Five Islamist terrorists have just received sentences of life imprisonment in Britain. There is much to be learnt from the case. All were British, though their origins were in Pakistan — with one exception, an Algerian who had changed his name to Anthony Garcia, presumably hoping to pass himself off as Mediterranean. All had benefited from the British way of life, its toleration and multiculturalism. Reasonably well educated by prevailing standards, reasonably well off and middle class, they could have been expected to lead decent and productive lives. The leader, one Omar Khyam, even had a grandfather who served in the British army in the Second World War. First and foremost, they all are traitors, and the presiding judge did not hesitate to condemn them as such.
Omar Khyam seems to have had the most fertile imagination, proposing blowing up shopping malls and nightclubs, crashing planes in the 9/11 manner, suicide missions, even buying a dirty bomb from the Russian mafia. To some extent, he and his fellows were fantasists, but at the same time prolonged training in al Qaeda camps in Pakistan had given their amateurishness a professional veneer. Operationally, they were in contact with the suicide bombers responsible for the London bombings of July 2005, which killed 52 people and wounded over 700 more. A picture emerges of young Muslims convinced by their preachers to declare war on society, and recruited into a globalized movement that gives them the means to wage that war. The man alleged to have been their controller, for instance, is Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, close to Osama bin Laden, and as it happens lately captured entering Iraq from Iran, and so transferred to Guantanamo. What can this be called except a war waged by an international terror movement?
British intelligence got on to the track of these men more by luck than judgment. An observant lady informed the intelligence services about secretive activities in a lock-up where the terrorists were storing the raw materials for their explosives. In the course of surveillance, the identities of the July 2005 bombers were also revealed a year or so before they committed their crimes, but the intelligence services then did not follow up these particular terrorists, leaving them free to kill. In this battle of wits, some 30 Islamist networks involving 1,600 potential terrorists are currently under surveillance.
Evidently the intelligence services have greater material resources than the Islamists, but they will remain at the mercy of events until they acquire an imagination equal to those they are up against.
Fortuitously, Edward Fitzgerald used the name Omar Khyam as the title for his famous poem, though he spelled it Omar Khayyam. Time was when every British school child knew the lines: “A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou…” Yes, this idyllic picture was a romanticizing of Islam, and the brute reality of today has put paid to it for ever.