Why al-Qaeda attacks Britain


In the wake of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, the following question was posed by a member of the audience on BBC1’s Question Time on 30 May 2013:


“Would we see fewer terrorist attacks in this country if we didn’t invade, or support the invasion, of other countries?”


The correct answer to this straightforward question is an unequivocal ‘yes’.  There is no doubt about it.  If Britain ceased invading Muslim countries, there would be definitely fewer terrorist attacks in Britain by al-Qaeda related individuals or groups, perhaps none at all.  Stating that is not a justification for such attacks.  It is simply a statement of fact, as we will see.


There was a huge upsurge in al-Qaeda plots in Britain in the months and years after the invasion of Iraq, so much so that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, agreed to a doubling of MI5’s resources.  We know this from evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry on Iraq by Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, who was the Director General of MI5 when Iraq was invaded.  She left no doubt that in her view this upsurge in al-Qaeda activity was triggered by the UK’s participation in the invasion alongside the US, a reasonable inference being that, had the UK stood aside from this US intervention, as it did from the US intervention in Vietnam, this upsurge would not have happened.


What is more, Baroness Manningham-Buller confirmed that prior to the invasion of Iraq, the UK intelligence services had warned that the threat to Britain from al-Qaeda was likely to be “heightened” by military action against Iraq.  The Blair government kept this intelligence from the House of Commons, understandably so, since had the House been informed it might not have backed the invasion. 



Johnston talks gibberish


Alan Johnston was a member of the Question Time panel when this question was asked.  He was in the Blair Government when it took military action against Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in March 2003.  As a former Home Secretary, he couldn’t be unaware of the extent to which these foreign wars he supported had generated terrorism back home, but he couldn’t admit it.  Here is his answer:


Well 9/11 happened before any country was invaded.  There would still be jihadists around, I believe, without or without what happened.  In terms of Kosovo, we went in to defend Muslims who were being butchered – I think, the argument there is that we probably should have gone in earlier. So, there will always be people who want to make that link, yes, of course, and you can’t divorce it from foreign policy.  I agree with Mehdi [Hasan] on that – foreign policy has to be part of the mix.  But this kind of suggestion that this is all because of – usually about the invasion of Iraq – I don’t think that’s the case at all.  In fact, you could make a very good case for looking at the Middle East if Saddam was still there, if you want draw those kind of what if questions, and finding a very difficult situation in the Middle East, as we are finding in Syria.”


While Alan Johnston was emitting this gibberish in order to avoid telling the awful truth, the Conservative representative on the panel, Health Minister Anne Soubry, gave a passable imitation of a nodding dog.


Happily, there was a panellist, journalist Mehdi Hasan, who did tell the awful truth.  For the gist of what he said, see his excellent New Statesman article Extremists Point to Western Foreign Policy to Explain Their Acts. Why Do We Ignore Them?  [1].


In suggesting that the words of the people who carry out bombings should be listened to, Mehdi Hasan is in good company.  Interviewed by the Guardian in October 2008, Stella Rimington, the head of MI5 from 1992 to 1996, was asked about the effect of Britain’s invasion of Iraq on the terrorist threat to Britain.  She replied:


“Look at what those people who've been arrested or have left suicide videos say about their motivation. And most of them, as far as I'm aware, say that the war in Iraq played a significant part in persuading them that this is the right course of action to take. So I think you can't write the war in Iraq out of history. If what we're looking at is groups of disaffected young men born in this country who turn to terrorism, then I think to ignore the effect of the war in Iraq is misleading.” [2]



Intelligence warning


As I wrote above, prior to the invasion of Iraq, the intelligence services warned that the threat from al-Qaeda was likely to be “heightened” by military action against Iraq.  This warning was contained in a formal assessment by the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in February 2003, entitled International Terrorism: War with Iraq.  This sought to evaluate how al-Qaeda related groups would react to the impending US/UK invasion of Iraq.


Aspects of this assessment came into the public domain in September 2003, when the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) published its report, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments [3]  In paragraph 126, this ISC report stated:


The JIC assessed that al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.”


Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller was the Director General of MI5, the UK’s domestic intelligence service, from October 2002 until April 2007.  She therefore held the post for a few months before the UK’s invasion of Iraq and for four years afterwards, while the US and the UK were occupying Iraq.  She gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry on Iraq on 20 July 2010 [4]. 


