U.K.: A Warning In London?
By Roman Kupchinsky
22 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Various, and sometimes contradictory, analysis has already emerged in the aftermath of the four London "incidents" on 21 July -- three apparently coordinated minor explosions at the Oval, Warren Street, and Shepherd's Bush underground stations and another on a bus in east London.
On the one hand, Scotland Yard appeared determined to downplay the incident by emphasizing the apparent failure of the explosions. "Clearly the intention must have been to kill.... There were four explosions, or attempts at explosions," Sir Ian Blair, the head of Scotland Yard, told a news conference in central London on 21 July. "I think the important thing is that the intentions of the terrorists have not been successful."
Timing And Probabilities
But some aspects of the events might suggest that the intention of the terrorists was to provoke panic and anger toward the Islamic community, not necessarily to kill.
The first is the timing of the incidents. While the 7 July attacks took place during morning rush hour, yesterday's mini-blasts occurred at approximately 12:30 p.m., not during morning peak hours.
Moreover, early eyewitness accounts generally echoed this one, reported by "The Washington Post" on 21 July: "Witnesses described sharp bangs that created acrid clouds of thick white smoke." That suggests that some type of device did in fact explode, filling the metro with smoke, and the explosion on the bus blew out or cracked the windows. Some find it hard to believe that four bombs malfunctioned at the same exact time or that the detonators were not connected to the bombs.
Simply put, the fact that the terrorists used nonlethal devices during a time of lower passenger usage could have been meant to create panic as opposed to injury. The 21 July attackers would have shown the British public and security forces that they are still able to strike when and where they wish, and that the mass-transit system in London cannot be fully protected, even when it is on the high alert status of 21 July.
The psychological impact these latest attacks might have on Londoners is difficult to predict, but it could have the effect of galvanizing opposition in Great Britain to the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts.
Moreover, it could also precipitate a strong anti-Muslim backlash in England, which could conceivably lead to racial tensions and increase Islamic militancy in the country.
If that is the intent of the organization behind the attacks in London, then the tactic could indeed be a powerful tool that might be used in other countries with large Muslim populations.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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