Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Al Qaeda threat in UK

The Economist (May 3) has a fascinating article on the surveillance of potential terrorists in the UK, how it has resulted in major plots being aborted and also how it failed to prevent the sub-way bombings of July 2005. It provides details of one successful operation, "Operation Crevice".

"Operation Crevice”, as the investigation was known, was at the time the biggest anti-terrorist operation in Britain. At its peak in February and March 2004, it consumed some 34,000 man-hours of intelligence and police work. The plotters' homes and cars were bugged, hidden cameras recorded them in internet caf├ęs and undercover agents followed their movements around the clock.

The British authorities' ability to neutralise the bombing campaign is an important success, but it will also be remembered for a catastrophic failure: two of the four suicide-bombers who blew themselves up in London on July 7th 2005, at first said to have come “out of the blue”, had in fact been spotted with Mr Khyam's gang several times (in our picture, the two bombers flank Mr Khyam, who is second from right). But they were thought to be peripheral and were not followed up

Surveillance and counter-insurgency in the UK have moved into top gear. But the presence of a large Muslim population and its susceptibility to radicalisation mean that a terrorist threat is even present.

Counter-terrorism officials feel frustrated that the succession of court cases, such as the conviction of Mr Khyam and his fellow plotters, is failing to build more public trust. Partly this is because it can take two years for cases to come to court, and partly it is because of legal restrictions on public reporting before trials (and increasingly during and even after them, to avoid prejudicing other prosecutions).

Greater public trust is vital to improving the flow of information about extremists. For the moment, says Mr Clarke, most terrorism-related investigations begin with intelligence gathered from foreign governments, intelligence agencies or electronic eavesdropping. In other words, many Muslims are reluctant to report co-religionists to the police, even if they disagree with their militant views. Unless the code of silence is broken, more bombers will inevitably get through

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