She confirmed that the UK Government was warned in advance of the invasion of Iraq that there was likely to be a “heightened” threat from al-Qaeda as a result.  She made it clear that her judgment prior to the invasion was that “a war in Iraq would aggravate the [terrorist] threat from whatever source to the United Kingdom”.  Later she added that “there wasn't any particular controversy amongst the intelligence agencies about that judgment”.


This was communicated to the Government through JIC assessments and, in her case, directly to the Home Secretary (who was David Blunkett at the time) to whom the head of MI5 reports.  If Ministers read JIC assessments she said “they can have had no doubt” that, in the opinion of the intelligence services, the projected invasion of Iraq would increase the threat to Britain from al-Qaeda.


So, there is no doubt whatsoever that before embarking on the invasion of Iraq, Prime Minister Blair and his colleagues in government knew that a likely consequence was al-Qaeda attacks of the kind that occurred in London in July 2005 and in May 2013.  But, they kept this important piece of intelligence from the British public and from the House of Commons.  Their omission was understandable, since had the House been informed, conceivably, it would not have backed the invasion.



Warning borne out by events


So was the warning by the intelligence services borne out by events after the invasion?  The unequivocal answer to that is ‘yes’.  This was amply demonstrated by Baroness Manningham-Buller in evidence to the Chilcot inquiry.


Asked by Sir Roderic Lyne (one of the four members of the inquiry committee) “how significant … a factor was Iraq compared with other situations that were used by extremists, terrorists, to justify their actions”, she replied:


I think it is highly significant … .  By 2003/2004 we were receiving an increasing number of leads to terrorist activity from within the UK and the -- our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people, some British citizens -- not a whole generation, a few among a generation -- who were -- saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam.


“So although the media has suggested that in July 2005, the attacks on 7/7, that we were surprised these were British citizens, that is not the case because really there had been an increasing number of British-born individuals living and brought up in this country, some of them third generation, who were attracted to the ideology of Osama bin Laden and saw the west's activities in Iraq and Afghanistan as threatening their fellow religionists and the Muslim world.


“So it undoubtedly increased the threat and by 2004 we were pretty well swamped -- that's possibly an exaggeration -- but we were very overburdened by intelligence on a broad scale that was pretty well more than we could cope with … .” (p18-20)


Asked by Sir Roderic “overall, looking at the sort of two, three, four years after the conflict began in 2003 … to what extent did the conflict in Iraq exacerbate the overall threat that your Service and your fellow services were having to deal with from international terrorism”, she replied: “Substantially”. (p24-5).  She said there was hard evidence, for instance “numerical evidence of the number of plots, the number of leads, the number of people identified, and the correlation of that to Iraq and statements of people as to why they were involved, the discussions between them as to what they were doing” (p34)


Later, she added:


“The fact is that the threat increased, was exacerbated by Iraq, and caused not only my Service but many other services round the world to have to have a major increase in resources to deal with it. In 2003, having had an upgrade in resources after 9/11, which my predecessor agreed, and … another one … in 2002, by 2003 I found it necessary to ask the Prime Minister for a doubling of our budget. This is unheard of, it's certainly unheard of today, but he and the Treasury and the Chancellor accepted that because I was able to demonstrate the scale of the problem that we were confronted by.” (p26-7)



Invasion heightened threat


So, there is not the slightest doubt that the invasion of Iraq heightened the threat to Britain from al-Qaeda “substantially”, so much so that Prime Minister Blair agreed to double MI5’s budget.  We had to wait until 2010 for this authoritative public account.


However, the fact that the intelligence services believed that the invasion was hugely significant in motivating domestic terrorism had long been publicly known, though rarely commented on in the mainstream media (and never by mainstream politicians).  For example, in April 2005, a few months prior to the London bombings, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) produced a formal assessment entitled International Terrorism: Impact of Iraq, which was unequivocal about the motivating effect of the invasion of Iraq.  Extracts from this were published in the Sunday Times a year later (see Iraq terror backlash in UK 'for years', Sunday Times, 2 April 2006 [5]).  Some of its findings are reproduced in Appendix A below.



Blair refuses to acknowledge Iraq link


Nevertheless, when the London bombings took place, the Prime Minister refused to acknowledge that the invasion of Iraq had an impact on al-Qaeda activity in Britain, understandably since he didn’t want to be accused of having blood on his hands (see my article The London bombings: Britain’s blood price [6]).  Instead, he repeated the fairy tale he had been telling since 9/11 that Western democracies are all under threat from Muslim extremists, who want to destroy our way of life (whatever that means) and it was simply Britain’s turn on 7 July 2005.


