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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY THREE: 10 July 2005 Part One The Bombings 'Would Have Happened Anyway'


Onto Part Two


Blair and his helpers


John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday today (page 27), dismisses the idea that al Qaeda 'is engaged in a military campaign in pursuit of negotiable objectives.' (John Rentoul's article can be bought here.) He writes, 'no one thinks that Blair's hard work on the Israel-Palestine question, or his rescue of the Muslims of Kosovo from attempted genocide, makes the slightest difference to Osama bin Laden's nihilist teachings.'


Rentoul asks, 'So why should a different policy on Iraq make a decisive change? The London bombings might not have happened had Britain not joined the invasion of Iraq, but they, or a similar attack, might have come anyway, motivated by a slightly rearranged set of mythic grievances.'


This line of argument is straight out of the Downing Street PR machine, and has been heard time and again throughout the last few days. It flies in the face of the facts.


Tony Blair mounted a truly audacious version of this line yesterday on BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'Take President Putin, who was passionately opposed to the war in Iraq and yet suffered Beslan. If you think of Bali and what happened there. If you think that even after the change of government in Madrid, the terrorists there were planning further terrorist acts before they were caught. Remember that September 11, the reason we went into Afghanistan, happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, before any of these issues, and that was the worst terrorist atrocity of all.' (Transcript by the Bloomberg news agency. Listen to the programme here.)




Firstly, the reason for the assault on the school in Beslan was, as everyone knows, Russia's brutal campaign against the people of Chechnya. The Economist commented after the school siege, 'The verified links between Chechen terrorists and al-Qaeda are few and tenuous... Islamic fundamentalism is borrowed from abroad; it would attract few sympathisers were it not for the misery created at home.'


The Economist continued: 'Russia's conflict in Chechnya is home-grown, nurtured in a republic that has been systematically destroyed in the struggle for power. Russia has tried to wipe out Chechnya's separatists, first through direct military force, and more recently through “Chechenisation”—ie, foisting the problem on to a local strongman (the latest luckless candidate, Alu Alkhanov, was put in place in rigged elections only two weeks ago). But the result has been to breed an anarchy in which soldiers and separatists alike kidnap and murder the innocent with impunity.'


The world's pre-eminent business magazine suggested that the solution might very well have to include 'extreme autonomy, possibly leading to properly negotiated independence... if that is what most Chechens want... Yet throughout the conflict, Mr Putin has refused to talk to moderate Chechens. Potential interlocutors have either turned extreme or lost support.'


One reason Mr Putin has been able to get away with refusing to negotiate is the support he has received from people like Tony Blair. Mr Blair's support for Russia's war has prolonged the tragedy in Chechnya, and makes more Beslans inevitable.


Mr Blair is using terrorism-resulting-from-Russia's-continuing-occupation-of-Chechnya as a reason for saying that terrorism-resulting-from-the-British-occupation-of-Iraq-and-Afghanistan has nothing to do with the occupation of either Iraq or Afghanistan. Bold.




Turning to the bombing in Bali, as Dilip Hiro points out in the Independent on Sunday today (page 30), 'Most of the [202] victims were tourists from Australia, which was one of the four countries that invaded Iraq in March 2003.' According to a summary by the BBC, those who carried out the bombing - of a nightclub used by foreigners - had been trying to bomb the US Embassy, but had turned to soft targets because of the level of security at the Embassy.


True, the bombing took place on 12 October 2002, five months before the invasion of Iraq, but it seems hard to see this attack as unconnected with US (and therefore Australian, and British) foreign policy.




Tony Blair makes much of the fact that the terrorists behind the Madrid bombings continued to plot attacks after the election of a government committed to withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq. Apart from the fact that politicians do not always fulfil their manifesto commitments, there is the point, once again, that the al Qaeda network is not only concerned with Iraq - it is also concerned with the occupation of Afghanistan.


After the Madrid terrorists were cornered and blew themselves up, a video was found in their flat: 'The alleged bombing mastermind, Serhane ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, known as "the Tunisian", is said to be the man seen warning Spain to get its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. "Should you not do this within the space of a week, starting today, we will continue our jihad (holy war) until martyrdom," the statement added.'


So the continuing preparations for attack actually underline the importance of foreign policy change as a condition for reducing the motivation for this kind of terrorism.


11 September


The attacks on New York and Washington were, as Mr Blair says, the worst terrorist incidents of recent years (if the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are placed, as they perhaps should be, in the more serious category of 'aggression'). It is true that those attacks preceded the recent US-UK invasions, and therefore could not have been caused by them. But the point that Mr Blair is avoiding is that these invasions have increased the risk of terrorist attack.


