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Britain Remains Prime Terrorist Target


The abortive car bombings in London and Glasgow have again put the spotlight on Britain as a terrorist target. Two car bombs failed to go off Friday in London, and on Saturday, a blazing car was driven at high speed into the entrance of Glasgow airport. VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, analysts say, if the attacks were the work of Islamic extremists, their goal is consistent with previous attacks in Britain.

Car bombings are nothing new to Britain. The Irish Republican Army and its splinter groups often used them to deadly effect.

But recent attacks and attempted attacks in Britain have relied on other means.

The attacks on the London transport system almost exactly two years ago were carried out by Muslim suicide bombers carrying backpacks full of explosives. The plot to blow up flights from London to the United States that was thwarted last year planned to utilize liquid explosives smuggled aboard the aircraft.

Police believe they are dealing with a terrorist cell either linked to or inspired by al-Qaida, in the latest incidents.

Bob Ayers, an intelligence and security specialist at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London, says he believes the attacks are linked to Britain's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The difference between what we're seeing over the last weekend and what we're seeing last summer is a difference only in tactics, not necessarily in strategic objective," said Ayers. "The purpose of the Islamist attacks on the U.K. has been to force the UK people and government to reassess its role vis-à-vis the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Car bombs are a tactical change, but they are not a strategic change."

Counter-terrorism specialists say the weekend car bombs in London lacked the sophistication of the IRA. bombmakers. But Ayers says, while crude, they had the potential to be deadly.

Blair Johannessen, an intelligence analyst at the private Terrorism Research Center, says the amateurish nature of the bombs suggests the perpetrators lacked the zeal of suicide attackers.

"These guys ran from the scene," said Johannessen. "You could chalk it up to fear: 'Aw, I drove the car, it didn't explode, oh my gosh, what am I going to do, I'm going to run away.' But, from what I see, if it was really something that was more professional, they would have stayed the route of the cause, and they would have found a way to make this thing go off the way it should have."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had not even been in office a full week, says he believes the abortive attacks are linked to Islamic extremism.

"I think what we have got to recognize, that the nature of the threat that we are dealing with is al-Qaida and people who are related to al-Qaida," said Brown.

"And, while I don't want to comment on the police investigation that is ongoing, it is clear that we are dealing in general terms with people who are associated with al-Qaida in a number of incidents that have happened all across the world," he added.

Security analyst Bob Ayers says the term al-Qaida is a brand name that has become generic in the West for any Islamist terrorist group.

"I think the prime minister, being new in [his] post, was using a term that is a shorthand and convenient way to describe this whole genre of Islamic radicals," said Ayers. "Al-Qaida doesn't issue ID cards, and you don't take an oath of office when you join al-Qaida."

"What we have is a group of radicals, who are embracing the philosophy and ideology as espouse by al-Qaida. But they're not necessarily part of a closely coupled, vertically integrated organization, like a military force," he continued.

Early reports say, at least two of the suspects in custody are physicians who were trained in Iraq and Jordan respectively. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith describes the investigation as "fast-moving."

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