Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the public portion of the War on Terror has been largely prosecuted far away from the United States, a fact which positively demonstrates the war’s success (to this point) in preventing terrorist attacks on the American homeland. Unfortunately, the remoteness of known combat operations, combined with the success in preventing attacks here, has had a disappointingly negative effect on Americans’ view of the war, and of the terrorist threat that still faces us — despite the fact that terrorist attacks have both taken place, and been publicly thwarted, in countries as geographically (and strategically) close to us as Canada, Spain, and Great Britain.
The most recent — and perhaps most bone-chilling — plot came to light just last week, when nine Muslim men, of combined British and Pakistani origin, were arrested in a heavily Pakistani area of Britain near Birmingham (about 120 miles north of London) called the "Balti triangle," in what the British Home Office called part of a "nationwide operation" and "a reminder of the real and serious nature of the terrorist threat we [all still] face."
The plot was to abduct an individual British soldier — a Muslim male in his early 20s, who had served in Afghanistan — off the streets of Birmingham (the site of multiple military hospitals where many wounded British troops are currently receiving inpatient and outpatient care) in broad daylight. The captive was to be filmed being tortured and begging for his life, which would ostensibly be spared if Prime Minister Tony Blair were to promise a complete withdrawal of British forces from Iraq and Afghanistan; however, regardless of Blair’s response, the soldier was to be beheaded, eventually, by his captors — again, on film.
The arrests marked the end of six months of surveillance by MI5, and were carried out at this time because, according to a source in the British security service, the suspects "were ready to go." Their first target, whose name, correctly, was not released, is now in protective custody, and police are currently in the midst of what West Midlands assistant chief constable David Shaw called a "very, very major investigation" that would take "days, if not weeks" to complete.
The kidnapping — and public torture and execution — of one soldier would have had a catastrophic effect on the people of Britain, both military (who now have cause to fear for their life, both on and off duty) and civilian. Further intelligence recovered from the arrest sites, though, revealed a list of no fewer that thirty targets for abduction — all male soldiers in their 20s, all Muslim.
"Lessons are being learned from what terrorists such as [the late Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi [have been] doing elsewhere and the impact they have," said Peter Neumann, director of defense studies at King’s College in London, after news of the plot came to light. "You don’t require any resources or bomb-making techniques; all you need to do is to kidnap someone. Taking a hostage requires very little resource or preparation, just two or three determined individuals prepared to execute someone and put it on the internet."
"As we saw in Iraq with the kidnappings carried about by Zarqawi," Neumann continued, "you get weeks of exposure with very little effort and only a small risk after the initial hostage-taking. … A gruesome public execution creates a huge impact."
The horrific, videotaped abductions, torturings, and beheadings of civilians and soldiers alike in Iraq have long demonstrated Islamic terrorists’ understanding of their trade, and of how to best get our attention — and they have exploited that understanding (and the complicity of our media) to the fullest. However, the fact that these events have almost exclusively taken place halfway around the world, combined with the fact that, with a simple click of the remote control, any further information on, or consideration of, such brutal actions can be altogether avoided, has likely made the gravity — and gruesomeness — of these atrocities far less real to the Western public than it would be if they were taking place here at home.
Were this plot successful — like the Canadian plot before it — then all of that would change, and a genuine panic would likely take hold.
These arrests backed up the warning issued just before Christmas by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, director-general of MI5, that "terrorist cells are active in mainland Britain" — a fact already supported by her recent disclosure that MI5 currently has 3,000 agents investigating approximately 200 separate plots, involving 1,600 young British Muslims.
Lest anybody get the wrong idea about the sensitivity of the British government, though, the West Midlands Police department released a statement Wednesday, which comfortingly informed a concerned public that the police were "mindful that communities, locations or individuals don’t become a target as a result of recent events," and added, "Hate crime will not be tolerated, and we will take robust action where necessary."
The existence of this plot should reinforce to all of us, whether in Britain or safely (for now) in the United States, the very real — and very current — threat posed by the radical Islamists who still, five years after 9/11, wish to kill us all. Despite the best intentions of the peace-first crowd, concessions will not work. The only currency known to our enemy is strength, and any other recourse will not be seen as an act of good faith, but as an act of supreme weakness — and will not bring about a peaceful end, but will encourage more violence on the part of those who oppose us.
It is not for the sake of political victory, or of permanent alliance, that we must now band together and support both our country and our soldiers and police as they take the fight to the enemy; rather, it is for the sake of our very survival. The enemy — declared to be so by their actions, not by our whim — has shown again and again that they have the will to fight on, against soldiers and civilians alike, as long as it takes to wear down and defeat us. Do we have the will to fight back, and to overcome those who will be appeased by no end but total victory or total defeat?
Do we have a choice?