Death whispered again. First in Westminster and this time in Manchester. Whether it was a lone wolf, suicide attack, sleeper cell, terrorist network, imported jihad, conspiracy, cut out or an eye wash, the truth of the matter remains that 22 precious lives were taken away and love was lost for many families.
The deadly thought of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan gradually haunting England raises several pertinent questions: Is there a real ending to this phenomenon that emerged with Al Qaeda’s destruction of US embassies in 1990’s? Was the world not going to be a safe place after OBL’s death in 2011? Is there an end to this long war?
The suicide bomber of Manchester has been identified as Salman Abedi, a 22 year-old British born young lad in 1994, who is the son of Libyan parents who fled Libya some time ago. Ramadan Abedi and Samia Abadaal, parents of Salman Abedi are Libyan born refugees who fled to UK in 1993 because of Gadhafi. Some sources note that his father also participated in rebellion against Gadhafi. Salman joined Salford University in 2014 but was dropped off after two years. The neighbours and family friends describe the family as religious (depending on how Abedi’s defined religion).
The American and French intelligence sources have revealed that he has been to Syria as well and he may have turned radicalized in his trip of Syria. In fact French Interior has commented that Salman had confirmed links with ISIS. Some family sources also disclosed that he had a recent three weeks trip from Libya.
The NBC News stated a US Intelligence Official who told that Salman’s family warned officials in UK about his out of ordinary thinking and suspicious activities in the past. Now this is an interesting revelation. On the other hand, Abedi’s sister has told officials that her brother may have done this attack as a mean to obtain revenge on children being killed in Syria by American bombings. While Salman’s father strongly condemned the attack by saying that they do not believe in killing innocents.
This was not the first time when Manchester experienced a deadly blast. Manchester City has experienced a blast in 1996 by Irish Republic Army (IRA) which injured more than 200 people and costed insurers more than 1.27 billion pounds. But this blast has taken place in an entirely different context and diverse circumstances.
Combating the situation:
According to MI5, the terrorist threat level in UK has increased to critical, meaning an attack can be forthcoming.
- As soon as the investigation progresses, more details will emerge on how Salman got radicalised and chose this path. But the role of social factors and surroundings would play a crucial part. Street violence, gang wars etc. have given rise to extremism, lack of patience and a desire to join terrorist outlets on the very streets of Britain. Two Libyan women who left UK to join ISIS last year belonged to the same locality as Salman.
- The British Governments have, over a period, failed to address issues of employment, housing etc. and that has resulted in culturally displaced generations of Britons who have a loss of identity. They are most likely to associate themselves with an international terror group.
- Islam is not properly interpreted or educated to Muslims in Britain. In fact, the concept of Takfir (declaring Muslims as non-believers) is mixed with the urban culture of street crime, rapes, drugs, gang wars and finds refuge in the myopic concept of suicide bombing jihad or radicalised view of the world. It is the responsibility of Muslim communities to educate their children properly in Islam and tell them the real meaning and actual depth of Islam. The religious schools and other faith related institutions must instil in their students the real essence of Islam that preaches the concepts of equality, freedom, peace, harmony and respect.
- The Government has made a lot of investment in counter radicalisation and counter terrorism measures and tools since 2004. Prevent Duty, CONTEST etc. have been reinforced in order to stop events of similar nature from happening. But it is extremely difficult to track and prevent low profile attack plots where vehicles, small bombs and knives are used to spread terror. Al Qaeda has lost its capability to mount a big attack of the magnitude of 9/11 but ISI has learnt its lessons from Al Qaeda’s weaknesses. They will continue to mount small scale attacks with involvement of least technology to spread terror in future and British security establishment has to find measures to stop the small-scale actors.
- UK military has been ordered to patrol streets and protect the citizens from potential acts of terror and cowardice. This action has its advantages and disadvantages too. Involving military would provide a sense of extra layer of safety and security but, in the long term, it affects the morale of police and other law enforcement agencies. This step would increase dependence on troops and less credibility for police departments. Military also gets distorted from its usual role to a more closer contact with public which sends waves of uncertainty and fear among the public. Therefore, the Government has to find another solution soon to military deployment.
- The harder it becomes for radicals to travel to Syria or Iraq, the easier it would become for them to stay in West and execute attacks locally. The physical Caliphate of ISIS may vanish in few years but the worrying factor is the presence of virtual Caliphate. People do not need to join terrorist camps to get education on extremism. They can access each and everything on the internet, thanks to globalisation. Social media has made the job of ISIS and Al Qaeda very easy by providing them media that can be used to radicalise people anywhere in the world.
- In my opinion and experience in the past with radicalization in Pakistan, the attacks like Manchester can only be stopped through knowledge of mind set and intent of small scale terrorists, deradicalize them or stop them and neutralise their limited capabilities. This could only be done through excellent intelligence capabilities or community involvement.
- The British Government must combat with the threat of people turning against Muslim minority in northwest of England following this sad incident. This region is less integrated as compared to other parts of the UK. Majority turning against minority would further provide a fodder for future radicalization and extremism.
- In the last two years, Osama’s son Hamza bin Laden has released at least four threat messages where he has invited Muslims to launch attacks against the West. He has urged to launch any type of attacks whether large or small on West without the distinction between public or law enforcement agencies. This is something that intelligence community and governments must rethink and find a mechanism to stop such publicity. We must understand the real place of Osama bin Laden among the radicals and extremists who firmly believe that he was not just a terrorist. His branding remains among his followers even after his death. In his last 10-minute audio message released, he is heard calling on followers to launch attacks on Jews, Americans, and Westerners by using whatever means available, not limited to the use of ammunition but other options such as knives and other deadly weapons and tools.
- Sources from US Intelligence have revealed that Salman Abedi and his father Ramadhan had links with the Libyan Fighting Islamic Group (LIFG), a group that was involved in fighting against Gadhafi in 2011. Many fighters in this group were part of the anti-Soviet war of 1980’s and trained by the US coalition forces. They may have backing from Western forces in 2011 as well to get rid of Gadhafi. Elder Abedi is known to be a part of LIFG who settled in the UK because of direct threats from Gadhafi’s regime. Another interesting fact is this that former MI6 agent and whistle blower David Shayler claims involvement of the agency in supporting a plot for killing Gadhafi in 1996, with the help of the same LIFG, a claim which is strongly denied by the British Government.
The NATO and other Western alliances must learn from the lessons of anti-Soviet war that gave birth to Al Qaeda and Taliban who were once strong allies and friends of West but turned into worst enemies in the events following 1990’s and 2001.
Attributing blame to the MI6, MI5 or other law enforcement agencies for not knowing about the matter beforehand is uncalled for. Intelligence is not an exact science. Intelligence agencies are very upright at providing warnings of a strategic nature but not as efficient when it comes to tactical matters. To stop these events from happening in future, the burden of responsibility must be shared among society, educationists, economists, social reformists, NGO’s etc. This alliance or partnership can only ensure that attacks like this can be exposed beforehand and people like Salman can be spotted at earlier stages and helped to get deracialized or properly handled.