London Incidents Update

The Times has a pretty reasoned assessment of the state of play. We are still with the same two theories, the copycats, and the same group. I don’t like the copycat one since it seems to overlook some basic details. These attacks are not so easy to carry out logistically. Normally there is a high degree of training and preparation, especially ‘mentalisation’ if suicide bombers are involved (eyewitnesses suggest that at least one tube bomber today did try and blow himself up). So I don’t think this kind of attack can be improvised on the ‘oh why don’t we try and do one of those this week’ kind of basis. Whoever was at work today will have had this planned for some time. So then, what a coincidence that a different group had exactly the same idea, even down to the bus (which now seems intentional).

Also the timing was reasonably coordinated. They managed to penetrate security and get to the detonation stage. Avoiding security may have been one of the reasons for the time of day chosen. The question is really why they had so few explosives, and why the bombs didn’t go off. The way things panned out on 7 July, and what the implications of the car in Luton car park are, may provide part of the missing explanation. Essentially I agree with Robert Ayers (quoted in the Times link) from – what a surprise – Chatham House.

Robert Ayers, a security analyst at Chatham House in London, said that that he believed that the same group was behind both attacks.

“All along I’ve been saying that you had four guys that died [in the July 7 bombings], but the infrastructure that trained them, equipped them, funded them, pointed them at the right target – the infrastructure?s still in place, still here,” he told the Reuters news agency.

But if the same group was involved, the obvious question was why the first wave of attacks was so professional and deadly, and second was apparently so amateur, continued Mr Ayers, a former US intelligence official.

He pointed out that police had recovered unused explosives from various sites, including a hire car abandoned by bombers at Luton. Police carried out ten controlled explosions on the hire car in Luton station car park before they placed it on a low-loader and took it away.

“One speculation I?ve had all along is that they left those explosives in the car for another group to pick up and carry out a second attack, but when they got there the car had already been taken over by the police, so they have had to cobble something together fairly quickly,” he said.

“From what I?ve been able to gather, either the bombs themselves are very, very small compared to two weeks ago, or they?ve got a manufacturing problem and only the detonators are going off, and not the primary charge. They?re certainly using explosives that aren?t nearly as powerful.”

Incidentally, just look at the timings of the tube and bus attempts. The bus is again significantly later, I don’t imagine that this can be mere coincidence:

Police evacuate Shepherd’s Bush Underground station at 12:25 p.m. after reports of an explosion. At 12:30 p.m., emergency services are called to Oval Underground station, and the station and a train are evacuated. Some passengers say they saw white smoke.

At 12:45 p.m., the ambulance service sends vehicles to Warren Street Underground station after reports of a backpack exploding on a train in a nearby tunnel. The station is evacuated.

At 1:30 p.m., the driver of the No. 26 bus reports hearing a bang followed by a smell of smoke coming from the upper deck while driving along Hackney Road, just after leaving London’s main financial district.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

15 thoughts on “London Incidents Update

  1. This all implies that for these kinds of terrorist attacks there needs to be a quite a support structure in place: bombmakers, scouts, supplies, runners, planners, programmers (mental/religion) and of course the cannonfodder to do the actual deed. It really wasn’t some guys who decided to blow themselves up all of a sudden.

    Such infrastructure cannot go unnoticed forever. If it can be disrupted (what happened in the past 2 weeks) you can severely limit their operations. That makes one hopeful.

  2. Yes and no. It takes only one succesful attack and for weeks any kiddy can close down the subway by leaving his rucksack in a carriage.

  3. Again a lot of English hoopla about nothing – a champagne cork pops out in London and all the British tabloids and all the other American owned rif raf papers in Britain see “Al Qaeda” behind it.

    Pathetic…; in the meantime the entire British populace is kept distracted from the fact that Tony Blair lied to all the British people about the danger posed by Iraq.

    And whilst all of Britain is gripped by this ridiculous paranoia we have the report which confirms that the Brits and the Americans killed more than 25,000 Iraqi civilians so far.

    No wonder the Iraqi people look back to Satan Hussein as a golden age compared to the miserable lives they lead under the English and American occupation of their proud country.

  4. From the NY Times, there are all sorts of theories, but this one stands out:

    “In fact, some law enforcement officials said, one goal of Thursday’s attackers may have been to divert much-needed resources away from the primary investigation. Some officials have already acknowledged that the July 7 inquiry had stretched the police and intelligence resources to the limit.”

    How is it that Britain, whose government officials have been saying for years that a terrorist attack was expected, can’t cope with what is( with all due respect ) a moderate terrorist attack? How is it that British officials have been quoted as saying they were caught completely by suprise by these attacks, that they were monitoring all known suspects?

    I’m getting the feeling that the British government and its intelligence agencies are enormously incompetent.

  5. “I’m getting the feeling that the British government and its intelligence agencies are enormously incompetent.”

    Well, yes and no. I think the first thing to remember is that the British are awfully good at criticising themselves in public. Behind that facade, technically I imagine they are about as good as you can get.

    The issue would be one of attention and funding. Just like the US before 09/11 they probably thought that they had things under control. The big issue would be ‘Londistan’. People in MI5 or whatever (and of course MI5 has been constantly under criticism for as long as I have been alive) clearly felt there was an implicit pact (not an explicit one) and that having so many radicals in exile gave a sort of protection. They were wrong, and now this will change.

