocity with the weather. The day before, Britain had won the competition to host the 2012 Olympics, and the G8 summit was in full swing in Scotland. Around 4 a.m. a car sped down the M1, containing Mohammed Siddique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain. At 6.49 they met Jermaine Lindsay, parked in a Luton car park. All four donned rucksacks, as if they were going camping. Each rucksack contained two to five kilograms of high explosives. The bombs had been manufactured in a flat they sublet from an Egyptian chemistry student. Prolonged exposure to bleach had started to turn their hair white, something they attributed to the swimming baths they used. The foursome took a train into King’s Cross. At the entrance to the Underground, they hugged and split up, two on to the District and Circle line—taking trains going in opposite directions—and two destined for the Piccadilly line. At 8.50 Shehzad Tanweer blew himself up, killing eight people and wounding 171. So did Mohammed Siddique Khan in the second carriage of another train, killing seven and injuring 163. On the Piccadilly line, Jermaine Lindsay blew himself up as the train sped through its deep tunnels, killing twenty-seven people and injuring 340. Meanwhile, Habib Hussain meandered around King’s Cross and then took a bus to Euston station. There he switched to a number 30 bus, where, sitting at the back on the upper level, he detonated a bomb which killed fourteen people and wounded 110 near the green oasis of Tavistock Square.
A grim-faced Tony Blair raced back to London to put his characteristic imprint on the occasion. A brilliantly conducted police investigation traced evidence gathered at the crime scenes back through CCTV footage to the cars still parked at Luton and from there up the M1 to a bomb-making factory in Leeds. The men’s anxious wives and families had by then declared that they were missing. In September, Al-Jazeera TV would broadcast the six-minute suicide video will of Mohammed Siddique Khan, defiantly jabbing his finger from beyond the grave: ‘Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of the situation.’109
Khan, Hussain and Tanweer were from Beeston, a run-down Pakistani suburb of Leeds, although none of them was deprived himself. Aged thirty when he died, ‘Sid’ Khan had done a business-studies degree, working voluntarily in a primary school where he helped pupils with special needs, behavioural and language difficulties. He was married, to a woman of his choice, and had a child. Tanweer was the son of a fish-and-chip shop owner. A proficient athlete and cricketer, he had taken a qualification in sports science, but had no job apart from helping his father. Hussain was not very bright either, intermittently attending a business-studies programme. He was the most outwardly religious of the group, going on the hajj in 2002, and ostentatiously advertising his support for Al Qaeda after 9/11. This was a tight little world, centred around three mosques, an Islamic bookshop, a community centre and a gym. Evidence for some malign clerical mentor is slight; more probably this was a case of auto-radicalisation in which the group talked itself into violence. The older and more dominant Khan began to give the other two lectures that could also be seen as sermons. They went on group camping, paint-balling and white-water-rafting trips with others, expeditions designed for male bonding and quasi-military training. Some time in 2004 Khan encountered Jermaine Lindsay on the Yorkshire Islamist scene. Of Jamaican origin Lindsay had followed his mother into Islam, taking the name Jamal and adopting an extreme jihadist version of his new faith. After his mother moved to the US in 2002, Lindsay lived on welfare benefits before becoming a carpet fitter. He married a white British convert to Islam and had a child. Between 19 November 2004 and 8 February 2005, Khan and Tanweer visited Pakistan, and probably had contact with Islamist terrorists. After the broadcast of Khan’s suicide video, Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a second tape in which he claimed that Al Qaeda had ‘launched’ the attacks in Britain.
