Exactly two weeks after the terrorist attacks on the London tubes which killed 54 and wounded over 700, London has been subjected to another round of bombings on its transit system. Reports are sketchy and still being sorted out. The Counterterrorism Blog is the best place to receive up-to-date links to news reports and expert commentary.
At this point, four explosions have been recorded – three at subway stations and one on a bus – and two unexploded devices may have been recovered. The explosions do not appear to have caused serious damage, and only one injury has been reported. It appears the bombs either malfunctioned or were poorly designed. Via The Counterterrorism Blog
Sky News site: “Victoria Line train passenger Ivan McCracken told Sky News he spoke to an Italian man who witnessed an explosion just after the train arrived at the platform.” He told me he had seen a man carrying a rucksack which suddenly exploded. It was a minor explosion but enough to blow open his rucksack. Everyone rushed from the carriage. People evacuated very quickly. There was no panic. “I didn’t see anyone injured but there was shock and fright.” There was a smell of smoke.” NBC and others report that police entered hospital after person carrying exploded backpack admitted with injuries. Fox News: “(C)ops looking for man with wires poking out of shirt; another man with beard seen fleeing one station”
Additional information from the BBC on the attack on the bus and a police report of a suspected suicide bomb threat:
A spokesman for Stagecoach said the driver of the number 26 bus traveling through Shoreditch had heard a bang on upper deck, gone upstairs and seen the windows were blown out. The bus driver was very shaken but said to be fine.
At Shepherd’s Bush station, police told reporters that a man had threatened to blow himself up and then ran off.
There is always the possibility this was a copycat incident, particularly due to the relative ineffectiveness of the explosive devises. However, if the report from the bus driver, Ivan McCracken and others are credible, this attack bears the hallmarks of al Qaeda.
• Targeting critical infrastructure.
• Multiple attacks synchronized for maximum psychological and media impact.
• Use of suicide bombers.
• Follow up attacks on identical targets.
Assuming the attack was al Qaeda sponsored, the failure of of all of the explosive devices [in the sense that they did not produce mass casualties] particularly , is telling. We can draw some conclusions from today’s attacks:
• Explosive experts were not available to properly rig the devices, either due to capture, fleeing the country or going underground to evade capture. The cell members likely tried to conduct their mission without expert technical support.
• The technical knowledge on assembling the bombs is not organic to the cells themselves. The knowledge comes from outside the cell.
• The job was rushed. The crackdown and investigations in the wake of the 7/7 attacks may have pressured dormant cells to “use it or lose it” – to carry out an attack before being exposed.
• The unexploded devices recovered will provide a wealth of information on the cells and the designer of the bombs, leading to further intelligence on the enemy’s support networks and the cell itself.
From a political and psychological standpoint, this attack was a miserable failure. While the 7/7 attacks are fresh in the mind of the nation, and while many liberals are reassessing their stand on the threat of Islamist terrorism (Belmont Club has a roundup of liberal reactions to 7/7), this attack on serves as a reminder of the very real threat within England and the danger of ignoring it. Al Qaeda is better served by allowing the western world to be lulled back into a sense of security, and today’s attacks do nothing of the sort.
The ineffectiveness of today’s attack is a black eye to al Qaeda’s image of professionals who carefully plan and execute highly effective attacks. Since 9-11, al Qaeda has yet to reproduce a mass casualty assault on the scale of the attacks on New York City and Washington. The Bali, Madrid, London (7/7) and a host of other attacks carried out since then were magnitudes lower than 9/11, but still produced horrific results. These attacks were demonstrations of al Qaeda’s ability to effectively strike in the heart of the world’s cities and capitals, and in the case of Spain, the ability to directly influence an election.
Assuming this attack was al Qaeda affiliated, this was a poorly planned and poorly executed attack from an organization that prides itself in skill and effectiveness when striking. You won’t view today’s results on any jihadi recruitment videos.