The instigator and planner of the 11 September attacks, a man known as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), has been interrogated by US intelligence about the preparation and planning process. The official US 9/11 Commission report contains the following description of the genesis of the attacks: 'KSM reasoned he could best influence U.S. policy by targeting the country's economy. KSM and [Ramzi] Yousef reportedly brainstormed together about what drove the U.S. economy. New York, which KSM considered the economic capital of the United States, therefore became the primary target.' (Report, page 153. Chapter 5 can be downloaded from the GPO.)


The key sentence here is: 'KSM reasoned he could best influence U.S. policy by targeting the country's economy.' The attacks were about US foreign policy. Bin Laden held the following exchange with a reporter from al Jazeera after the attacks:


Bin Laden: 'We kill the kings of the infidels, kings of the crusaders and civilian infidels in exchange for those of our children they kill. This is permissible in Islamic law and logically.'

Al Jazeera: 'So what you are saying is that this is a type of reciprocal treatment. They kill our innocents, so we kill their innocents?'

Bin Laden: 'So we kill their innocents, and I say it is permissible in Islamic law and logic.'


In 2004, bin Laden made the following remarks about the origins of 11 September in a speech: 'I say to you, Allah knows that it had never occurred to us to strike the towers. But after it became unbearable and we witnessed the oppression and tyranny of the American/Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind.'

'The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. This bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorised and displaced.'

'I couldn't forget those moving scenes, blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents, rockets raining down on our home without mercy... And the whole world saw and heard but it didn't respond.'

'In those difficult moments many hard-to-describe ideas bubbled in my soul, but in the end they produced an intense feeling of rejection of tyranny, and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors.'

'And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children...'


Bin Laden also referred to 'the oppressing and embargoing to death of millions as Bush Sr did in Iraq in the greatest mass slaughter of children mankind has ever known, and it means the throwing of millions of pounds of bombs and explosives at millions of children - also in Iraq - as Bush Jr did, in order to remove an old agent and replace him with a new puppet to assist in the pilfering of Iraq's oil and other outrages.'

He went on, 'So with these images and their like as their background, the events of September 11th came as a reply to those great wrongs, should a man be blamed for defending his sanctuary? Is defending oneself and punishing the aggressor in kind, objectionable terrorism? If it is such, then it is unavoidable for us.'


Various commentators have poured scorn on the idea that the World Trade Centre attacks really had their origins in 1982. However, there seems little reason to doubt that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network as a whole was and remains sincerely outraged by the behaviour of the Israeli government, or the sanctions on Iraq. These are a major part of al Qaeda's appeal to many Muslims around the world. (See our discussion of the June 2004 Zogby International poll of Arab attitudes to US foreign policy.)


The world was outraged by the 11 September attacks. Serious policy changes by the US and UK in relation to Israel and Iraq at that time could have united the world against al Qaeda, and perhaps brought that particular terrorist campaign to an end. Instead, Mr Blair chose to add to the grievances that al Qaeda plays on.


The JIC Warning


Recall that British intelligence warned precisely of the heightened risk of terrorist attacks a month before the invasion of Iraq.


In a report assessing the pre-war intelligence on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Government's Intelligence and Security Committee referred in passing to this warning. (The report is a 600kb pdf, available from the Cabinet Office.) On 10 February 2003, the Joint Intelligence Committee reported to the Prime Minister in the following way:


'The JIC assessed that al-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.' (p. 34, emphasis added)


British intelligence told Tony Blair explicitly and clearly before the war that invading Iraq would increase the risk of just the kind of bombings that have taken place in London.


George Galloway MP has based his own denunciation of the government on this revelation, which emerged in September 2003, and was highlighted in a report written by Glen Rangwala and Dan Plesch for the 'Impeach Blair' campaign. The Observer notes that 'Made by a more mainstream politician [than Mr Galloway], this claim could yet cause significant damage.' (page 18)

[To write in praising the paper for including a reference to the JIC warning, write to the Observer, with 'Letter to the Editor' in the subject line, and your full name and postal address]


The Avoided Point


Andrew Rawnsley comments in the Observer today that, 'Chronology makes a nonsense of the suggestion that al-Qaeda terrorism is a creation of the war.' He then goes on to make the equally cogent, and more relevant point that, 'it can't be denied convincingly either that Iraq has made London more of a target for Islamist terrorism.'

Onto Part Two


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This page last updated 10 July 2005






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