Al-Qaeda Future Attacks
Al-Qaeda Future Attacks
Jason Burke (Author) gives expert video advice on: Are we in imminent danger?; Why do Al Qaeda target civilians?; What is our foreign policy doing to our domestic security? and more...
Are we in imminent danger?
We are in danger, whether that is imminent danger or distant danger is almost impossible to tell. There are a lot of people who want to cause significant damage to civilians in Europe - in the UK, in America and are researching the means to do so. That necessarily puts us in danger. Are our ways of life in danger? Probably not. Al Qaida has thrown a fair amount at us in the last five years. We have suffered a number of militant attacks that have been very frightening, that have killed numbers of people; and our democracies, our ways of life, have largely held firm. We are in danger but we shouldn't exaggerate the nature of that threat.
Why do Al Qaeda target civilians?
From a militant's perspective, civilians are no longer civilians. The logic, twisted though it may be, is that because we live in Western democracies where we can vote for our government, we have a responsibility for those governments' actions, a collective responsibility and, therefore if those government's are responsible for something the militants see as justiflying an attack that means we have all become targets. It's a twisted logic but it's a very effective one, paticularly when it's pushed out by clever and sophisticated propaganda and recruiters of some sort.
What is our foreign policy doing to our domestic security?
There was a threat to the UK, Europe, the US before the invasion of Iraq and before the war in Afghanistan. However, particularly since the war in Iraq that threat has become far more serious. What our foreign policy does in the Middle East or Southeast Asia has a direct impact on how we are perceived and on how easy or difficult it is for the militants to be able to recruit. How convincing their argument that the West is attacking Islam becomes. So there is a link between recruitment and our foreign policy in the Middle East or elsewhere. Where it becomes more complicated is whether that foreign policy is strategically, globally further down the line, the best way of protecting us even if in the short term there is a cost in terms of hearts and minds. And there are a people who will argue strongly on both sides of that debate.
What are the chances of an Al-Qaeda strike in the UK?
There is a strong chance that at some stage, in the next however many years, there will be another militant attack that is successful in the UK. Every 3-6 months, we see another attack that has been uncovered, some of which are more serious threats than others, but all of which indicate that there is activity. There is activity that is aimed at a terrorist attack. And eventually one of those is likely to get through, as it is likely to get through in many countries elsewhere in Europe. And that is something we have just going to live with, as we lived with our Republican terrorism through the 70's and 80's. That is a reality that we are going to live with for the unforeseeable future.
What are the chances of an Al-Qaeda strike in other countries?
The three countries that are most at risk, due to the prominence they have, and due to their own specific vulnerabilities, are the US, Israel, and Britain. The US because it is the Great Satan, Israel for the obvious historic reasons, Britain because we are in the front line in a way that other countries aren't because of our foreign policy and our close support to the United States. Because people who can't get to the US can get to the UK more easily, and because we have historic cultural links with Pakistan, which is where, for the moment, the Al-Qaeda hardcore are most operative, or have most of their bases. Those three factors make the UK far more of a target than it was, for example, five years ago, or certainly ten years ago.
What forms will future attacks most likely take?
There is a chance that future attacks will be of a apocalyptic, nuclear, chemical, biological nature, though it is a slim one and remains a slim one. The attacks are likely to continue on the sorts of lines we have seen over the last few years which is big bomb attacks, suicide attacks against mass transport systems, against perhaps targets of symbolic cultural, military, political value which are not particularly well protected. There may be a more ambitious attack, that depends on how well the outsider hardcore can reconstitute its organisational and practical ability to run overseas terrorist attacks.
What would it take on our part to stop Al-Qaeda attacks tomorrow?
If you look at a terrorist attack, you can break it down into a series of links that have to come together. At one end, there are the obvious things that you can do, for example, to armor a target better so you can put barriers outside the Houses of Parliament, you can put soldiers in stations. Further down the line you have intelligence work, counterterrorism work, which can be very effective. Continue down the chain and you're into what makes people want to commit radical attacks - they're not mad, there's no evidence scientifically that terrorist over the ages are psychologically ill. They seem to be acting, at least they think they're acting, in a rational way with what are those factors that make them act in that way and here we're into the profound, very complex areas of social factors, cultural factors, historical factors, religious factors, economic factors, factors of relative deprivation, identity, so on so forth that lead an individual into a path of radicalism and allow him to be convinced that blowing himself up in a bus is the right thing to do. That is a hugely complex area, but it's not an area that is entirely without any possibility of improving - there are things that can be done. They are slow, they take a lot of time, they're complicated, but that threat can eventually be mitigated through policy action.
Will Al-Qaeda ever start talking to us?
No. It is impossible to negotiate with what we can generally call Al-Qaeda. With hardcore Islamic militants. What you can try and do is stop people being recruited into Al-Qaeda, for want of a better word; to stop people following the radicalization process. Once they become fully radicalized it becomes very very difficult to do anything else other than put them in prison or stop them acting in another way.