Why al-Qaeda attacks
In the wake of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, the following question was posed by a member of the audience on BBC1’s Question Time on 30 May 2013:
“Would we see fewer terrorist attacks in this country if we didn’t invade, or support the invasion, of other countries?”
The correct answer to this straightforward question is an
unequivocal ‘yes’. There is no doubt
about it. If
There was a huge upsurge in al-Qaeda plots in
What is more, Baroness Manningham-Buller confirmed that prior
to the invasion of
Alan Johnston was a member of the Question Time panel when
this question was asked. He was in the
Blair Government when it took military action against
happened before any country was invaded.
There would still be jihadists around, I believe, without or without
what happened. In terms of Kosovo, we
went in to defend Muslims who were being butchered – I think, the argument
there is that we probably should have gone in earlier. So, there will always be
people who want to make that link, yes, of course, and you can’t divorce it
from foreign policy. I agree with Mehdi
[Hasan] on that – foreign policy has to be part of the mix. But this kind of suggestion that this is all
because of – usually about the invasion of
While Alan Johnston was emitting this gibberish in order to avoid telling the awful truth, the Conservative representative on the panel, Health Minister Anne Soubry, gave a passable imitation of a nodding dog.
Happily, there was a panellist, journalist Mehdi Hasan, who did tell the awful truth. For the gist of what he said, see his excellent New Statesman article Extremists Point to Western Foreign Policy to Explain Their Acts. Why Do We Ignore Them? .
In suggesting that the words of the people who carry out
bombings should be listened to, Mehdi Hasan is in good company. Interviewed by the Guardian in October 2008,
Stella Rimington, the head of MI5 from 1992 to 1996, was asked about the effect
“Look at what those people who've
been arrested or have left suicide videos say about their motivation. And most
of them, as far as I'm aware, say that the war in
As I wrote above, prior to the invasion of
Aspects of this assessment came into the public domain in September 2003, when the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) published its report, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments . In paragraph 126, this ISC report stated:
assessed that al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the
greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be
heightened by military action against
Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller was the Director General of
She confirmed that the UK Government was warned in advance
of the invasion of
communicated to the Government through JIC assessments and, in her case, directly to the Home
Secretary (who was David Blunkett at the time) to whom the head of MI5
reports. If Ministers read JIC
assessments she said “they can have had no doubt” that,
in the opinion of the intelligence services, the projected invasion of
So, there is no doubt whatsoever that before embarking on the invasion of Iraq, Prime Minister Blair and his colleagues in government knew that a likely consequence was al-Qaeda attacks of the kind that occurred in London in July 2005 and in May 2013. But, they kept this important piece of intelligence from the British public and from the House of Commons. Their omission was understandable, since had the House been informed, conceivably, it would not have backed the invasion.
Warning borne out by events
So was the warning by the intelligence services borne out by events after the invasion? The unequivocal answer to that is ‘yes’. This was amply demonstrated by Baroness Manningham-Buller in evidence to the Chilcot inquiry.
Asked by Sir Roderic Lyne (one of the four members of the
inquiry committee) “how significant … a factor was
“I think it is highly significant … . By 2003/2004 we were receiving an increasing number of leads to terrorist activity from within the UK and the -- our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people, some British citizens -- not a whole generation, a few among a generation -- who were -- saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam.
“So although the media has suggested that in July 2005, the attacks on 7/7, that we were surprised these were British citizens, that is not the case because really there had been an increasing number of British-born individuals living and brought up in this country, some of them third generation, who were attracted to the ideology of Osama bin Laden and saw the west's activities in Iraq and Afghanistan as threatening their fellow religionists and the Muslim world.
“So it undoubtedly increased the threat and by 2004 we were pretty well swamped -- that's possibly an exaggeration -- but we were very overburdened by intelligence on a broad scale that was pretty well more than we could cope with … .” (p18-20)
Asked by Sir Roderic “overall, looking at the sort of two, three, four years after the conflict began in 2003 … to what extent did the conflict in Iraq exacerbate the overall threat that your Service and your fellow services were having to deal with from international terrorism”, she replied: “Substantially”. (p24-5). She said there was hard evidence, for instance “numerical evidence of the number of plots, the number of leads, the number of people identified, and the correlation of that to Iraq and statements of people as to why they were involved, the discussions between them as to what they were doing” (p34)
Later, she added:
“The fact is that the threat increased, was exacerbated by
Invasion heightened threat
So, there is not the slightest doubt that the invasion of
However, the fact that the intelligence services believed
that the invasion was hugely significant in motivating domestic terrorism had
long been publicly known, though rarely commented on in the mainstream media
(and never by mainstream politicians).
