One of the most shocking revelations in the aftermath of the July 7 attack, whose second anniversary falls today, was that the four suicide bombers were born and bred in Britain. Two years on from the worst terrorist attack on British soil, and the nation is again trying to come to terms with another savage bomb plot.
This time the alleged jihadists, all but one of whom were born outside the United Kingdom, are suspected to have concealed their cruel intentions behind the reassuring white coats of doctors' uniforms.
The two doctors Bilal Abdulla, 27, and Kafeel Ahmed, 27, who allegedly were in the Jeep Cherokee loaded with a deadly cocktail of incendiary material into the frontage of Glasgow Airport, would make a classic textbook study for psychological profilers. They were trained in Baghdad where medicine is one of the most sought-after professions of the wealthy middle classes. The police are questioning five other suspects, three of whom we know are also doctors including Kafeel's brother, Sabeel, Mohammed Haneef, 27, from India, and Mohammed Asha, 26, described as a "brilliant" Jordanian brain surgeon. Yesterday, the police seized computers and other material from two hospitals in Australia as part of the investigation into the attempted car bombings. Four "migrant" doctors, who had previously worked in the NHS according to Australian police, have been questioned. On Monday, an Indian doctor, Mohammed Haneef, a cousin of the two men in the Jeep, was arrested as he was about to leave the country on a one-way ticket to Pakistan.
The profilers have plenty to keep them busy. The Glasgow suspects are the reverse of the widely held perception that suicide bombers are disaffected, radicalised young men, susceptible to brainwashing about the glories of martyrdom in the madrasses of Pakistan and Indonesia, and exploited by the al-Qa'eda high command. How much easier it would have been to comprehend if they had been poorly educated young men plucked from the back streets of Islamabad by the mullahs of hate to wage jihad. Instead, we have to ask why intelligent educated men would hate us so much that they would try to turn an airport departure lounge into an inferno and to incinerate hundreds in the London nightclub Tiger Tiger.
"The one overwhelming thing was that [these attacks] defied all of our assumptions," Peter Neumann, the director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College, London, told Time magazine this week.
But the backgrounds of the alleged terrorists come as no surprise to Ed Husain, a former member of the extremist Hizb ut-Tahir organisation which supports the killing of British soldiers in Iraq. It is now commonplace for the membership of jihad networks to be drawn from the professional or would-be professional classes. Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7/7 bombers, was university educated. So was Omar Sheikh who masterminded the filmed beheading of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist who was captured in Iraq. Omar Khyam, a cell ringleader who was convicted this year of a 2004 plot to blow up a London nightclub and shopping mall with fertiliser bombs, was a computer sciences student. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned 9/11 and other attacks had a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University. Osama bin Laden was an engineer.
"Al-Qa'eda is filled with people who are graduates from medical and engineering colleges," Husain says. "They regard scripture like a textbook, manual or medical handbook. In their minds, there is no room for any humanity based nuance or even alternative arguments. They have the arrogance of their advanced education, consider themselves to be above the rest, and to be absolutely right."
In France, too, the authorities have uncovered terrorist cells where the privileged upbringing of the young men gave no clue to their deadly intentions. "In Montpellier, we arrested three university students who had formed a cell after radicalisation from web sources but who previously were not interested in religion at all," says an intelligence source. "This happens anywhere people are seduced by radical discourse. We have to avoid falling back on stereotypes because they cause you to miss things."
Many of these young men have travelled far from home to study, which makes them particularly vulnerable to the influence of fundamentalist groups who actively seek to lure them in, and to the jihadist chat rooms on the net. Marc Sageman, a former CIA agent and author of Understanding Terror Networks, says: "They are much more vulnerable as they are away from their families and they are deliberately targeted for this reason."
Ed Husain rejects the idea that the planned bombings were an attack on the Western way of life. "These bombers also hate Muslims. They have abandoned mainstream Islam and have no qualms about killing Muslims, whether they are in Iraq, or at a British airport, or nightclub. They see the rest of the world as being the domain of the infidel. They are intent on cleansing the entire world and putting in its place their own puritanical creed." More alarmingly, he adds: "You are wrong if you think that they are from a small minority. They are a vocal minority with significant numbers."
The rise of the radical professional classes is attracting the attention of academics from organisations such as the London and Washington-based Centre for Islamic Pluralism. Its directors, Stephen Schwartz and Irfan Al-Alawi, write that the West has misunderstood the threat of radical Islam: "...it is less a product of misery and the sense of extreme oppression than of the thwarted aspirations of the Muslim middle-classes".
While Western doctors are baffled that their Muslim counterparts are suspected to have abandoned the desire to preserve life and engage in an attempt at mass-murder, Schwartz and Al-Alawi point to the belief that Islam and science are inextricably linked and that "a fundamentalist view of religion will lead to a revival of Muslim science, such as existed in the Islamic golden age...".
All the suspects under arrest are adherents of the Wahhabi doctrine which dates back to 18th-century Arabia. Bilal Abdulla, 27, is a devotee of the extreme form of the Wahhabi teaching, which advocates "hate and hostility to infidels and polytheists".
Some Middle East commentators have argued that the would-be bombers were motivated by the civilian killings in Afghanistan and Iraq. But one suspect is said to regard the Taliban, who routinely butchered their own people for the crime of adultery, homosexuality or for a woman showing too much flesh, as the leaders of the definitive moral society. And Mr Husain, whose book, The Islamist, exposed the workings of Hizb ut-Tahir, is contemptuous of the idea that the latest plots were inspired by the West's intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is just an excuse. They reject Western culture full stop, not just 'slags in night clubs'. They would have supported the bombing of Muslims attending the cinema in Cairo in the 1950s. They do not want Muslims to enjoy social freedoms. If it was not Iraq they would cite Chechnya. Or Palestine. These are angry men. Accommodation is not an option. It has to be containment or annihilation."
So what was their motivation? After 9/11 we were told that the suicide bombers believed that their "sacrifice" would see them into paradise where they would be rewarded by the services of 72 young virgins. Prof Anthony Glees, the director of the Centre for Intelligence Studies at Brunel University, dismisses this as a factor in the latest attempted suicide bombing: "They will have believed that their deaths as martyrs would be the tipping point for the victory of the many. They would have been convinced that their deaths would have encouraged other young men and women to come forward. That is the whole point of being a martyr. I fear that if they had succeeded they might not have been wrong."
Marc Sageman agrees, describing suicide bombers as the "rock stars" of the militant Islamic community. "They think they will be revered as heroes after they have died - and they will be. They will be glorified on thousands of jihadist websites. They are willing to die and to kill to lead the vanguard for the creation of a universal Muslim community."
After a week of headlines dominated by the terror threat, moderate Muslims fought back yesterday with full-page advertisements in national newspapers making clear that the intended attacks were "not in our name".
However, Professor Glees estimates that there are up to 200,000 potential martyrs, at universities at home and abroad, who are susceptible to recruitment. "There are huge reservoirs to draw on," he warns - a potentially terrifying fact that the police and intelligence agencies must now ponder.
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