In the aftermath of the attempted car bombings in England and Scotland two weeks ago, questions about the nature of religious terrorism and the proper response to such threats are being asked. Eight suspects, all Muslim medical professionals from the Middle East and India, have been questioned in connection with the plot, which involved two car bombs discovered in London and the crash of a burning Jeep into the Glasgow Airport terminal.
The attempted car bombings came a week after Gordon Brown became Britain’s new Prime Minister. Gerard Baker, U.S. editor of The Times of London, speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, says that there is a noticeable difference in the new government’s response to terrorist threats. He notes that Tony Blair tended to take a much more “strategic view” of the challenge posed by Islamist terrorism and talk about it in “fairly global terms,” which, he adds, is similar to the President Bush’s approach.
Mr. Baker says that Gordon Brown, in contrast, has emphasized the criminal aspect of the threat. Gordon Baker says many Britons are alarmed that “Muslim extremists” have once again targeted innocent people, while the Muslim community is concerned about a “possible backlash.” Nonetheless, Mr. Baker notes that there is a “disaffected minority,” which is both extremist and “Islamist” and which “frankly wants to establish Islamic rule” in Britain.
The only person charged in connection with the car bomb plot is Iraqi doctor Bilal Abdullah, who was a passenger in the burning Jeep. The driver – Kafeel Ahmed, an aeronautical engineer from Bangalore, India – has been hospitalized with severe injuries and has not yet been questioned. Chidanand Rajghatta, Washington bureau chief of The Times of India and also from Bangalore, says there is profound “disappointment” that this plot could have originated in southern India. Mr. Rajghatta says that there has been very little “radicalization” of Muslims of India, who are part of India’s “secular fabric.” Also troubling is the professional status of the suspects. In Mr. Rajghatta’s words, “There goes the whole theory about Western education as the solution to combating radicalization.”
Gerard Baker believes that immigration procedures for foreign professionals are likely to be tightened. He notes that two of the doctors who are allegedly involved in the terrorist plot in Britain had sought admission to the United States, but may have been put off because the procedures were so tough. He thinks this suggests that Britain may have to “learn a lesson from some of the things the United States has done.”
Beyond immigration issues, Kevin Schofield, political correspondent for The Herald in Edinburgh, says the Scots were shocked that Scotland was a terrorist target. Unlike England and Wales, Scotland has a relatively small Muslim community and has never before been bombed. Fortunately, he says, the Muslim community realizes that the “vast majority of Scots don’t hold them responsible for this attack.”
This week a British court sentenced four men to life in prison for attempting to bomb London’s public transport system in late July 2005. The plot came two weeks after an attack in which British-born Muslims killed 52 commuters in London. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he wants to increase the amount of time terrorist suspects can be held without charge and to boost the number of successful prosecutions.
To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.