For example, in April 2005, a few months prior to the
Blair refuses to acknowledge
Nevertheless, when the London bombings took place, the Prime
Minister refused to acknowledge that the invasion of Iraq had an impact on
al-Qaeda activity in Britain, understandably since he didn’t want to be accused
of having blood on his hands (see my article The London bombings: Britain’s blood price ). Instead, he repeated the fairy tale he had
been telling since 9/11 that Western democracies are all under threat from
Muslim extremists, who want to destroy our way of life (whatever that means)
and it was simply
For example, in a statement on the bombings to the House of Commons on 11 July 2005, he said:
“Together, we will ensure that, though terrorists can kill, they will never destroy the way of life that we share and value, which we will defend with such strength of belief and conviction that it will be to us and not to the terrorists that victory will belong.” 
For the Conservative Party, Michael Howard agreed that our “way of life” was under attack:
“I want to begin by paying tribute to him [the Prime Minister] for the calm, resolute and statesmanlike way in which the Government responded to last Thursday's attack on our capital city, on our citizens and on our way of life.“ 
Only one MP, Scottish Nationalist leader, Alex Salmond disturbed this mindless consensus . He referred to a remark by the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, a couple of days earlier, who had blurted out the obvious fact that some countries are more at risk than others:
"Even intelligence from other countries shows the three Bs — Bush, Berlusconi and Blair — are considered the most exposed to this type of risk."
Salmond asked Blair if Berlusconi had “shared that intelligence information with our Prime Minister”, to which he replied:
“No. The one thing that is obvious from the long list of countries that have been victims of this type of terrorism that I read out is that it does not discriminate greatly between individual items of policy. I am afraid that I must tell the hon. Gentleman that it is a form of terrorism aimed at our way of life, not at any particular Government or policy.”
David Cameron, who at the time was a contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party, was on the panel of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions the day after the bombing. There he was faced with the apt question: “Are we starting to reap that which we have sown?”. In reply, he sang from the same hymn sheet as the Prime Minister:
“I don’t think, I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. … we’ve got to be clear about this, the 9/11 attacks, the bombs in the Kenyan embassy, the Tanzanian embassy, the first World Trade Center bomb, the attack on the USS Cole, all happened before the Iraq war.” 
Absolutely true, but absolutely irrelevant. All of these attacks were on US interests. Al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda inspired groups did not
attack British interests, until after Blair volunteered
See Appendix B for more discussion of the objectives of al-Qaeda.
MI5 website says ‘
Remarkably, while the political establishment were mouthing
in unison that it was misplaced to think that the
This straightforward message remained on the MI5 website for the next couple of years.
(At that time, I made considerable efforts to draw the attention of mainstream media to the extraordinary fact that the words coming out of the Prime Minister’s mouth were at variance with this statement on the MI5 website. This seemed to me to be newsworthy. But to no avail.)
Strangely, although the political establishment refused to
acknowledge that the invasion of
Remarkably, also, the fiction that the invasion of
In a video broadcast by al-Jazeera on 1 September 2005, Mohammad Sidique Khan said:
“Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters.
“Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.” 
In a video broadcast on al-Jezeera on 6 July 2006, Shehzad Tanweer said:
“What you have witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger … until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iran and until you stop your military support of America and Israel.” 
Today, Michael Adebolajo, one of the suspects for the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, has made it clear on camera that his actions were in revenge for British military action oversees. He said:
“The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. … tell them [politicians] to bring our troops back so we can ... so you can all live in peace.” 
Nevertheless, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnston, stated categorically that it is “wrong to try to draw any link between this murder and British foreign policy or our forces who are risking their lives abroad for the sake of freedom” .
What US bombers said
As Glenn Greenwald detailed in the Guardian on 24 April 2013
a string of mostly unsuccessful bombers in
For instance, according to the Washington Post, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the suspects for the Boston bombing, “has told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack, according to U.S. officials familiar with the interviews” .
Similarly, in October 2011 the "underwear bomber", Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in pleading guilty said:
"I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for US support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants." 
"Well, the drone hits in
"I am part of the answer to the
National Security Strategy
When it came to power in 2010, aping the
supposedly thoroughgoing analysis produced an elaborate 3-tier matrix of risks
(Other Tier One threats are “cyber attacks”, “a major
accident or natural hazard” and “an international military crisis between
states, drawing in the
The National Security Strategy, which runs to 39 pages,
doesn’t have a single word to say about why
The army of analysts that produced the National Security
Strategy couldn’t fail to be aware of this straightforward fact, and nor can
the Government Ministers who put their names to the Strategy. But it cannot be admitted publicly. To do so would be to admit the awful truth
fact can’t be said in mainstream British politics, particularly since the
British killing and dying is still going on in
As I wrote in July 2005, in the aftermath of the
“There is an infallible defence
against this terrorism on the British homeland, and it doesn’t involve
draconian anti-terrorism laws, or searching everybody boarding the Tube, or
concrete bollards outside every public building. It is that we stay at home as
a country; that we cease stomping round the Muslim world in the wake of the
“It’s a very straightforward, and a very cost effective, counter-terrorism strategy: we don’t spend money and blood invading Muslim countries, and we won’t need to spend money protecting the British homeland from terrorism emanating from the Muslim world in response. And blood will not be spilled on our streets when the protection proves to be fallible.
