Politics & Policy

Was It Suicide?

Reconsidering 7/7.

“So maybe it wasn’t a suicide attack after all?”

I had finally gotten a decent connection through the ouija board with the late James Jesus Angleton, once our leading counterspy, and I didn’t want to waste time with the usual chitchat about fly fishing-whose fascination, frankly, I have never understood–and Renaissance furniture.

JJA: “Why would anybody think it was a suicide operation?”

ML: “Well, officially they seemed pretty confident. I think the main thing was that the three bombs in the subways went off more or less at the same instant, and that suggested there were timers. And then I think they actually found physical evidence of timers.”

JJA: “Really. How brilliant. And since when do suicide terrorists need timers? Isn’t part of the cult that you get to push your own button and blast off?”

ML: “Well, I think the simultaneity of the three explosions suggested technological coordination, if you see what I mean…”

JJA: “Couldn’t they just coordinate their watches? They all met before they set off to kill, didn’t they? And they were all well educated, I don’t think any of them had a problem telling time.”

ML: “Yes, some of the British papers, and a very smart Italian journalist named Guido Olimpio, have suggested that the terrorists were duped, that they didn’t expect to be blown up…”

JJA: “Yes, notice that the London police chief was ‘puzzled’ to discover that the bombers were carrying around their personal identity documents. That’s pretty lousy tradecraft, isn’t it? It’s what led the police to Leeds, where they found explosives and all kinds of leads.”

ML: “And there’s the odd story about the pay-and-display ticket for their rental car. If they expected to die, why bother to pay the parking fee?”

JJA: “Well, that one actually supports the suicide theory, because Muslim martyrs are supposed to settle all their earthly affairs before the event, including all legitimate debts. If they cheated on their parking fee, it might count against their immediate entry to Paradise…Although, to tell you the truth, after many years in this place…”

There was a sudden squawk of static before his voice came back, kind of gravelly.

JJA: “Sorry, I’m not supposed to talk about how things are here.”

ML: “So you don’t think they knew they were going to be martyred?”

JJA: “No I don’t. There’s an elaborate ritual that surrounds acts of Islamic suicide terrorism, and none of the ritual is present in this case. There’s almost always a letter to the family, explaining what an honor it is for them to have an heroic martyr. There’s almost always a video that shows them praying, preparing for sacrifice. If not, there’s invariably an audio.”

ML: “Yes, you’re right. These acts are always used for ‘propaganda’ purposes, aren’t they?”

JJA: “Never mind propaganda, they’re recruitment devices, just like the films of the ritual beheadings.”

ML: “Right. And there aren’t any in the London case.”

JJA: “There are not. And that, my friend, is a great example of the dog that did not bark. Can you imagine the shock value of a cassette of these proper Brits explaining the righteousness of their case, as they blow up scores of their fellow countrymen?”

ML: “Well, then, what happened?”

JJA: “What happened? What happened was what happens every day in Iraq. You recruit young men and tell them you want them to carry out a terrorist op. Not a suicide mission, but a strike on behalf of jihad. You tell them you want them to carry some bombs into the underground and leave them on the subway train. You tell them not to worry, everything is controlled by a timer, and the timer is set, say, half an hour after they are out of the Tube. So they go. Except then you set the thing off remotely. By cell phone, say.”

ML: “But I thought cell phones don’t work in the underground.”

JJA: “I think you will find that some do. Or maybe there was a different kind of radio signal. But the technology certainly exists, and isn’t very expensive. It might be something very simple, like putting a phony clock face on the timer, showing the explosion set for half an hour after the real time.”

ML: “Actually, that might help explain the guy on the bus.”

JJA: “Good for you, you noticed that?”

ML: “Well, now that you’ve got me thinking along those lines, it suddenly makes sense.”

JJA: “You bet. You remember those passengers who said he was rummaging around, very nervously, in his backpack?”

ML: “Yes. And all the papers said he was probably checking to make sure it would work.”

JJA: “Except that we’re talking an hour and a half after the bombs went off in the underground, and maybe that surprised him. Maybe theirs wasn’t supposed to go off until his did, too. Maybe he suspected what had happened. And maybe he was trying to find a way to shut it off, to get out of what had become a nightmare.”

ML: “Why didn’t he just run?”

JJA: “Don’t ask rational questions about a person seized by panic.”

ML: “Fair enough. Anyway, there are plenty of precedents for this theory.”

JJA: “Yup. Lots and lots of them. Like that poor bastard in Baghdad, the Saudi kid who was trained in Syria and then smuggled into Iraq. They told him that he was just a courier. All he had to do was drive a truck in front of the Jordanian embassy, park it, and walk away. They would do the rest. So he starts driving across town, when BOOM.”

ML: “Yes, I remember, and he was blown through the windshield, and miraculously survived, and ended up on Iraqi TV warning the world not to trust the guys who recruited him.”

JJA: “And then there are the cases of terrorists who were chained to the steering wheel.”

ML: “Right. And of course the suicide terrorists in Israel are accompanied by a handler almost until the moment of truth.”

JJA: “Yes. There’s not a very high level of trust. Lots of the kids turn themselves in when they get close, even the ones who are drugged…”

ML: “Hey, don’t go now! Drugs?”

But it was over.

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...

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