They had roots in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Jamaica: the suspected al-Qaida foot soldiers in Britain were immigrants or were children of immigrants – a new breed of recruits that underscores the changes in the organization since the Sept. 11 attacks, say experts studying the London bombings.
These experts, who include a pioneer in personality profiling, say al-Qaida, always loosely knit, is mutating into satellites that attract local operatives bound by disenchantment with the Western societies in which they grew up. It is no longer a hierarchy with Osama bin Laden calling the shots, they say.
“Al-Qaida version 1.0 is functionally dead,” said Jerrold Post, a founding director of the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior. “Al-Qaida version 2.0 is almost more an ideology. … It’s an adaptive organization responding to a crisis.”
With its founding fathers in hiding, and dozens of key operatives under watch, al-Qaida has changed. No longer considered capable of large transnational attacks, it is taking advantage of people who don’t have to cross borders, receive cash from abroad or engage in other international transactions that might alert authorities, said Brian Jenkins, a senior adviser to the president of the Rand Corp.
“We are now dealing with many little al-Qaidas with the potential of neighborhood al-Qaidas,” Jenkins said. “They may not be able to carry out specialized operations … but they can still operate at a lethal level.”
The diffuse nature of the shape-shifting al-Qaida is one reason it’s hard to fight. Security services may crack one cell but find little connecting it to others. Police in Britain have failed so far to charge anyone in the July 7 attacks on three subway trains and a bus that killed 52 and four suicide bombers ? an attack authorities said bore al-Qaida hallmarks.
“This is not the Prussian general staff,” Jenkins said, arguing that the group defies being placed in a traditional military model. “They don’t think about operations the way we think about operations.”
Part of the goal is simply to keep going and keep launching attacks ? thereby winning more recruits and money to the cause of creating Islam-led countries.
The new al-Qaida is finding fertile ground for recruits, particularly among the children of Europe’s immigrants, Post said.
“Diaspora communities are the main resources for this global jihad,” Post told The Associated Press. “(Their families) left for a better life, but they really have not been able to fully integrate with the recipient societies that they have immigrated to.”
Unlike the United States, where immigrants usually come to stay, many of Europe’s Muslims came to make money, then return home, said Olivier Roy, the French author of “Globalized Islam.” Because of this and other factors, it has taken them longer to assimilate ? adding to their sense of alienation.
“The second generation in America has been taken into the American mainstream, while in Europe there is a tendency to lag behind in social mobility,” Roy said.
Post said many of the new recruits aren’t “making it” in the way they wish they were, so they direct their anger and frustration at the “corrupt and modernizing West.”
At the same time, fiery Muslim preachers offer a radical ideology ? with few moderate voices strong enough to drown out their voices. Some 4,000 fundamentalist Web sites further spread the hate, he said.
Videotaped messages from the group’s founders further spread the word. Al-Qaida deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri, in a new videotape that aired Thursday on the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, warned London of more bloodshed. He linked the London attacks to the British troop presence in Iraq.
Amrit Walia, 26, a commodities trader who was a good friend of a man killed in the July 7 attacks, Anthony Fatayi-Williams, said that when he was a student he saw fundamentalist preachers hanging out at Bradford University, trying to win converts to their cause.
“We used to see how they’d all get recruited,” he said. “We would walk out of the (student) union, there would be one of them – gangsters, radical clergy, whatever we’re calling them today – standing around preaching, calling on them to be true Muslims, to stop denying their religion, to stop letting Britain degrade them and their sisters. And there’d be a line of young Pakistanis signing their names up.”
Jenkins said al-Qaida recruiters are very good at spotting the vulnerable ? often young men undergoing personal crises – whether drugs, crime, joblessness, poverty or a spiritual hunger. They are offered an ideology that explains the difficulties and provides a new mind-set.
“This is the way cults recruit,” Jenkins said. “To a certain extent … this is the way armies recruit.”
Hoping to promote understanding, Walia, a Sikh, said friends of Fatayi-Williams, a Roman Catholic born in Nigeria, want to start a foundation to promote cultural understanding. They said that was part of the reason the victim’s mother gave a heart-rending speech shortly after the attacks ? a poignant moment that defined a national tragedy.
The willingness of men raised in Britain to turn against it has prompted soul-searching in this nation that has championed diversity and tolerance. Britain has some 1.8 million Muslims, many with roots in South Asia, and the overwhelming majority have moderate views.
Three Britons of Pakistani descent and one of Jamaican descent are believed to have carried out the July 7 attack. The suspects in the failed July 21 attacks on three subways and a bus include three people from East Africa. It is unclear whether the cells were linked.
Many Muslims worry they will be targeted by police, who shot an innocent Brazilian man to death on the London’s subway thinking he was a suicide bomber. They fear officers are using racial profiling in their search for terror suspects.
Jenkins is leery of profiling, insisting too little is known about the suspects. He noted that millions of Muslims, including immigrants, have not come under al-Qaida’s sway.
“The thing that holds it together is the ideology itself,” he said of al-Qaida’s decentralized structure. “How do you attack an ideology? It’s very rough to do.”