Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Interesting Times

Sky News has reported that a cell of Islamic terrorists has been rolled up in Britain. They were planning on detonating an ammonium nitrate bomb.

Islamic terror suspects have been arrested and explosives recovered in dawn raids across England. The arrests were made in Crawley, Luton, Redbridge, Ealing in London and in the Thames Valley. Martin Brunt, Sky's crime correspondent, said fertiliser or ammonium nitrate had been found at an address. The same type of material was used in the Bali bombings in October 2002, killing more than 200 people.

Meanwhile, Philippine authorities say they have just broken up a "Madrid-level" attack. An Abu Sayaf cell, including a person suspected of beheading American hostage Guillermo Sobero, is now in custody.

The Philippines has foiled a "Madrid-level" attack on Manila with the arrest of four members of an al-Qaeda-linked extremist group and the seizure of explosives, President Gloria Arroyo said today. "We have pre-empted a Madrid-level attack on the metropolis by capturing an explosive cache of 80 pounds [36 kilograms]," she told reporters, comparing the plot to the March 11 Madrid bombings that claimed almost 200 lives. The explosive cache "was intended to be used for bombing [shopping] malls and trains in Metropolitan Manila," she said, adding that the four members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group were in government custody.

In Central Asia, Muslim militants killed 19 persons and were engaged in running battles with authorities. According to CNN:

A new blast, followed by a shootout between police and suspected extremists, has hit Uzbekistan -- a third straight day of violence in the Central Asian nation. Citing police sources, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported there were injuries in the incident near the capital Tashkent, which, according to the report, involved police and "terrorists." The reported attack Tuesday follows a spasm of violence in Uzbekistan including two suicide bombings in as many days, as well as attacks on police and a blast at a bomb-making hideout. At least 19 people have been killed and 26 wounded in the violence in the capital and also the city of Bukhara. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has blamed the attacks on Islamic extremists and said arrests have been made.

Two factors unite all these incidents. The first is that all the attackers were radical Muslims. The second is that the targets were all nations allied with the United States. The obvious inference is that the Al Qaeda is mobilizing its affiliate groups to 'teach' these nations the same lesson they administered to Spain. This kind of instruction is unlikely to have much affect in Uzbekistan or the Philippines, chronically plagued by Islamic militants whose brutal behavior has been familiar for several centuries. What a successful attack may achieve in Britain no one can yet say.

The latest offensive shows the relative balance between offense and defense in the Global War on Terror. Like the kamikaze attacks of an earlier era, these Islamic bombers were probably tracked by intelligence until they could be engaged by the defenses, in much the same way the CAP and anti-aircraft shot down bogeys over Okinawa. In the case of Britain and the Philippines, the inbounds were splashed before they could deliver their ordnance. But in Uzbekistan the bogeys leaked through and killed 19 people.

It also suggests that Al Qaeda has lost its organic capability to strike and must now rely on affiliates. The quality of the new affiliated Holy Warriors is markedly lower than the cadre led by Mohammed Atta. Here too, the analogy with the kamikazes may be apt. By 1945, the superlative aces of the Kido Butai had all been killed or crippled. Forced by logistical strangulation to cut back on training, the bogeys over Okinawa were largely piloted by novices who could only fly straight and level.

The Islamist losses in both Britain and the Philippines are likely to be felt keenly by the Jihadis. The British appear to have rolled up a widely deployed network of sleepers; prized assets. The Philippines for its part took down a cell which contained core members of the Abu Sayaf, including the sadistic man who killed Guillermo Sobero, a simple tourist visiting the Islands, as he pleaded for his life. The plan to terrify America's allies into leaving Iraq appears to have failed for now despite the best efforts of the Jihadis. And for this paltry result they have paid in their dwindling seed corn. They must be now asking themselves how the British and Filipinos knew enough to foil their plans. Sleep well Osama.

5 plus 7?

Reuters has reported that Uzbek authorities have raided an Islamic hideout in Tashkent which may have been related to recent attacks, killing 5 and perhaps 7 more. Although they may have killed 19 people, in the sad arithmetic of war the loss of possibly12 trained terrorists is an unsustainable exchange rate for the Jihadis.

TASHKENT (Reuters) - Uzbek special forces attacked a suspected Islamic militant hide-out in a Tashkent suburb on Tuesday killing at least five people, a day after bomb blasts killed 19 in the former Soviet Central Asian country. Monday's blasts, two caused by female suicide bombers, raised concern in Washington which uses an airbase here for operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Uzbek forces on Tuesday struck what they called a "terrorist group" in a city suburb. "We have counted five bodies of the terrorists and police say there are seven more lying in the entrance hall," a local reporter allowed on the scene after fighting ended told Reuters.

So far, the post-Madrid attacks have been a tactical disaster for the Islamists. Unless they have been extremely unlucky, something is going horribly wrong for their networks.