    Something similar happened with France and eta. I don’t know whether you know this, but the ‘Basque Country’ is partly in French territory, and partly in Spanish territory. Eta never attack in French territory. Why. Because many of the ‘exiles’ are in ‘safe houses’ in France. Recently the French authorities have moved against them, and with an evident impact on Eta capacity, but for a long time this was a source of dispute between Spain and France. Anti-terrorism, unfortunately, works like this. I am sure you will find plenty of examples in US history. (The IRA???).

    So like 09/11 this will have a before and an after. The focus will now be different. MI5 complained that that weren’t able to follow Haroon Rashid Aswat because of manpower shortages. In fact increases were in the pipeline, but they hadn’t been implemented.

    My guess is that, when the dust settles, there will be an Inquiry. My guess is that there will be a high profile anti-terrorism law which will make the public feel better, but will be of little real value in the ‘fight against terrorism’. My guess is that the Commission of Inquiry will have important findings on the resourcing and co-ordination issues (including internationally) and on the integration of disaffected youth and relations with Britain’s muslim community issues.

    In particular money will move away from the MoD and towards the police and security agencies.

    “one goal of Thursday’s attackers may have been to divert much-needed resources away from the primary investigation.”

    As I’ve been saying, I doubt they had ‘goals’ in this sense. The evidence seems to point to the fact that these attacks were decided on at the Lahore summit two years ago. There is little evidence of improvisation. These people actually seem incredibly rigid, and follow formulas, even down to trying to explode the bus one hour after the tube bombs.

  6. Stranger than paradise?

    “One witness traveling on a train in west London said he heard a bang like a gunshot and saw a young man sprawled on the carriage floor with smoke coming from his rucksack. “There was a man lying on the ground with his arms outstretched in a Jesus Christ position, lying on top of a medium-sized black and green rucksack,” passenger Abisha Moyo, 28, told the Daily Mail newspaper.”I went up to him and said ‘are you alright, mate’, but he just ignored me and kept his eyes shut.”

  7. If the following is accurate it makes sense:

    Authorities said it was too early to determine whether the attacks were carried out by the same organization as the July 7 blasts ? or whether they were linked to al-Qaida.

    But NBC News reported that British authorities told their U.S. counterparts that backpacks and explosives used Thursday were identical to those in the July 7 attacks. And the British Broadcasting Corp. reported “speculation” that the devices were so similar they may even have been part of the same batch.

  8. “Paul Beaver, an independent defense expert, said….”These attacks don’t look like they were a hallmark of any one group,” Beaver told The Associated Press. “They don’t fit into any clear patterns that we know of except they were timed.”

    Well Rupert, if these ‘experts’ are in fact ex-security, you may be right about the level. ‘No clear pattern’ my eye. A nice British expression: go tell it to the marines. I think those who are ‘watching carefully’ will have learnt one hell of a lot about how Al-qaeda operates in the last fortnight. Here’s another one:

    “Thursday’s attacks were more spread out and occurred during the lunch hour ? beginning at about 12:38 p.m.”

    Well the ‘spread’ of the tube bombs was a little larger, but remember numbers given are times of reporting the incidents to hospitals, not the time of the explosions themselves, and the ‘non rush hour factor’ seems logical given security levels.

  9. “Pathetic…; in the meantime the entire British populace is kept distracted from the fact that Tony Blair lied to all the British people about the danger posed by Iraq.”

    Not just to the British people:

    “Speaking at the G8 summit in Evian [in June 2003], Mr Blair said he stood ‘100%’ by the evidence shown to the public about Iraq’s alleged weapons programmes.

    “‘Frankly, the idea that we doctored intelligence reports in order to invent some notion about a 45-minute capability for delivering weapons of mass destruction is completely and totally false,’ he said.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2955036.stm

  10. Latest news is that they have released the two men detained yesterday, so all four are apparently still on the loose. I say apparently since something unusual does still seem to be happening at UC hospital, and clearly police will want to leave as much doubt as possible in the minds of those still at large.

  11. HH

    Most of the 25000 killed were done to death by fellow muslims. It is a calumny to suggest they were all killed by UK/US forces.

  12. As I recall it from the web back in March 2003, American troops were going to be cheered all the way as liberators after they applied a bit of the Shock and Awe to invade Iraq.

    What went wrong?

    Part of the problem might just be that “Shock and Awe” used to be called “Blitzkrieg” in c. 1940 and many folk in Europe didn’t take to that either.

  13. You never seen pictures of the Germans in the Baltic. That were flowers but they were also real liberators, atleast if you were Estonian. Unlike the Americans and their quest for oil

  14. Rupert: On 7 July, half of the police forces in the UK had cancelled all leave to send people up north, to Edinburgh and Perthshire, four hundred miles from London; that area of Scotland was pretty solidly blue due to the G8 summit and associated things. So even before a major terrorist incident in the capital, they were pretty tightly stretched at the time… and then in the followup, this is the first major incident for a long time. A lot of blank cheques get signed, a lot of material is put aside to deal with the “immediate business”… so whatever spare resources you have, great or small, will likely end up being absorbed by the current investigation, because it seems so vitally important.

    Edward: For the matter of “safe zones”, note Scotland during the IRA campaigns; aside from a few small incidents, all the mainland attacks were targeted explicitly at England…

    Incidentally, I think the expression either is or was “tell it to the horse marines”, which adds a nice touch of surreality…

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