For example, in a statement on the bombings to the House of Commons on 11 July 2005, he said:


“Together, we will ensure that, though terrorists can kill, they will never destroy the way of life that we share and value, which we will defend with such strength of belief and conviction that it will be to us and not to the terrorists that victory will belong.” [7]


For the Conservative Party, Michael Howard agreed that our “way of life” was under attack:


“I want to begin by paying tribute to him [the Prime Minister] for the calm, resolute and statesmanlike way in which the Government responded to last Thursday's attack on our capital city, on our citizens and on our way of life.“ [8]


Only one MP, Scottish Nationalist leader, Alex Salmond disturbed this mindless consensus [9].  He referred to a remark by the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, a couple of days earlier, who had blurted out the obvious fact that some countries are more at risk than others:


"Even intelligence from other countries shows the three Bs — Bush, Berlusconi and Blair — are considered the most exposed to this type of risk."


Salmond asked Blair if Berlusconi had “shared that intelligence information with our Prime Minister”, to which he replied:


No. The one thing that is obvious from the long list of countries that have been victims of this type of terrorism that I read out is that it does not discriminate greatly between individual items of policy. I am afraid that I must tell the hon. Gentleman that it is a form of terrorism aimed at our way of life, not at any particular Government or policy.”


David Cameron, who at the time was a contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party, was on the panel of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions the day after the bombing.  There he was faced with the apt question: “Are we starting to reap that which we have sown?”.  In reply, he sang from the same hymn sheet as the Prime Minister:


“I don’t think, I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it.  … we’ve got to be clear about this, the 9/11 attacks, the bombs in the Kenyan embassy, the Tanzanian embassy, the first World Trade Center bomb, the attack on the USS Cole, all happened before the Iraq war.” [10]


Absolutely true, but absolutely irrelevant.  All of these attacks were on US interests.   Al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda inspired groups did not attack British interests, until after Blair volunteered Britain to support the US in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.  British interests – the British consulate and a branch of the HSBC bank in Istanbul – were first attacked on 20 November 2003 when Bush was visiting London.


See Appendix B for more discussion of the objectives of al-Qaeda.



MI5 website says ‘Iraq a dominant issue’


Remarkably, while the political establishment were mouthing in unison that it was misplaced to think that the London bombers had been motivated by the invasion of Iraq, a page on the MI5 website, headed THREAT TO THE UK FROM INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM, stated straightforwardly:


Iraq is a dominant issue for a range of extremist groups and individuals in the UK and Europe.”


This straightforward message remained on the MI5 website for the next couple of years.


(At that time, I made considerable efforts to draw the attention of mainstream media to the extraordinary fact that the words coming out of the Prime Minister’s mouth were at variance with this statement on the MI5 website.  This seemed to me to be newsworthy.  But to no avail.)


Strangely, although the political establishment refused to acknowledge that the invasion of Iraq had an impact on al-Qaeda activity in Britain, the British public thought otherwise.  According to a YouGov poll published in The Daily Mirror on 25 July 2005 [11], 23% of people polled said that the invasion was the main reason for the London bombings, and another 62% said that, while Iraq was not the principle cause, it did contribute to the reasons behind the bombings.  A mere 12% said there was no real link.



What the London bombers said


Remarkably, also, the fiction that the invasion of Iraq and other interventions in the Muslim world were not a motivating factor for the London bombers survived statements by the bombers themselves saying the opposite.  Two of them, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, made videos prior to their deaths.


In a video broadcast by al-Jazeera on 1 September 2005, Mohammad Sidique Khan said:


“Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world.  And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters.


“Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.  We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.” [12]


In a video broadcast on al-Jezeera on 6 July 2006, Shehzad Tanweer said:


“What you have witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger … until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iran and until you stop your military support of America and Israel.” [13]


Today, Michael Adebolajo, one of the suspects for the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, has made it clear on camera that his actions were in revenge for British military action oversees.  He said:


“The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers.    tell them [politicians] to bring our troops back so we can ... so you can all live in peace.” [14]


Nevertheless, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnston, stated categorically that it is “wrong to try to draw any link between this murder and British foreign policy or our forces who are risking their lives abroad for the sake of freedom” [15].



What US bombers said


As Glenn Greenwald detailed in the Guardian on 24 April 2013 [16], a string of mostly unsuccessful bombers in America have cited US interventions in Muslim lands as a motivation for their action.