“Bringing our troops home from
The lesson of the last decade is that Britain would be safer if it had no capability to project military power abroad, that is, if the Ministry of Defence stuck to doing what its name implies, which would save taxpayers most of the £40 billion a year the Ministry spends today.
Appendix A JIC assessment of impact of
In April 2005, the
The assessment stated, inter alia:
“There is a clear consensus within
“We judge that the conflict in
“Some jihadists who leave
In April 2006,
Appendix B What are al-Qaeda’s objectives?
The mantra that al-Qaeda is out to destroy our way of life is repeated over and over again from all parts of the political spectrum, but what does it mean? Are these people killing themselves because they object to our electing our leaders? Or to our reading the Guardian? Do they want the whole Western world to convert to Islam? And order our societies according to Islamic law? And how many bombs in Western cities is it going to take to bring this about?
This is mindless nonsense.
The truth cannot be admitted, since to admit the truth would be to admit
The plain truth is that al-Qaeda is not concerned with
changing Western society. Its objective
is to change western, especially US, foreign policy towards the Muslim
world. That is why it attacks the
This is clear from the many public statements by bin Laden
and his associates. He was concerned
with American foreign policy towards, and American actions in, the Muslim world
– with US support for Israel in its ongoing theft of Arab land; US support for
corrupt and repressive regimes in the Muslim world (Jordan, Saudi Arabia and
the Gulf states); and so on. Post 9/11, the
Before looking at some of bin Laden’s statements, let me quote from two impeccable sources, which advance this view.
First, from Michael Scheuer, who worked for the CIA for 22 years, and was the first head of its al-Qaeda desk, serving in this capacity for two years. While still working for the CIA, he wrote a book entitled Imperial Hubris: Why the West is losing the War on Terror, which was published in 2004. His view, as summarised in this book, is as follows:
“… the greatest danger for Americans
confronting the radical Islamist threat is to believe – at the urging of
“Rhetorical political blustering ‘informs’ the public that Islamists are offended by the Western world’s democratic freedoms, civil liberties, intermingling of genders, and separation of church and state. However, although aspects of the modern world may offend conservative Muslims, no Islamist leader has, for example, fomented jihad in order to destroy participatory democracy, the national association of credit unions, or coed universities. …
“Al-Qaeda’s public statements
“[Scheuer] contends they will go to any length, not to destroy our secular, democratic way of life, but to deter what they view as specific attacks on their lands, their communities and their religion. Unless US leaders recognize this fact and adjust their policies abroad accordingly, even moderate Muslims will be radicalized into supporting bin Laden’s anti-Western offensive.”
US Defense Science Board
A similar view was expressed in a report in September 2004
from the US Defense Science Board, which exists to provide independent advice
to the US Defense Secretary. The report
is on Strategic Communications, that is, the means whereby the
“Thus the critical
problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not
one of ‘dissemination of information’, or even one of crafting and delivering
the ‘right’ message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility.
Simply, there is none – the
according to the report, the
direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature
of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the
do not ‘hate our freedom’, but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming
majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor
“Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that ‘freedom is the future of the Middle East’ is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World — but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of
“Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack — to broad public support.
“What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of ‘terrorist’ groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.” (pages 40-41)
Bin Laden statements
Now let us look at a few of bin Laden’s public statements.
He first came to public attention with
his declaration of war against the
“It is a duty now on every tribe in
The only demand made of the
Likewise in another fatwa from February 1998, which says:
“. . . the killing of Americans and
their civilian and military allies is a religious duty for each and every
Muslim to be carried out in whichever country they are until Al Aksa mosque [in
Again, there is nothing in it about destroying our way of life in the West.
More recently, in a video message broadcast on al-Jezeera on
1 November 2004 just before the
”Before I begin, I say to you that security is an indispensable pillar of human life and that free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush's claim that we hate freedom.
“If so, then let him explain to us
why we don't strike, for example,
”No, we fight because we are free men who don't sleep under oppression. We want to restore freedom to our nation, just as you lay waste to our nation. So shall we lay waste to yours.
”No one except a dumb thief plays with the security of others and then makes himself believe he will be secure. Whereas thinking people, when disaster strikes, make it their priority to look for its causes, in order to prevent it happening again.
”But I am amazed at you. Even though we are in the fourth year after the events of September 11th, Bush is still engaged in distortion, deception and hiding from you the real causes. And thus, the reasons are still there for a repeat of what occurred. …
“In conclusion, I tell you in all truth, that your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaeda. No. Your security is in your own hands. And every state that doesn't play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.”
The message is clear: leave the Muslin world alone and you will be left alone.
On 29 November 2004, a video tape by the present head of
al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was broadcast on al-Jezeera . It was prepared before the
“The results of the elections do not matter for us. Vote whoever you want, Bush, Kerry or the devil himself. This does not concern us. What concerns us is to purge our land from the aggressors.”
Could al-Qaeda’s objective be clearer? It is not about forcing us to convert to Islam and making us accept Islamic law: it is about ending Western, particularly US, interference in the Muslim world.