UK a prime target for al-Qaida cells
Al-Qaida has become much more sophisticated and organized and the UK is the terror organization’s prime target according to British counter-terrorism experts.
British security sources told the BBC last week that al-Qaida is now operating in the UK with a cell structure, each with a leader, a quartermaster dealing with weapons and volunteers. It was thought that five years ago al-Qaida was a number of loosely connected organizations with common aims, but it is now more organized, similar to how the IRA was set up.
According to the BBC report, training is taking place in the UK and Pakistan and says that the July 7 terrorist attacks “is just the beginning.”
Security officials are concerned the terrorist group is targeting universities and the community, and less worried about recruiting from mosques.
Men in their late teens and early 20s are the main targets and they set up groups like “Boy Scouts” then apply religious indoctrination followed by political teachings and anti-Western rhetoric the report says.
Next they are given technical training and bonding sessions, such as white-water rafting, and then the cell is complete.
BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said that the UK was vulnerable because “it may be easier for al-Qaida to strike the UK than other targets” as the leadership is based in the tribal areas of Pakistan where there are links to the UK and flows of people going back and forth.
He said: “It makes it easier to make the UK a target than the other countries it might wish to target. The leadership of al-Qaida does appear to have been re-grouping and to be more coherent and organized than had been thought in recent years.”
The British intelligence agency MI5 have set up joint regional offices of intelligence gatherers and anti-terrorist police officers have been set up in Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield.
Last week Binyamin Netanyahu said that the Shia strand or militant Islam is more dangerous than al-Qaida. Addressing an audience at Goldman Sachs International, he said it was the Shia radical regimes and nuclear weapons production that are more of a threat than al-Qaida.
Meanwhile British Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has said the 2012 Olympic Games in London will be a “huge target for terrorists” and said it was the their responsibility to provide secure arrangements for a “safe and happy games”.
He said: “There can be no doubt that the 2012 games, if the current threat scenario stays the same, will be a huge target and we have to understand that and work on that basis.
“There is no question that hosting an Olympic Games in a liberal democracy rather than in China poses different issues.”
He added that, despite a risk assessment being carried out for the Olympic bid, the July 7 terrorist attack took place 24 hours after London was chosen to host the 2012 Games.
The police chief said that an assistant commissioner will be appointed as head of security and detailed security plans were being drawn up, including appointing 30,000 security officers. All of the 200,000 workers involved in the Games will also be screened to check it they are a security risk, or working illegally in the UK.
Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, currently responsible for security but will hand over responsibility when a security chief is appointed, said the Metropolitan Police would carry out security risk assessments every three months to ensure if any potential new threats were identified.
He said: “We will not tolerate criminal activity from those wanting to disrupt what is a major celebration for London, a showcase for London.”