For instance, according to the Washington Post, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the suspects for the Boston bombing, “has told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack, according to U.S. officials familiar with the interviews” [17].


Similarly, in October 2011 the "underwear bomber", Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in pleading guilty said:


"I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for US support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants." [18]


Likewise in June 2010 Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, pleaded guilty and told the court: “It’s a war: if the United States does not get out of Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries controlled by Muslims, we will be attacking the US” [19].  When asked by the judge presiding over his case how he could justify detonating bombs that would kill innocent children, he replied:


"Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It's a war, and in war, they kill people. They're killing all Muslims. …


"I am part of the answer to the US terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people. And, on behalf of that, I'm avenging the attack. Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don't care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die." [20]



National Security Strategy


When it came to power in 2010, aping the US, the Conservative Government established a National Security Council and appointed a National Security Advisor.  And on 18 October 2010, the National Security Council published the UK-style National Security Strategy [21].


This supposedly thoroughgoing analysis produced an elaborate 3-tier matrix of risks to UK security.  First place on Tier One, and therefore the greatest threat to Britain today, was assessed to be “international terrorism” (paragraph 3.14), that is, terrorism by al-Qaeda related groups.


(Other Tier One threats are “cyber attacks”, “a major accident or natural hazard” and “an international military crisis between states, drawing in the UK”.  How the latter can be regarded as a threat is a mystery, since the UK has a perfect defence to it, that is, to refuse to be drawn in.)


The National Security Strategy, which runs to 39 pages, doesn’t have a single word to say about why Britain is under threat from al-Qaeda and how the threat might be mitigated.  An analysis worthy of the name would have pointed to the huge upsurge in al-Qaeda activity after March 2003, as reported by Baroness Manningham-Buller to the Chilcot Inquiry, which required a doubling of MI5’s budget, and would have concluded that the threat from al-Qaeda is a function of British intervention in the Muslim world – and that a sure way of diminishing the threat is to cease intervening in the Muslim world.


The army of analysts that produced the National Security Strategy couldn’t fail to be aware of this straightforward fact, and nor can the Government Ministers who put their names to the Strategy.  But it cannot be admitted publicly.  To do so would be to admit the awful truth that Britain’s military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq alongside the US, which were justified to counter alleged threats to Britain’s security, have in reality made Britain less safe.  And to date 623 British service personnel [22], and hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis, have died in the process of making Britain less safe.  To say that they died for nothing is an exaggeration: they died for less than nothing.


That awful fact can’t be said in mainstream British politics, particularly since the British killing and dying is still going on in Afghanistan.  To add insult to injury, since 2001 British taxpayers has had to stump up over £20 billion to pay for these military interventions that have made them less safe – and billions more to counter the “heightened” threat at home that these interventions have produced.


As I wrote in July 2005, in the aftermath of the London bombings:


“There is an infallible defence against this terrorism on the British homeland, and it doesn’t involve draconian anti-terrorism laws, or searching everybody boarding the Tube, or concrete bollards outside every public building. It is that we stay at home as a country; that we cease stomping round the Muslim world in the wake of the US.


“It’s a very straightforward, and a very cost effective, counter-terrorism strategy: we don’t spend money and blood invading Muslim countries, and we won’t need to spend money protecting the British homeland from terrorism emanating from the Muslim world in response. And blood will not be spilled on our streets when the protection proves to be fallible.


“Bringing our troops home from Iraq now would make us safer than any homeland security measures we could possibly devise – and would also save the lives of British service men and women.”  (The London bombings: Britain’s blood price [6])


The lesson of the last decade is that Britain would be safer if it had no capability to project military power abroad, that is, if the Ministry of Defence stuck to doing what its name implies, which would save taxpayers most of the £40 billion a year the Ministry spends today.



Appendix A  JIC assessment of impact of Iraq invasion


In April 2005, the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee produced a formal assessment entitled International Terrorism: Impact of Iraq, extracts from which were published by the Sunday Times a year later (see Iraq terror backlash in UK 'for years', Sunday Times, 2 April 2006 [5]). 


The assessment stated, inter alia:


 Iraq is likely to be an important motivating factor for some time to come in the radicalisation of British Muslims and for those extremists who view attacks against the UK as legitimate.”


“There is a clear consensus within the UK extremist community that Iraq is a legitimate jihad and should be supported. Iraq has re-energised and refocused a wide range of networks in the UK.”


