British authorities announced last week that they had foiled a major terrorist plot that involved the use of liquid explosives on several airliners flying from Britain to the United States. Investigators in London are still trying to determine who was behind the plot, and this week a British judged ruled that 21 of the 23 suspects can continue to be held until August 23rd, while two others can remain in jail through the 21st. British law allows police to held suspects without charge for up to 28 days. Seven other suspects are being detained in Pakistan.
British journalist Douglas Fraser, political editor in Edinburgh for The Herald, says that Britain is no stranger to terrorism and the British public typically responds with a “stiff upper lip.” Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Fraser says that since 1979, with start of the troubles in Northern Ireland and the subsequent campaign of bombings on the British mainland, there has been a “gradual erosion of civil liberties” and people have become aware of the precautions they need to take, especially in big cities.
However, in this case, Douglas Fraser suggests, the public reaction to the announcement of a terrorist plot has been tinged with “skepticism” because of the “political component.” He says the British intelligence services are taking credit for foiling a major plot by “ramping up the level of public concern about the threat.” Mr. Fraser notes that the timing coincides with an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to return to an issue it was defeated on before – namely, increasing the amount of time that people can be detained to 90 days in the case of alleged terrorist offences.
He believes that the Prime Minister will be stepping down “pretty soon” and that Home Secretary John Reid has “certainly taken the opportunity while Tony Blair is on holiday” to raise his own political profile. In fact, seven European Union ministers met in London this week with Mr. Reid, who said Europe faces a very real terror threat and it needs to take a common response, noting that it is impossible to fight terrorism “without inconvenience.”
British journalist Ian Williams suggests there may be an element of anti-Americanism that plays into British public skepticism, which however does not detract from the seriousness of the terrorist threat. Mr. Williams says there is a feeling in Britain that there are “few lengths to which Tony Blair will not go to help his friend in the White House.” On the other hand, the British know “from Hitler’s bombs [during World War II] and from the IRA” that the threat is a real one.
Douglas Fraser of The Herald notes that there has been a “lively debate” in the British Muslim community about how to handle threats of terrorism. He says the government is aware that it must rely on British Muslim leadership to police those communities, and he argues that one “can’t go to war on terror by antagonizing the very people who are going to be closest to where the threat lies.”
To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.