British Terrorist Plots Linked to Al-Qaida

Great Britain's new prime minister says this weekend's foiled terror plots are the work of people associated with al-Qaida. Anthony Glees, director of the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunell University in London, talks with Debbie Elliott.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

To find out more about who might be behind these attempted attacks in the United Kingdom, we turn to Anthony Glees, director of the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University in London. Mr. Glees, Prime Minister Gordon Brown says it's clear this is the work of people who are associated with al-Qaida. Is that clear? What are the links here?

Professor ANTHONY GLEES (Director, Center for Intelligence and Security Studies, Brunel University): Well, I think it is clear, although it has got to be said that until we have very firm evidence, everything else has to be speculation; however, the bombs have certain features consistent with what we know about al-Qaida or al-Qaida-sponsored attacks. These would include the nature of the improvised explosive device.

These are the sorts of things that British and American troops are facing all the time in Iraq and Afghanistan. The choice of target - a dancehall in London, a nightclub, an airport in Glasgow - these are targets without any political or military significance. And add to that the fact that Gordon Brown has just become prime minister. And…

ELLIOTT: Do you think this is some sort of a message for Gordon Brown as he starts to take office?

Prof. GLEES: I think we're entitled to say that this was an al-Qaida message to Gordon Brown, telling him that they are to be taken seriously.

ELLIOTT: What is the status of al-Qaida in Great Britain? Is there a local affiliate there? I mean, after the transit attacks, there was much talk of homegrown terrorism in Britain. Why now is there talk of this being linked to al-Qaida?

Prof. GLEES: Well, I think there's still a lot of confusion about what is homegrown terrorism and what is international terrorism. The fact of the matter is that those people who may be born in the United Kingdom, gone to British schools and British universities but who turned to al-Qaida, are in effect international terrorists - every bit as much as those people in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, who have never been part of British society.

ELLIOTT: Have authorities recently there, though, considered that there is an active al-Qaida unit operating in Great Britain?

Prof. GLEES: Well, we know that there has been. And it is possible that the people who will, I am sure, be arrested will be shown to have links to other networks in the United Kingdom. One network was led by a man called Dhiren Barot. He was given life imprisonment effectively last autumn, but not all his collaborators were caught. There was another plot, people again effectively given life imprisonment earlier this year, and, again, there's evidence to suggest that not everybody that was part of this network was rounded up or caught at the time. So we shouldn't minimize the extent to which there may be networks still operating in the United Kingdom controlled by al-Qaida. Al-Qaida has said the United Kingdom is its number one target, not because it hates Britain more than anybody else, but because it's harder for Al-Qaeda to strike at the United States.

ELLIOTT: Lord John Stevens, who is the new prime minister's terrorism adviser, wrote today in Sunday's News of the World that the recent incidents signal a major escalation in the war being waged by Islamic terrorists on Great Britain. Do you agree that the threat is really becoming more serious in Britain, or will this be one in a series of sporadic incidents?

Prof. GLEES: I think the threat is more serious, and I think what we are seeing at the moment - and it may still be going on - is a campaign of terrorism in the United Kingdom. We can't be sure whether the future attacks will be amateurish in this way or will use more sophisticated weapons, but I'm sure that Lord Stevens is absolutely right, horrifyingly right, to suggest that this is not the end of anything but a new stage in something that will be with us for the foreseeable future.

ELLIOTT: Anthony Glees is a terrorism expert at Brunel University in London. Thank you for speaking with us.

Prof. GLEES: It's been a pleasure.

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