“We judge that the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term. It has reinforced the determination of terrorists who were already committed to attacking the West and motivated others who were not.”


“Some jihadists who leave Iraq will play leading roles in recruiting and organising terrorist networks, sharing their skills and possibly conducting attacks. It is inevitable that some will come to the UK.”


In April 2006, US intelligence produced a National Intelligence Estimate entitled Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States [23], the key judgments of which were published.  It said, inter alia:


“The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”



Appendix B  What are al-Qaeda’s objectives?


The mantra that al-Qaeda is out to destroy our way of life is repeated over and over again from all parts of the political spectrum, but what does it mean?  Are these people killing themselves because they object to our electing our leaders?  Or to our reading the Guardian?  Do they want the whole Western world to convert to Islam?  And order our societies according to Islamic law?  And how many bombs in Western cities is it going to take to bring this about?


This is mindless nonsense.  The truth cannot be admitted, since to admit the truth would be to admit that Britain’s interventions in the Muslim world have supplied the motivation for terrorist attacks in homeland Britain – and that unless those interventions cease terrorist attacks are unlikely to cease altogether.


The plain truth is that al-Qaeda is not concerned with changing Western society.  Its objective is to change western, especially US, foreign policy towards the Muslim world.  That is why it attacks the US and states allied to the US in pursuing this policy.


This is clear from the many public statements by bin Laden and his associates.  He was concerned with American foreign policy towards, and American actions in, the Muslim world – with US support for Israel in its ongoing theft of Arab land; US support for corrupt and repressive regimes in the Muslim world (Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states); and so on.  Post 9/11, the US has added to an already long list of Muslim grievances by occupying Afghanistan and Iraq.


Before looking at some of bin Laden’s statements, let me quote from two impeccable sources, which advance this view.



Michael Scheuer


First, from Michael Scheuer, who worked for the CIA for 22 years, and was the first head of its al-Qaeda desk, serving in this capacity for two years.  While still working for the CIA, he wrote a book entitled Imperial Hubris: Why the West is losing the War on Terror, which was published in 2004.  His view, as summarised in this book, is as follows:


“… the greatest danger for Americans confronting the radical Islamist threat is to believe – at the urging of US leaders – that Muslims attack us for what we are and what we think rather than for what we do.


“Rhetorical political blustering ‘informs’ the public that Islamists are offended by the Western world’s democratic freedoms, civil liberties, intermingling of genders, and separation of church and state.  However, although aspects of the modern world may offend conservative Muslims, no Islamist leader has, for example, fomented jihad in order to destroy participatory democracy, the national association of credit unions, or coed universities. 


“Al-Qaeda’s public statements condemn America’s protection of corrupt Muslim regimes, unqualified support for Israel, the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a further litany of real-world grievances.  Bin Laden’s supporters thus identify their problem and believe its solution lies in war.


“[Scheuer] contends they will go to any length, not to destroy our secular, democratic way of life, but to deter what they view as specific attacks on their lands, their communities and their religion.  Unless US leaders recognize this fact and adjust their policies abroad accordingly, even moderate Muslims will be radicalized into supporting bin Laden’s anti-Western offensive.”



US Defense Science Board


A similar view was expressed in a report in September 2004 from the US Defense Science Board, which exists to provide independent advice to the US Defense Secretary.  The report is on Strategic Communications, that is, the means whereby the US gets its message to the world [24].  It concludes bluntly that communicating with the Muslim world is impossible at the present time:


Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of ‘dissemination of information’, or even one of crafting and delivering the ‘right’ message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none – the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam.”  (page 41)


And, according to the report, the US is not believed because of its policy towards the Muslim world, and the problem has got much worse since the US invasion of Iraq:


“American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.


“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom’, but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.


“Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that ‘freedom is the future of the Middle East’ is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World — but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.


“Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.


“Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack — to broad public support.


“What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of ‘terrorist’ groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.” (pages 40-41)



Bin Laden statements


Now let us look at a few of bin Laden’s public statements.


He first came to public attention with his declaration of war against the US military presence in Saudi Arabia issued in August 1996 [25].  Its central theme is that “the people of Islam have suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed by the Zionist-Crusader alliance and their collaborators” and says:


“It is a duty now on every tribe in the Arab Peninsula to fight jihad in the cause of Allah and to cleanse the land from those occupiers.”


The only demand made of the US and its allies is that they go home.  There is nothing about how they should live their lives at home.


