Britain faces 'the enemy within'
The four suspected suicide bombers were not foreign Al Qaeda fighters but home-grown British radicals.
British police have made a dramatic breakthrough in the hunt for the London bombers, but the discovery that the suspects were young Britons, not hardened Al Qaeda foreigners, has heightened jitters and raised questions about how Britain prosecutes the war on terror.Skip to next paragraph
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Police now say that the 7/7 attacks could be the first suicide bombings ever in Western Europe. They believe the perpetrators were second-generation Britons of Pakistani descent aged 18 to 30, possibly acting with some outside help.
If substantiated, the vigorous and rapid police work would give credence to the idea that Britain has more to fear from an "enemy within" than from shadowy Al Qaeda cells abroad.
Experts say the challenge for authorities now will be to combat terrorism by bolstering mainstream Muslim society to ensure no further defections to the fanatical jihadi camp. This effort, they say, should focus as much on acts of civic integration and inclusion as on the security-led war on terror that has alienated many.
Prime Minister Tony Blair hinted as much Wednesday when he told Parliament that "security measures alone are not going to deal with this." Still, he noted that the government would press ahead with legislation cracking down on those who incite hatred and violence, while seeking to banish foreigners who whip up terrorist fervor.
But he emphasized that no less important were initiatives to help the stricken Muslim community isolate the extremists in its midst. Success, he suggested, would come from confronting the "extreme and evil ideology" behind the attacks. And "this evil within the Muslim community," he argued, can only be defeated by the community itself. To that end, he urged the moderate voice of Islam to drown out the voluble extremism amplified globally.
It's no secret that Britain has for years provided fertile soil for Islamic hard-liners. Some radical imams freely deliver Friday sermons filled with invective against Britain and "infidels."
One man linked to a south London mosque, Richard Reid, was convicted of trying to blow up an aircraft soon after 9/11. Two other Britons carried out suicide bombings in Tel Aviv two years ago. Police have arrested dozens of others suspected of preparing terror spectaculars. Pakistan said Wednesday it helped Britain thwart an attack before the May general election.
But despite several foiled attacks, last Thursday's bombers passed under the radar. Police have pieced together a partial narrative from the attacks, when four rush-hour explosion bombs, three on the Tube and one on a bus, killed more than 50 and injured 700.
The vital tip-off came from one of the suspect's own families, who called police when he failed to return home last Thursday. On Tuesday, police raided a series of homes in Leeds, some 200 miles north of London, where they found explosives and arrested a man believed to be related to the suspects. They also impounded a vehicle at Luton railway station, 40 miles north of London, and found more bomb-making materials.