July 4, 2006
London 7/7 bombs show homegrown threat to Europe
By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent
BERLIN (Reuters) - Some 12 hours before he blew himself up
on the London underground, Shehzad Tanweer was playing cricket
until late evening in a park in northern England.
"He appeared perfectly normal to those around him," said a
government report on the London attacks of July 2005, in which
four young, apparently unremarkable British Muslim men killed
52 people in Western Europe's first suicide bombings.
Tanweer's last cricket game is one small detail that hints
at the enormity of the challenge facing European security
services one year later: how to spot the "homegrown" militant
who betrays no outward sign of hostile or erratic behavior.
"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Peter
Waldmann of the University of Augsburg in Germany, one of a
panel of terrorism experts whom the European Union has
consulted on the issue of Islamist radicalization and
As the British government report made clear, there is no
single type of militant personality. Some recruits have been
poor, but some affluent; some ill-educated but others from
prestigious schools; some with criminal records but others
"clean"; some single but others with partners and children.
"All the cliches that we have about the poor, the radical
upbringing at home, they're just blown out of the window. There
is no ultimate type of characteristic, there is no cliched
person who would become a terrorist," said Sebestyen Gorka,
professor of terrorism studies at the George C. Marshall Center
According to Gorka, it makes more sense for security
services to focus on certain types of group behavior than to
look for individual characteristics of potential terrorists.
"Usually you see people who are friends together, who are
colleagues together or who are related, people who know each
other first before they become extremists and who join the
terrorist organizations as a group," he said.
"If you find a group of people together who really do hang
out together, who eat together, who go to the same cleric for
example, that is a unit that is easier to pick up in terms of
surveillance ... It's easier to pick up a large blip that is
suspect than one individual who is suspect."
For Waldmann, a key stage in radicalization is the point at
which the militant travels abroad and creates both physical and
symbolic distance from home.
"When they suddenly decide to go to Yemen or Pakistan, it's
not just important for possible training, like learning to use
weapons, it's a symbolic cut-off," he said.
"To carry out a terrorist attack on a country, you have to
really hate it, you have to totally reject it. I have the
impression that this distancing (through travel) is important
... You suddenly see things through a different lens."
In the case of the London bombings, two of the plotters
visited Pakistan between November 2004 and February 2005, and
the group maintained contact with one or more individuals there
in the run-up to the July 7 attacks.
The extent of possible al Qaeda direction from Pakistan is
one of many unknowns that investigators have yet to determine.
Three of the four bombers had Pakistani immigrant
backgrounds. That has prompted other countries to reassess the
threat from angry, disenchanted sons and grandsons of Muslims
who may have lived in Europe for decades but in many cases have
never fully integrated into Western societies.
"Until now, people had thought the second generation was
not that susceptible -- that it was heavily burdened by
identity conflicts, discrimination or whatever, but that there
was a world of difference between dissatisfaction, protest and
terrorism," Waldmann said.
"Now it's the second generation that's in the sights of the