Friday, July 08, 2005

Terror in London and the Long Arm of al-Zarqawi

This morning, four bomb blasts ripped through morning rush hour crowds in London, a day after the International Olympic Committee had announced that the city would host the 2012 summer games. Three of the bombings took place on the London underground rail system, while the fourth blew apart a double-decker bus. As I write this, 37 people have been confirmed killed and over 700 are wounded. A shadowy, previously unheard of group calling itself the "Secret Organization of al-Qaeda in Europe," possibly linked to Jordanian terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (right), issued a claim of responsibility on a terrorist web site, though the claim has not been verified at this point. However, the attacks were similar in many ways to previous ones claimed by al-Qaeda: coordinated bombings that took place in fairly rapid succession, much like the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004.

For more on the possible al-Qaeda connection, see:

Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan notes in his latest blog entry (Friday, July 8) that many of al Qaeda's leaders are in fact not clerics and many have no extensive, formal religious education. The truth is that many al Qaeda leaders and senior operatives are and have been trained in the sciences, including engineering, chemistry, biology, and medicine. Ayman al-Zawahiri, considered to be the "brains" behind al Qaeda, is not a cleric, but a medical doctor. In Afghanistan during the decade-long war against the Soviet Union, he served as a doctor, not as a cleric. Osama bin Laden himself is also not a cleric, though he fancies himself a "shaykh." He is a spoiled rich kid who comes from a family that owns the largest construction firm in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

On a wider scale, many hardcore Salafis, especially in the West, are not trained in religion. Many are scientists, doctors, and engineers. That is not to say that there aren't Salafi clerics, trained extensively in a particular school of thought within Islam, because there are. However, it is important to remember that many of these clerics' followers do not have the training or the desire to pursue knowledge, which would allow them to question the religious rulings they hear or read.

As Professor Cole also notes, even militant groups such as HAMAS and Hizbu'llah have condemned the London attacks, as they did the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. Despite their sometimes radical platforms, both of these organizations are concerned with local conflicts in the Middle East, not in the global war that is al Qaeda's bread and butter. This difference is important and clear, to those who care to examine the evidence, the statements made by their members and leadership.

To view Professor Cole's blog, see:

Within hours of the attacks, talk began of whether al-Zarqawi, who also heads al-Qaeda in Iraq (formerly Tawhid wal Jihad), could be behind them. U.S. and European intelligence sources know that he has recruited potential members for his organization and fundraised in Europe. These same intelligence sources believe that there have been contacts between al-Zarqawi and upper-echelon leaders of al-Qaeda, possibly even Osama bin Laden, about moving the former's operations out of Iraq and to other parts of the world, particularly Western Europe and the United States. Currently, al-Zarqawi's operations in Iraq, which are directed at Coalition and Iraqi government forces, are surging; to date, terrorist attacks and ambushes have killed over 10,000 Iraqis and hundreds of U.S. and Coalition forces.

During the last several days, al-Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for a spate of attacks and targeted killings, including the kidnapping and murder of Ihab el-Sharif, Egypt's senior diplomat in Iraq and attempted kidnappings/assassinations of Pakistani and Bahrayni diplomats in Baghdad.

For more on the kidnapping and murder of Ihab el-Sharif, see:

Al-Zarqawi also issued a communique a few days ago announcing that his organization was setting up a special brigade to target Iraqi Shi'ites, particularly the Badr militias, which are connected to the premier Iraqi Shi'ite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is led by 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim (left). In 2004, an intercepted al-Zarqawi message to al-Qaeda leaders abroad railed against the Iraqi Shi'ites, calling them apostates and collaborators who have sold out Iraq and "real" Muslims to the "Jews and Crusaders." The anti-Shi'ite sentiments of al-Zarqawi is the hallmark of al-Qaeda and radical Salafi movements across the globe. Over the last several months, several Iraqi Shi'ite leaders, including representatives of Grand Ayatullah Sayyid 'Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, have been assassinated, probably by al-Zarqawi's henchmen. Car bombs have also targeted Shi'ite and Kurdish political offices, killing dozens of Iraqis. The mastermind of these attacks has been al-Zarqawi and his terrorist organization, along with its parent, al-Qaeda. To radical Sunnis of the Salafi mold, Shi'ites stand outside the realm of Islam, so pronouncing them apostates (takfir) is acceptable, which means killing them is also allowed, since they are heretics.

Shi'a-Sunni tensions in Iraq have been mounting for the last 2 years,with dozens of attacks targeting Shi'a holy sites and crowds. There are now signs that segments of the Shi'ite community are beginning to arm themselves to protect their constituents. SCIRI has reportedly sent messages to its Badr militiamen to keep an eye out for strangers in predominantly Shi'ite neighborhoods throughout the country. Up to this point, the major factor in maintaining Shi'ite restraint in the midst of horrific terrorist attacks (left) has been the moderate voice of Grand Ayatullah al-Sistani and the other four members of the Marja'iyya, the supreme Shi'ite council of clerics in Iraq (all of its members are grand ayatullahs).

For more information on al-Zarqawi's most recent statement on Iraqi Shi'ites, see:

Immediately after the bombings in London, mainstream Muslim groups throughout Great Britain, the United States, Europe, and the Islamic world condemned them as terrorist attacks. With over one million Muslims living in Great Britain, the country has long been attractive to terrorist recruiters. Indeed, several well-known terrorists, including "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid and radical preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri (who is currently on trial in Great Britain), have some connection to London.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair noted that the terrorists acted "in the name of Islam," but he also noted that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists and do not support terrorism. He thanked the Muslim Council of Great Britain, one of the largest British Muslim organizations in that country, for their swift condemnation of today's attacks.

For more on Prime Minister Tony Blair's comments, see:

Among the major U.S. Muslim organizations to condemn today's attacks was the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Influential Muslim clerics across the world have also strongly condemned the attacks and terrorism against civilians, including Qatar-based Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (right) and Egypt's Grand Shaykh al-Azhar Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi (left), the rector of al-Azhar Mosque and University.

For just a sampling of worldwide Muslim condemnation, see: