Video Nasty
A London bomber's anniversary gift.


James S. Robbins

Oh, but Shehzad’s mates have let him down on that one. In the past year there has been no continuing series of terror attacks in Britain, no uptick in the intensity of violence. Either the security forces have been doing their jobs well, or the surviving terrorists in Tanweer’s circle were not as committed as he was. Probably a bit of both.

Gadfly troglodyte Ayman al Zawahiri makes an appearance in the video, his ninth so far this year. He praises Tanweer, noting for our benefit his various virtuous qualities, such as the fact that he was “fond of boxing although he was from a rich family.” Also appearing is 28-year-old Adam Gadahn, alias Azzam al Amriki (Azzam the American), the son of a goat rancher in Riverside County, California, who converted to Islam at age 17. (Michelle Malkin has a good backgrounder on him.) Azzam has appeared in a number of al Qaeda videos, always masked, and is suspected of running the al Sahab studio that does post-production for the terror group’s media releases. He premiered in an October 2004 video in which he stated, “my fellow countrymen you are guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty. After decades of American tyranny and oppression, now it’s your turn to die. Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood.” In September 2005 ABC News aired a video of a masked man believed to be Gadahn stating “Yesterday, London and Madrid. Tomorrow, Los Angeles and Melbourne. At this time, don’t count on us demonstrating restraint or compassion.” This time? As opposed to which other time? The target list was probably not meant to be taken literally, he was just indulging in some alliteration, but it did cause consternation in both sides of the Pacific. According to a post on a terrorist website last October, Azzam has recently been promoted to leader of al Qaeda in America, and has been tasked to attack a nuclear reactor “in the coming days.” Whenever that is.

The new video was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the vicious attack on the London transit system that took 52 lives. It wasn’t as though the event was not getting coverage. The British press has been thick with retrospectives. But once again, al Qaeda has demonstrated that they can dominate the information domain, seize headlines hostage at will.

It’s also worth noting that even though terrorists who seek to be unpredictable, this video fit a pattern. Al Qaeda released a similar video testament featuring hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari on the occasion of the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. He also promised a punishing series of attacks that never materialized. Here too they were consistent.

But what long-term impact has 7/7 had? Tony Blair is still prime minister. Britain is still a stalwart Coalition partner in the war on terrorism. Like the German Blitz of the Second World War — which lasted nine months, killed 43,000 people, and destroyed a million homes (just to put the puny efforts of the terrorists in perspective) — the Tubeway bombings inspired more unity than fear, more resolve than terror.

One positive impact is that the bombings have prompted some introspection in the British Muslim community. A recent poll of U.K. Muslims revealed some interesting dynamics. On one hand, a disturbingly high percentage of British Muslims seemed to have no problem with the 7/7 attacks. 13 percent consider the attackers to be martyrs. Seven percent approved of suicide attacks against civilians, and 16 percent approved if against military targets. About the same percentage said they would not object to a family member joining al Qaeda, while 2 percent said they would be proud. A new Pew Global Attitudes Project survey shows that 42 percent of Britons are concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in their country, an increase of 8 percent over the last year.

Yet, 78 percent of British Muslims polled said they would be angry if a family member signed up with al Qaeda. 56 percent thought the government needed to do a better job fighting extremism (the response for the general population was 49 percent), and 65 percent believed their community needed to do a better job integrating into British society. Thus those Muslims who celebrate the bombers rather than mourning their victims, who will not observe the two minutes silence set for noon in London (7 A.M. on the east coast), and who state publicly that they despise the freedoms they enjoy in one of the world’s oldest democracies — they are a fringe element and embarrassment to those who seek to emulate the values that has made Britain a great nation.

As for the terrorists, they threaten much more than they can deliver, and while they like to toss around expressions like streets running red with blood, the fact remains that their top leadership cannot show their faces in public anywhere in the world, and their factotums like the benighted Azzam, refuse to face the public even from the safety of videotape. They are hunted the world over, captured, or killed on a regular basis. One might pity them for their delusions of grandeur were they not so contemptible.

 — James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, a trustee for the Leaders for Liberty Foundation, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.