The couple of years it takes to bring terrorists to trial, and rules governing sub-judice reporting, mean that the British justice system almost conspires to minimise the gravity of simultaneous and interrelated terrorist plots. After two-and-a-half years, people can no longer remember why half a dozen people were arrested one night in Leeds or Luton or what connection they had to some other group.110 On 21 July 2005 a further team of terrorist bombers, with obscure connections to the earlier group, including overlapping periods in Pakistan, launched a second wave of attacks on the London transport system. Four Eritrean, Somali and Ethiopian refugees, Muktar Said Ibrahim, Ramzi Mohammed, Yasin Hassan Omar and Hussein Osman, tried to explode devices on underground trains and a bus in central London, bringing chaos to the capital once again. The number 26 bus stopped directly below my wife’s offices. By virtue of the combination of chapatti flour and hydrogen peroxide to make the bombs, and the unseasonal heat, the bombs failed to explode after the detonators went off, although recreations of their probable effects showed that they would have been devastating. Each plastic bin used to house the bombs was wrapped in tape holding on bolts and screws that would have caused horrendous injuries.
Once again, extraordinary detective work resulted in speedy arrests. Omar was arrested in Birmingham on 27 July, bizarrely standing in a shower wearing a backpack, before he was felled with a taser stun-gun and a rifle butt. Said Ibrahim and Ramzi Mohammed were captured in a west London flat, emerging in their underwear, with their hands up and knowing their human rights. After fleeing to Italy disguised in a burqa and carrying a handbag, Hussein Osman was smoothly repatriated by the Italian authorities, in marked contrast to the prevarications Britain had practised with France, the US and dozens of other governments. A Ghanaian whose name may be Manfo Kwaku Asiedu was arrested in connection with these bombings after he abandoned his device. The hysterical climate these men knowingly engendered was indirectly responsible for the shooting, on 22 July, by Metropolitan Police officers of a Brazilian electrician at Stockwell Underground station whom they misidentified as a suspect and after police radios appeared not to function underground.
In the course of their five-and-a-half months in court, the accused attempted to turn their trial for murder into a trial of British foreign policy, while impertinently proffering their advice to newly anointed prime minister Gordon Brown. To advise on foreign policy one needs more experience and knowledge than that of the son of a northern chip shop owner. They claimed that their explosive devices were of symbolic import, rather than a deliberate attempt to murder their fellow citizens. This suggested a boundless conceit and an unawareness of how democracies function. One of the accused also offered to work for inter-faith reconciliation in the event of an acquittal. As he sentenced them to forty-year jail terms, the judge underlined that this was an Al Qaeda plot to murder at least fifty people, since the men were fully aware of the carnage similarly built bombs had caused on 7/7. The trial itself revealed that Ibrahim had served prison sentences for indecent assault and mugging a seventy-seven-year-old woman. He and his colleagues had also been allowed to travel to Pakistan, despite having camouflage kit, £2,500 cash and a manual on treatment of ballistic wounds in their luggage. At the time there was a warrant out for Ibrahim’s arrest for extremist activity, which was not acted on when he left and returned to Britain. Hussein Osman, who claimed to be Somali, was in fact an Ethiopian called Hamdi Isaac, whose lies should have disqualified him from asylum. Assuming they are ever released from prison, their asylum status or citizenship should be revoked and they should be deported, with any appeal having to be launched from outside British jurisdiction. Asiedu was later jailed for thirty-three years.111
More recent trials have revealed the extent to which Britain is in the firing line for Islamist terrorists. Operation Rhyme netted an Indian Muslim convert, Dhiran Barot, an Al Qaeda planner almost as malignly fertile as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. As Barot had had no job or visible sources of income after 1995, it can be assumed he was a high-level Al Qaeda professional terrorist in close contact with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He had high tradecraft skills, knowing how to circle a roundabout or to effect sudden changes of lane to throw off surveillance officers. Barot and his gang planned to blow up major financial centres in New York and New Jersey. In Britain they wished to convert stretch limousines into bombs laden with propane gas tanks, or to puncture one of the tube tunnels that run under the Thames in London.
