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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Preliminary Observations from the June 2007 UK Plots

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By Jeffrey Cozzens

On June 29, the Tiger Tiger nightclub in London was targeted by a gas cylinder-based car bomb studded with shrapnel—one of two found in central London. The following day, two men, Kafeel Ahmad and Bilal Abdullah, rammed a Jeep Cherokee into the Glasgow airport in an apparent attempt to detonate the petrol canisters under their car. The men were allegedly combative, they apparently mumbled prayers as the vehicle burned and one left a "suicide" note behind (The Telegraph, July 6). As the investigation has unfolded, British authorities believe that those behind the Glasgow attempt were also conspirators in the failed London plot—a paradigm resembling the 2004 Madrid bombers, who conducted stand-off attacks followed days later by a "martyrdom" operation. Although the investigation process is in its infancy, the following analysis drawn from the available data elicits key initial observations that situate these plots within the broader context of jihadi activism in Britain. The focus concerns the composition of the suspected cell and the tension between its global and homegrown features.

A Departure from Previous Plots

Empirical data indicates that the June suspects represent a different face in Britain's battle against global jihad. First, the overall ethnic composition of the alleged cell is unique. Unlike the would-be July 21, 2005 (7/21) bombers and the July 7, 2005 (7/7) attackers—cells comprising largely homogeneous ethnic groups (East African and South Asian, respectively)—two of the three charged in the plot (as of June 15) are from India, as was the alleged driver of the Jeep that rammed the Glasgow airport, Kafeel Ahmed. Sabeel Ahmed and his cousin, Australian resident Muhammad Haneef, both studied medicine at Rajiv Gandhi University (BBC News, July 16). Besides the convicted al-Qaeda-linked plotter, Dhiren Barot—an India-born Muslim convert who cased targets in and around New York City, Washington and London—there have been few, if any, Britons of Indian ancestry convicted of participating in jihadi plots targeting the United Kingdom (BBC News, November 7, 2006). The alleged involvement of these individuals demonstrates that radicalization into violent activism in the name of Islam respects neither ethnicity nor nationhood—even if camaraderie and kinship further the process—and fights against these identity markers in the name of the global "community of believers" (the ummah).

There are other distinguishing characteristics of the accused group. Unlike many previous jihadi plots and attacks in the United Kingdom (including the "Operation Crevice" cell, the 7/7 attackers and the autumn 2006 "planes" plot), there is no data thus far to indicate the involvement of Muslim converts. Converts to radical Islam have figured prominently in European-based jihadism (arguably because of their accelerated embrace of Salafi-Jihadi activism in their quest for "authentic Islam"), and the absence of such in this plot could indicate a more international cast of organizers.

Further, as has been widely observed, the alleged plotters are upwardly mobile professionals, not the petty criminals, thugs and unemployed rank-and-file from many previous UK-based cells. This is in no way a new development within the global jihadi movement at

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