March 22, 2017 would have been just another fine day in London. But chaos took hold when a driver moved down pedestrians in Westminster near parliament – the symbol of British democracy – leaving five people dead and more than 40 others injured.
In the words of UK Prime Minister Theresa May, the location of the incident “was no accident”. Keith Palmer, a police officer in London, was among the unfortunate victims who died last Wednesday.
Initially, the identity of the knife-wielding attacker remained a mystery. Chaos, confusion and consternation followed. Various segments of the media were too quick to report the identity of the attacker, just to debunk them later. The attack was attributed to Abu Izzadeen (born Trevor Brooks), a British national who had converted to Islam at the age of 17.
Nevertheless, the veracity of the claim couldn’t have been verified as Izzadeen’s lawyer and family members confirmed the fact that he was still in jail. Izzadeen is the same person who had termed the July 7, 2005 bombings as “mujahideen activity”. However, it wasn’t he who showed up at Westminster and mowed down several people that day.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his outfit claimed responsibility for the attack. Adrian Elms was the man who went on the rampage in London. No, it was Adrian Ajao. Then what about Khalid Masood? Don’t get perplexed. All of the above represent one and the same person: the London attacker. He was born Adrian Elms, later came to be known as Adrian Ajao and died Khalid Masood.
Last week, the Saudi embassy confirmed the fact that Masood visited Saudi Arabia in 2005 2006 and again in 2008-2009. He then visited Saudi Arabia in 2015. As per official details, he used to teach English there.
Considering the developments in the Levant and the ever-growing threat of homegrown radicalised individuals, the attack may have been on the cards. The timing, however, needs further deciphering. March 22 was equally chaotic last year. Brussels was rocked by massive explosions in which more than 30 people lost their lives. On the first anniversary of the Brussels bombings, the London incident may have been a message sent from, and a score settled by, the terrorist outfit – a message that was, by all accounts, loud and clear. Intriguingly enough, an international conference on counterterrorism was held in Washington on the same date as the London attack.
In the aftermath of the attack, there have been talks about tightening security in the UK. However, to counter extremist tendencies, extra policing might not suffice. It may help cordon-off a particular area and physically inspect a particular person. But it fails to police what is going on in the mind – which matters the most. Enhanced intelligence gathering is likely to get the job done and keep the ‘radicalised’ at bay. In this regards, Britain has announced to invest more than £2.5 billion in lieu of catering to the security and intelligence networks-related requirements in the next five years. The MI5 and MI6 offices will also employ more staff – up to 1,900 additional personnel.
The UK just can’t afford to be complacent at this point in time. Mark Rowley, the head of the UK National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO), was spot-on when he stated that “we’re satisfied at this stage that it looks like there was only one attacker, but it would be foolish to be overconfident so early on”.
The London attack was ghastly to say the least. But pitching one religion against the other will not help but will instead aggravate the already befuddled situation. The far-right should be kept in check. Tommy Robinson, a British far-right activist and the former leader of the English Defence League, was quick to reach the scene of the attack and started spreading hatred and propaganda.
He declared, “This is Islam, this is an act of jihad”. Fortunately, sanity prevailed. A majority in the UK paid little attention to his statements and instead accused him of exploiting the attack to serve his own malicious agenda.
In the recent past as well, there have been similar activities carried out on British soil. In 2011, northern London was rocked by riots. In 2013, two British citizens slaughtered Lee Rigby, an army drummer, in London. In August 2016, a woman was manhandled and stabbed to death while five others were critically wounded.
In all these cases, the culprits have been British nationals and their adherence to a particular religion doesn’t put under the rug the fact that it’s not about religion. It’s about the extremist tendencies, which, of course, have nothing to do with a particular religion, whatsoever. As far as the West is concerned, homegrown radicalisation is, in all likelihood, the actual problem.
The writer is an independent researcher.