A further group, brought to justice by Operation Crevice, targeted so-called ‘slags’ having a night out at London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub, a generic target also selected by the more recent West End bombers who wished to hit the Tiger White discotheque on ladies’ night. In other words, female behaviour, rather than British foreign policy, is legitimate incitement to mass murder by people whom many British people may privately regard as amoral, deracinated scum that has fetched up from various Third World hellholes. Three and a half thousand hours of bugged conversations also revealed that the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent was another major target in a conspiracy that planned to use a thirteen-hundred-pound fertiliser bomb. Members of the group included a would-be male model, an aspiring England cricketer, a gas employee (who stole from Transco the blueprints of Bluewater) and a student who had been radicalised by sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed at Langley Green mosque in Crawley.112
It seems probable, to most informed commentators, that the ‘war on terror’ is becoming what the generals call ‘the long war’ which may last for fifteen, thirty or fifty years. This may be the era of long small wars, in which experiences like Northern Ireland (thirty-seven years), Bosnia (fourteen) and Kosovo (seven) become normative, although one hopes that the elementary learning cycle is shorter than the decade this took in Northern Ireland. The purpose of such wars will have to be carefully and intelligently reiterated to domestic publics with short attention spans and a desire for a quick fix urged on them by the media. Attempts to impose artificial timelines and criteria of success or failure have to be resisted in favour of long-term goals—many of them cultural, economic or political—that are vulnerable to the West’s own relatively short electoral cycles and its investment in various foreign strongmen.113
Without wishing to be prescriptive, some problems raised in this book have prompted a few practical thoughts. Soldiers are only one element of a struggle that has something of the wearying futility of the game ‘whack a mole’as they try to suppress Al Qaeda, mainly by killing or capturing its leaders. Denying Al Qaeda operating and training space in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia is crucial to the interdiction of major terrorist attacks in the West. Unfortunately, reporting from exotic and violent locations does not make that domestic connection clear enough, so that the armed forces become detached from the societies that despatched them there. The British Ministry of Defence compounded the insult by refusing to award a special campaign medal for those involved in the battle of Helmand Province until a newspaper took up the cause. This is part of a wider failure to educate Western public opinion about what is at stake. In a sense, public diplomacy seems to have failed since 9/11, when there was briefly global unanimity regarding the barbarous nature of this atrocity. One can visit any number of radical Islamist bookshops in Britain to acquire visual materials which make clear at a glance the physical scope of the jihadists’ desired caliphate. Far harder is to connect up the sites of jihadist bloodshed into a picture of the sort of nihilistic chaos that sane people the world over seek to avoid, and to educate people about, say, the plurality of conflicts in the Middle East, to counteract a simple presumption of a single Arab-Israeli dispute. What the West needs to avoid at all costs is exclusive identification with authoritarian and repressive regimes, whether in the Middle East, North Africa or Central or South Asia, based on their eagerness to wage the ‘war on terror’. Mistakes made in Chechnya are being repeated in South Asia where local groups are being falsely assimilated to Al Qaeda. In the long run that will only result in oppositions coalescing around the jihadists, who will gain mass support they do not deserve.
Regarding the potential jihadists we have, it may be instructive to see what is done elsewhere. Take Riyadh, a place we normally do not look to for lessons. In 2003-4 Saudi Arabia experienced twenty-four terrorist attacks that killed ninety people, many of them Westerners employed in the kingdom. These attacks virtually stopped in 2004—6, and only partly because of large-scale raids to round up militants. The Saudi government introduced an imaginative scheme to wean those on the lower rungs of jihadism off extremism and back to normality. So far the scheme has been applied only to those who have been convicted not of violent offences, but of having jihadist literature and DVDs or low-level involvement in terrorism. A typical example would be twenty-two-year-old ‘Ali’, a Wahhabist student who started posting on an Al Qaeda website called Sawt al-Jihad. Then the police arrived. In prison ‘Ali’ was put through a programme based on how people are retrieved from sinister cults.114 Since 2004, two thousand prisoners have been through it, with seven hundred renouncing their earlier views and being released. The Interior Ministry has established a series of advisory committees, consisting of experts on Islam and psychologists, almost all of them drawn from the universities and mosques. Initially, the experts simply ask why the person is in jail, which leads to a discussion of their beliefs. The clerics concentrate on explaining to prisoners, who invariably have little or no grasp of the religion, that their understanding of it is false, based on corrupt and heretical understandings of Islam. This point is underlined by former jihadist prisoners who, having renounced their views, have become members of these advisory committees.
