The thwarted British bomb plot reveals, once again, the hideous face of terrorism in the modern world. But for the vigilance of Britain’s MI5 internal security service, with vital help from American and Pakistani intelligence agencies, 10 jumbo jets flying from Britain to the United States would likely have been blown out of the sky. The potential death toll, 3,000 or so people aboard the planes plus many more dead on the ground if the aircraft crashed into American cities, would have equaled or surpassed the 9/11 catastrophe.
British Scotland Yard Inspector Paul Stephenson put it aptly enough: "This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale."
What manner of war is this when murderous fanatics plot to slaughter, quite deliberately, thousands of innocents? For any among us who are still in denial, for any still tempted to dismiss the war on terror as political hype, what say you now?
What more evidence would you need after the bombings of our embassies in East Africa, after the Khobar Towers and the USS Cole, after the World Trade Center, after Bali and Madrid, after the London subway bombings, and now this, to conclude the inescapable — that this is a war of sheer barbarism waged against civilization itself?
The two dozen alleged conspirators, bomb makers and would-be suicide killers apprehended in dawn police raids in Britain are described as mostly young British Muslims of Pakistani descent. What might their motives have been?
Poverty and oppression? They lived in the leafy, middle-class suburbs of London, to which their parents and grandparents eagerly emigrated. The war in Lebanon? Their monstrous plot to blow up civilian airliners in mid-flight was many months in the making, starting long before the fire in the Levant. British support for Israel? Britain has been studiously even-handed for half a century in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Britain’s role in Iraq? British troops are concentrated in Basra where they serve mainly to protect a heavily Shiite Muslim population from terrorist attacks. Britain in Afghanistan? British soldiers there defend a freely elected Muslim government as part of a multinational NATO and American force invited to help preserve Afghanistan’s 2001 liberation.
The jihadists’ case against America, exemplar of the West and friend of Israel, is more obvious. But remember that al-Qaeda’s jihadists were killing Americans years before George W. Bush was president and before anyone invaded Iraq. Remember, too, that planning for 9/11 began when Bill Clinton was president.
No, this is jihadist rage against all things Western; indeed, against all things non-Muslim. From bin Laden’s al-Qaeda to Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic jihad and terrorist cells from Hamburg to Herat to Hyderabad to India’s Mumbai, the goal is the global Islamic caliphate – conversion by the sword.
To these deadly zealots, we are all "crusaders and Jews," legitimate targets fit only for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s prescription for Israel; to be "wiped off the map."
Yes, for every jihadist twisting Islam into a creed of violence and terror there are many thousands of Muslims who practice their faith peacefully, are exemplary citizens of countries around the world and who abhor terrorism. But that still leaves legions of radicals willing to stop at nothing in pursuit of their messianic 7th century dream of Islamic glory and dominance. For them, we are all targets. For them, the Western world especially is a living affront to Islam.
It is for this sick ideology of lethal hatred and intolerance that dozens of homegrown jihadists in Britain schemed to wreak a bloodbath equaling 9/11.
That they failed is a tribute to good intelligence, the front-line soldiery of the war on terror. Reportedly, that intelligence began with an alarm-ringing tip from Pakistan and was vitally amplified by America’s Central Intelligence Agency and, no doubt, by the signals-monitoring National Security Agency. The painstaking work in the trenches was done over many months by Britain’s MI5, the U.K.’s highly competent internal security service.
Only the determinedly dense could miss the obvious lessons in this for America’s own debates over counterterrorism intelligence gathering.
A beleaguered President Bush could score some useful points by noting that the foiled British bomb plot shows exactly why we need a Patriot Act, an NSA free to monitor terrorist communications and a Treasury Department-CIA team tracking terrorist finances. What’s it worth to prevent another 9/11 and save thousands of lives?
The roots of Britain’s parliamentary democracy date back 800 years. That doesn’t preclude Britain from wielding MI5 as a bulwark against domestic terrorism without having its secrets printed in the newspapers and its life-saving work hobbled by naive critics living in a dream world. There’s a lesson there for Americans who might not want to be blown up on their next trans-Atlantic flight.
So, this time the horror was averted. Let there be no excuse now for not knowing our enemy and not doing what it takes to defend ourselves, and our civilization.