Three men were convicted in Britain yesterday for a terror plot that sought to kill hundreds of people by using eight suicide bombers with backpacks full of explosives and armed with guns.
The plot was uncovered by the British security service MI5, which recorded the men complaining that the July 7, 2005, attack in London, which killed 52 people, had not done “enough damage.” The bombers—one of whom had a degree in pharmacology—planned to extract ammonium nitrate from sports injury cold packs to make their bombs.
The plot summarizes both the successes Britain has had in the fight against Islamist terrorism and the dangers that still exist. Unbeknownst to the police, the plotters travelled to Pakistan in 2009 and stayed for eight months, receiving eight days of terror training. They returned in December 2010 and spent up to three months in the ungoverned area of North Waziristan, where they had another 40 days of training in how to make bombs and poison and use guns.
Once back in Britain, they raised funds under the cover of a charity, Muslim Aid, which has itself been the subject of allegations that it funds groups linked to Hamas. Fortunately, the plotters lost most of the money trying to speculate on the foreign exchange market, and, even more fortunately, MI5 and the police had picked up on their activities before their second trip to Pakistan.
The resulting recordings depicted plotters who wanted to attack British soldiers, Prime Minister David Cameron, and the people of the British city of Birmingham, who wanted to turn their city into a “little war zone,” and who wanted “revenge for everything, another 9/11.”
Britain’s success in breaking up this dangerous plot is encouraging. But there is nothing very new about it: The risks of the Pakistan–Britain connection have been well known for years. In a 2009 study, Heritage pointed out that homegrown Islamist terrorism was a major threat, and that “al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas enables its leadership more easily to gain access to and to influence individuals with family ties to Pakistan,” including many British citizens.
It also makes a final point clear: as long as al-Qaeda has a safe haven in northern Pakistan, they will continue to try to reach out and hurt us. We learned that lesson on 9/11, and the British have now learned it anew. As Heritage analyst Lisa Curtis put it, “President Obama should level with a war-weary American public about the risks of the Taliban re-establishing its power base in Afghanistan and facilitating the revival of al-Qaeda.” The risks of that revival are all too real.