Those prisoners who respond to short two-hour conversation sessions are put into six-week courses, whose results are examined at the end. Those who pass go on to the next stage of the process, which eventuates in early release. A social and psychological committee assesses the prisoners’ wider needs, ensuring from the start that their families’ education, health and welfare are immediately taken care of in their absence. This is designed to limit radicalisation to the individual already in prison. Those who are released are helped with cars, jobs and housing, with single males encouraged to marry and start families. They are monitored by the secret police and its informers. Since one of the objects of cults is to detach people from their friends and families, the programme strives to re-establish such connections. The wider clan is encouraged to take responsibility for the individual released. According to the Saudis, the programme has an 80-90 per cent success rate, with only nine or ten prisoners having been rearrested for security offences. Saudi sceptics argue that a few more public beheadings of such people would achieve the same results. What this programme does show, however, is that Al Qaeda is ideologically vulnerable and not like an unstoppable machine hurtling towards its malign objectives. Its momentum can be checked.
Guantánamo-style arrangements, where all inmates are lumped together as ‘evildoers’, impede similar outcomes. Efforts, by their lawyers, to concentrate the increasing number of jihadist inmates in single wings of prisons should be resisted, not least because they will be followed with cries of abuse from Mudassar Arani, Gareth Peirce, Clive Stafford Smith and their ilk within about ten minutes.115
Although police and military activity is obviously vital, there are broader cultural issues at stake in what many claim is a latterday Cold War. During the Cold War, the West went to great lengths to advertise the superiority of its freedoms over totalitarian Marxist-Leninism, and this included covert CIA support for the work of Jackson Pollock. The Australian lawyer Peter Coleman wrote an outstanding book on these operations. Not much of this talk seems to translate into concrete policy suggestions as to how cultural warfare might actually be waged. Would it be primarily designed to subvert the jihadists’ ideology, or to solidify the West’s own morale? The old Atlanticist model does not seem particularly relevant if the victims of terrorism are also in Bali or Kenya while US conservatives heap scorn on ‘Euroids’. There are additional problems in reviving this tactic since we live in a less serious age, and one which has progressively marginalised high intellectual endeavour. Within my lifetime, academics studied such subjects as the comparative history of parliaments or war finance; they are now more likely to be experts on gay and lesbian body art, serial killers or the persecution of witches, rivalling television in their populist pursuit of the lurid or trivial. A glance through any catalogue of academic books—that is, those written in incomprehensible jargon and with pages of footnotes to prove earnestness—shows how unserious academics have become as a group. How can politicians defend Western values if their conception of them is to demonstrate familiarity with the Arctic Monkeys, while being almost embarrassed about going to the opera? All societies should do more to educate all their citizens in the history of the individuals and institutions that make living in them a relative privilege. This should include discussion of the historic separation of Church and state in the West, with religion confined to matters of public and private morality, and the advantages that accrue from local permutations of that broad arrangement. This has never prevented the religious from playing to their advantages in dealing with the depressed, elderly, suicidal and so forth.116
Ultimately the battle with jihadism will only be won by Muslims themselves, albeit with our discreet encouragement and involvement, because despatching huge armed forces is manifestly unsatisfactory, whether in creating more jihadists or exposing the West’s internal divisions and indisposition to suffer extensive casualties in what is, for the time being, still the age of pre-robotised warfare. It is salutary to recall that more British soldiers were killed in Northern Ireland in a single year than have so far perished in the entire campaign in Afghanistan. Since the suffering of the vast virtual ummah—which is not the suffering of Africa or Tibet—seems to be at the heart of contemporary problems with jihadism, anything that contributes to a sense of nation or statehood may reverse that tendency, as will anything that encourages the considerable number of reasonable people in Muslim countries who are historically averse to being ruled by overmighty clerics and their mob-like followers. Here the West might take a much greater interest in the high culture of these societies, since very often novelists and the like are on the front line, assuming they have not been killed. In one or two places, successful pop singers have bravely propagated anti-jihadist sentiments. They speak for large constituencies whom we need on our side, and we remain indifferent to them at our peril.
