After a failed attempt on then British Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher's life in October 1984, the Irish Republican Army
issued this statement: "Today we were unlucky, but remember, we only have
to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always." Those words are no
less true in the wake of British authorities discovering two would-be car bombs
in London and a Jeep Cherokee set ablaze crashing into the main terminal building
at Glasgow International Airport in Scotland.
Indeed, Lady Luck intervened to prevent the car bomb attacks in London.
An ambulance driver passing by happened to notice smoke inside a parked Mercedes
and alerted authorities, who discovered a bomb fashioned together from gasoline,
propane canisters, and nails. A second Mercedes was ticketed and towed about
an hour after the first car was discovered. Several hours later, after news
of the first car bomb, workers at the parking garage notified police that the
towed car reeked of gasoline. The British were doubly lucky that neither of
the car bombs detonated – which could have killed or injured perhaps several
hundred people – because, according to British authorities, there were no prior
intelligence reports warning of any imminent terrorist attacks.
The British were a little less lucky – but lucky nonetheless – at Glasgow
Airport. Two would-be suicide car bombers drove a Jeep Cherokee into the doorway
of the terminal, but they were unable to get inside the building (according
to witnesses, the Jeep's wheels were spinning furiously in an attempt to get
through the doorway). Although the Jeep was a fireball, fortunately there was
no explosion (according to one news report, one of the two men was wearing a
bomb belt, and the Jeep contained propane canisters).
But it is simply not possible to be lucky all of the time. No matter how vigilant
authorities and the public are and how many security barriers are erected, luck
will eventually run out and terrorists will succeed.
Consider that British authorities say some 2,000
people in the United Kingdom are suspected radicals and thus potential terrorists.
Yet knowing about those people did not help them uncover the two potential car
bombs in London. In the case of Glasgow, British authorities were apparently
the trail of the airport bombers but still could not prevent the attack.
London and Glasgow also illustrate the unpredictable nature of the terrorist
threat. Because the July 2007 London tube and bus bombings were perpetrated
by so-called homegrown terrorists, that phenomenon has been a large focus of
subsequent counterterrorism and intelligence efforts. Yet only one of the eight
suspects arrested so far in connection with London and Glasgow is a British
citizen (naturalized, not
born in the United Kingdom). Also, one of the suspects is a 27-year-old
woman, which is highly unusual and would be unprecedented for an Islamic terrorist
attack against a Western target (although Muslim
women have been part of terrorist operations in non-Western countries).
Also highly unusual is the fact that several
of the suspects are doctors: Bilal Abdulla, an Iraqi Kurd who worked at
the Glasgow Hospital; Mohammed Asha, who is of Palestinian descent with a Jordanian
passport; another man identified as a 26-year-old doctor from India, who worked
at Halton Hospital in Cheshire, northern England; and the most recent suspect
arrested in Australia, a 27-year old man who completed his medical internship
in India and worked at a Queensland state hospital. So much for fitting the
"poorly educated" profile of the July 2005 London bombers (Mohammed
Siddique Khan had a degree in business studies, but with low marks; Tanweer
Hussain studied sports science at college but never completed his degree; Hasib
Hussain had a community college education; and Jermaine Lindsay quit school
in 2002 to work as a salesman).
The July 2005 London bombings (and the 2004 Madrid bombings) were carried
out using backpack bombs, whereas the failed London attacks and the Glasgow
attack were with car bombs. Although there is no evidence linking the attacks
to Iraq, it is worth noting that car bombs are de rigueur in Iraq, and,
according to a previous CIA report, Iraq has become a more potent training ground
for Islamic terrorists than Afghanistan was in the 1980s. The good news is that
London and Glasgow car bombs were amateurish,
which is some confirmation that perpetrators were probably not products of the
insurgency in Iraq. It also tends to discredit newly minted British Prime Minister
Gordon Brown's claim that "we
are dealing, in general terms, with people who are associated with al-Qaeda,"
because the hallmarks of al-Qaeda attacks are operational sophistication resulting
in devastating success.
With the driver and passenger of the flaming Jeep Cherokee, as well as
other suspects, in custody, it is highly likely that British authorities will
unravel the details about the planning and operation of the Glasgow and attempted
London attacks (it is now believed that they are linked
by the two men in the Jeep). But if the nature of terrorism is to be unpredictable,
the next attempted terrorist attack (or attacks) will be different. And the
question is whether Lady Luck will smile on authorities in time for them to