A Look Back at the Attacks on London Transit

On the eve of the anniversary of the London bombing, Joel Budd, correspondent for The Economist magazine, discusses a new videotape from one of London's suicide bombers.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the July 7 terrorist attacks in London. The coordinated assault ripped through London's transportation system, killed 52 people, and injured hundreds more. Unlike the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., the suicide bombers in London were homegrown.

Since the bombings, the Blair government has installed a number of measures to crack down on militants; some say at the expense of civil liberties. Earlier today, a video of Shehzad Tanweer, one of last year's suicide bombers, surfaced on Aljazeera. It warned of future terrorist attacks.

For more, we turn to Joel Budd, the Britain Correspondent for The Economist magazine. He joins us from The Economist studios in London. Appreciate your being with us today.

Mr. JOEL BUDD (Britain Correspondent, The Economist magazine): Hello. Hi.

CONAN: What do we know about this video and the timing of its release?

Mr. BUDD: Well, it's a martyrdom video, so it's very similar to those that have been produced in the past by Hamas and by other Palestinian groups. And the point of it presumably is the same, which is to say propaganda and recruitment.

CONAN: And it is not just the statement from this man who was among the four suicide bombers a year ago, but it's accompanied by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two man in al-Qaida.

Mr. BUDD: Yes, there is some footage on the tape of Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was a prominent al-Qaida figure, although, this doesn't necessarily mean, of course, that al-Zawahiri knew Shehzad Tanweer, who was the British bomber, or even that he knew about the attack on London. And the thinking is that he probably didn't and that the bombers were pretty much self-organized. All it really means, I think, the fact that the two are together on the same tape, that the militant Islamist network, or al-Qaida, whatever you want to call it, is sufficiently organized to get tape from these two guys and splice it together.

CONAN: One of the things that was seen as new in the attacks a year ago was that the aspect of a homegrown terrorist cell. Interesting surveys conducted recently among Muslims in Britain suggesting that while still very much a minority, there is considerable support for the kind of actions we saw a year ago.

Mr. BUDD: Yes. I've always likely wondered how to read those surveys. The samples are often rather small and, of course, people sometimes say things deliberately to shock pollsters. So I'm not sure I put too much weight on those. What is certainly true is that British Muslims are not only extremely angry about the British government's actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but are also angry about the way their own representatives have been treated in the year since the July 7th bombings.

CONAN: And this comes all after a recent speech by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who criticized moderate Muslims for not doing enough to quell militants.

Mr. BUDD: Yes, and it all started so well. That was the strange thing. Soon after the July 7th attacks, lots of prominent Muslims came to 10 Downing Street and they set up a series of working groups called the Preventing Extremism Together Working Groups. One of the people was Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, and a great number of prominent British Muslim religious leaders. And they had very amicable discussions and they came up with all sorts of sensible recommendations about what could be done to tackle extremism. And over the past year, that very good working relationship has almost completely dissolved so that not only is the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, angry with Muslims, but Muslims are extremely angry with Tony Blair.

CONAN: We're speaking with Joel Budd, the Britain Correspondent for The Economist magazine and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Now, critics of the Blair government say its response to 7/7, as it's known there, has been a major threat to civil liberties without much to show for an improvement to safety.

Mr. BUDD: Yes. I'm afraid I think that's probably fair. What you have to remember about Britain is that because we fought against the Irish Republican Army and various Republican splinter groups for 30 years, we have already some of the strongest anti-terror powers, strongest police powers in the developed world and to add to those really seems fairly extraordinary; and some of the proposals that have been put in place do things like criminalize the holding of placards that seem to support terrorism. I mean, America, of course, had a great deal of debate about the U.S.A. Patriots Act, but by comparison that is fairly mild there compared to what Britain has.

CONAN: There are also some disturbing similarities to some of the things at 9/11. Recommendations 18 years ago in something called The Fennell Report on a fire at King's Cross Station in the tube system, in the metro system there, to install a communication system for London underground emergency crews have still not been implemented, and I gather that action on this has now been delayed until the end of 2007.

Mr. BUDD: Yes, that's right. I mean, these things - these structural problems tend to be noticed at moments of crisis and then it's discovered that it's rather expensive and rather disruptive to do anything about them and so people tend to forget about them again.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on this. Salem(ph). Salem's calling us from Detroit.

SALEM (Caller): Yeah, hi. I had a question to your guest about the specific case of the London bombings. Now, to what extent do we have a proof that these young suicide bombers and terrorists belong to a larger network, or were they simply individuals who tried to embody probably the grief of immigrants, generally. I lived in France for 20 years and I was surprised to see to what extent immigrants lived in true ghettos, and they had a very strong feeling resentment.

Now, is it a pure act of terrorism similar to the one in the U.S. on September 11th or would you link it more to a group of young students, obviously, probably motivated by an extremist reading of the Koran and of Islamic belief, and also trying to embody the grief of immigrants and probably immigrant laws and social laws in Europe that are truly failing regarding immigrants?

CONAN: And we'll turn to Joel Budd for that. But we have to remember, of course, one of the bombers was not so young, but go ahead, Joel.

Mr. BUDD: Yes, that's right. I mean, it's a good question. The funny thing is, though, is that the neighborhood where three of the four bombers came from, which is a neighborhood in southern Leeds - Leeds a city in the north of England - is strikingly racially mixed. It is not a Muslim ghetto by any means and Shehzad Tanweer, the man whose video was released today, his father owned a fish and chips shop. Now, fish and chips, it's the definitive British dish and so who could be more integrated into British society than this man?

SALEM: If I may just ask you one more question. So do you think the nature of the motivation or the nature of the terrorist act, could it be linked to the one that happened September 11th or is there a different motivation behind it…

CONAN: We have to give him 30 seconds to respond. I'm sorry, Salem. I have to cut you off. Go ahead, please.

Mr. BUDD: Yes. I mean, foreign policy seems to have been very much a motivation in both cases. In the September 11 case there seemed to have been anger over the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. In the British case, almost certainly, the Iraq war was a large contributing factor to the radicalization of these guys, as also Afghanistan and Chechnya, as Shehzad Tanweer says on the tape.

CONAN: Salem, thanks very much for the call. I didn't mean to cut you off; we were just out of time.

SALEM: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Thank you also to Joel Budd, the Britain Correspondent for The Economist magazine, joining us from the studios of The Economist in London. Appreciate your time.

Mr. BUDD: Thank you.

CONAN: And I neglected to thank Mike Boyer, the senior editor of Foreign Policy magazine who spearheaded the Terrorism Index and joins us today here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much.

Mr. BOYER: Thank you.

CONAN: And when we come back, your calls for the Motley Fools. This is NPR News.

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