All of which is to say that the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds need to exercise more curiosity about each other. We should avoid the colonial cum multicultural approach of viewing highly variegated groups of individuals through the false prism of so-called community leaders, who invariably speak for a purposive coterie. That applies to both government and the mass media. One reason we have the problem of jihadism is that various Western institutions and professions are not treated with sufficient scepticism. Their massive political bias is simply accepted as in the nature of things, as if homogeneity of opinion had not been deliberately brought about over decades through clientelism and recruitment of the liberally likeminded, something ruefully acknowledged by the BBC.
Universities are allowed to use free-speech arguments to defend sinister Islamist organisations active on campuses, rather than challenged about their greed for high overseas fees. What are already highly politicised universities are allowed to receive dubious foreign funding for regional-studies or Islamic-studies programmes which are biased against Western interests, at a time when they routinely reject Western government funding if it emanates from the military.
Since Islamist terrorism is a deviant outgrowth of a religion, much attention needs to be paid to the terms on which that religion is permitted to function in non-Muslim societies. For a start, it should be directly related to how Muslim societies treat adherents of other faiths, or people who espouse none. The British government should flatly prohibit current plans to build a vast mosque in east London, until such time as Churches are allowed to operate in all Muslim countries without fear of persecution. Proselytism should also be based on a similar absolute quid pro quo. Allowing Wahhabism to grow in our societies just because of lucrative aircraft contracts is an outrage. Given the potential danger they constitute, Muslim clerics require careful supervision and training. The Dutch authorities have introduced an imam-licensing programme, based at such universities as Leiden, whose object is to create a responsible clergy who realise that integration is no barrier to practising their religion.117 The French have shown how close surveillance of what is preached in mosques can drastically lessen the likelihood of attack. The French, of course, are just as much signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights as any other member of the EU. The French internal security service, the Renseignements Généraux or RG, have had a section called Violent Fundamentalist Environment which not only watches mosques, but gets its hands on copies of each Friday’s prayers, which are collated and analysed. Using such indicators as encouragement to jihad, the RG asks the criminal police to summon the imam concerned, who (provided he is not a French national) can be threatened with expulsion under laws passed in the mid-1990s. The local city council will also warn the imam that all local funding for the mosque will cease. In 2005, eleven out of the thirty imams who received these warnings were expelled, with the remainder heeding this ultimate sanction. It might help, too, if mosques and imams ceased to be the primary Muslim role models, by encouraging alternatives drawn from business, charity, the arts and sports.118
In the wider world, Muslim governments should be held responsible for what is said by clerics on the state’s payroll, for it is obvious that they can control these clerics when it suits their domestic interests, and can turn them on or off like a pressure valve. Commercial contracts and aid should be contingent on unconditional co-operation with Western security interests. Western private and public pension funds have enormous power to discourage companies which use our money regardless of its wider political or strategic impact. Ethical investment is not confined to airlines, cigarettes or sweat shops, as the comptroller of New York City’s pension fund showed when he persuaded several giant corporations from Conoco to Halliburton to disinvest in Iran.119 Western advocacy of democratisation should follow, rather than precede, support for a secular civil society developed enough to challenge the Islamists who have often usurped that function in one-party dictatorships. If democracy merely leads to the election of parties which believe in ‘one man, one vote, one time’, then it is perhaps not worth encouraging at all. That also means investment in liberal, secular alternatives to the infrastructures Islamists have established—notably the madrassas, but also clinics and hospitals—starting with primary education, where the cartoon characters will no longer blow up Jews, and going on to Arabic translations for university students of the classical texts of Western freedom, from Burke to Orwell and Solzhenitsyn. We need a samizdat culture in reverse. The advent of an Arabic Booker Prize is encouraging. That might remind Muslims that the West consists of more than MTV or chatlines where one can ring pouting Pauline. The thrust of educational campaigns should be especially directed towards younger children, for they are as yet unradicalised, despite the best efforts of Hamas and the like to do so by having Mickey Mouse kill Jews.120