Likewise in another fatwa from February 1998, which says:


“. . . the killing of Americans and their civilian and military allies is a religious duty for each and every Muslim to be carried out in whichever country they are until Al Aksa mosque [in Jerusalem] has been liberated from their grasp and until their armies have left Muslim lands.” (quoted in UK Government document Responsibility for the terrorist atrocities in the United States [26])


Again, there is nothing in it about destroying our way of life in the West.


More recently, in a video message broadcast on al-Jezeera on 1 November 2004 just before the US presidential election [27], he addressed the American people and explained why America was attacked on 9/11 and what Americans must do in order to avoid another attack.  The message includes:


“People of America this talk of mine is for you and concerns the ideal way to prevent another Manhattan, and deals with the war and its causes and results.

”Before I begin, I say to you that security is an indispensable pillar of human life and that free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush's claim that we hate freedom.


“If so, then let him explain to us why we don't strike, for example, Sweden. And we know that freedom-haters don't possess defiant spirits like those of the 19 – may Allah have mercy on them.

”No, we fight because we are free men who don't sleep under oppression. We want to restore freedom to our nation, just as you lay waste to our nation. So shall we lay waste to yours.

”No one except a dumb thief plays with the security of others and then makes himself believe he will be secure. Whereas thinking people, when disaster strikes, make it their priority to look for its causes, in order to prevent it happening again.

”But I am amazed at you. Even though we are in the fourth year after the events of September 11th, Bush is still engaged in distortion, deception and hiding from you the real causes. And thus, the reasons are still there for a repeat of what occurred. …


“In conclusion, I tell you in all truth, that your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaeda.  No. Your security is in your own hands. And every state that doesn't play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.”


The message is clear: leave the Muslin world alone and you will be left alone.


On 29 November 2004, a video tape by the present head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was broadcast on al-Jezeera [28].  It was prepared before the US presidential elections, of which it said:


“The results of the elections do not matter for us.  Vote whoever you want, Bush, Kerry or the devil himself. This does not concern us. What concerns us is to purge our land from the aggressors.”


Could al-Qaeda’s objective be clearer?  It is not about forcing us to convert to Islam and making us accept Islamic law: it is about ending Western, particularly US, interference in the Muslim world.



David Morrison

June 2013



[1]  www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2013/05/extremists-point-western-foreign-policy-explain-their-acts-why-do-we-ignor

[2]  www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/18/iraq-britainand911

[3]  www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm59/5972/5972.pdf

[4]  www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/48331/20100720am-manningham-buller.pdf

[5]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/other-documents/sunday-times-20060402-iraq-jic.htm

[6]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/counter-terrorism/britains-blood-price.pdf

[7]  www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050711/debtext/50711-06.htm

[8]  www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050711/debtext/50711-07.htm

[9]  www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050711/debtext/50711-09.htm

[10]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/other-documents/cameron-20050708-any-questions.htm

[11]  www.mirror.co.uk/news/tm_objectid=15775722&method=full&siteid=94762&headline=war-on-britain--85--blame-bombs-on-war-in-iraq--name_page.html

[12]  news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4206800.stm

[13]  news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/5154714.stm

[14]  www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2329470/Michael-Adebolajo-British-born-suspect-killing-Drummer-Lee-Rigby.htm

[15]  www.london.gov.uk/city-hall/city-hall-blog/2013/05/boris-pays-tribute-to-woolwich

[16]  www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/24/boston-terrorism-motives-us-violence

[17]  articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-23/national/38751370_1_u-s-embassy-boston-marathon-bombings

[18]  www.freep.com/article/20111012/NEWS01/111012038/Transcript-Read-Abdulmutallab-s-statement-guilty-plea

[19]  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/21/AR2010062102468.html

[20]  www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/7846428/Times-Square-bomb-plot-Terror-suspect-Faisal-Shahzad-in-court.html

[21] www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_191639.pdf

[22]  docs.google.com/spreadsheet/lv?key=0AonYZs4MzlZbcGhOdG0zTG1EWkVPanRFU1JZNW8wZHc


[23]  www.dni.gov/files/documents/Special%20Report_Global%20Terrorism%20NIE%20Key%20Judgments.pdf

[24]  www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/ADA428770.pdf

[25]  www.pbs.org/newshour/terrorism/international/fatwa_1996.html

[26]  news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1579043.stm

[27]  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16990-2004Nov1.html

[28]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/other-documents/al-zawahri-wp-20041129.htm