On a much larger scale, non-Arab Muslim states should be encouraged to contest the imperialist dominance, within the faith, of Arabic and Arab authorities, while the Arab states themselves should be enjoined to spread oil and gas wealth more fairly within their societies, so that young men have some meaningful careers other than that of full-time jihadist. The West has a direct interest in the creation of affluent and aspirant middle classes with a cosmopolitan outlook. Even in a predominantly Muslim society like Indonesia, where about twenty local districts and municipalities are currently trying to impose sharia law, there are plenty of people to protest against this. Women do not like having the lengths of their skirts dictated, and young couples do not like being arrested for kissing on a park bench or going dancing under so-called anti-pornography laws. In the industrial city of Tangerang, west of Jakarta, authorities made it illegal for a woman to go out after 7 p.m. unaccompanied by a man, despite there being numerous textile and Korean-owned shoe factories which rely on women working night shifts. A local mother of two out at night was convicted of prostitution because police found lipstick in her bag. The governor of Bali has threatened to secede if these laws are applied to Western tourist resorts, so catastrophic is the predicted effect on Bali’s economy.121
The West should also encourage moderate forms of Muslim orthodoxy, which stress the mystical and personal, as well as the ‘next-worldly’, both in the real and the virtual electronic realms. It should also grasp that Muslim fundamentalism is no more inherently menacing than its Christian, Jewish or secularist equivalents. Western priests and rabbis should understand that any ecumenical dialogues must automatically involve clear and unambiguous denunciation of terrorism by all of those involved and as a precondition for participation. It was dismaying to learn in August 2007 of the advice issued by Tiny Muskens, bishop of Breda, that Dutch Catholics should call God ‘Allah’, in the interests of easing tensions between Muslims and Christians. The abandonment of clerical appeasement and equivocation might also realign clerics with what most of their Christian parishioners think (92 per cent of more than four thousand people polled disapproved of bishop Muskens’s lame proposal). Since the jihadists exploit the internet so thoroughly, and since we apparently cannot emulate the Chinese or Singaporeans by controlling it, efforts need to be made to disrupt sites or to sow disinformation, about bomb making for example. Since most servers are US based, they should avail themselves of a new, free, electronic translation service so that they can comprehend what they are funnelling on to the internet, the precondition for the servers refusing to host such sites.
Above all, perhaps, all those opposed to terrorism should be highlighting the chaos and criminality that accompany jihadi-salafist activity and which would characterise their rule, judging from the only known instance of it under the Taliban. Islamist supremacism is as unattractive as any other, and equally relies on coercion and intimidation. The chaos and bloodshed we witness each day in Iraq are the element in which these people operate. The most reliable assessments of future Al Qaeda strategy suggest that they want to provoke an all-out Sunni-Shiite war, which will be a cataclysmic disaster for the Middle East. The jihadi-salafists have no positive vision, except the desire to visit chaos and bloodshed elsewhere. If that is clearly understood by enough people, particularly in the Muslim world, we may have a rather shorter long war. Looking back over the history of terrorism, we can see any number of ideological causes which once fed violent passions but which have passed into oblivion. These things take time. The Cold War lasted from 1947 to 1989. On that calendar, we are in the equivalent of 1953 in the struggle with the jihadi-salafis.122