The myth of Afghan terrorism

Contrary to Gordon Brown’s claims, no Afghan has been involved in the terror attacks of the past 10 years.

Patrick Hayes

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In his speech about Afghanistan, given at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London on 4 September 2009, British prime minister Gordon Brown argued that this is a war to protect people across the West from terrorism.

It is ‘not just a mission to protect the British people from the threat of terrorism but an international mission involving over 40 countries’, he said, ‘because we all face the same threat. We’ve all seen the reality of this threat: in Bali, Madrid, Mumbai, and of course on the streets of London four years ago.’ (1)

Raising the spectre of recent terrorist attacks to justify the war in Afghanistan is highly disingenuous – because Afghan terrorism is a myth. No Afghan citizens have been involved in any of the terror attacks mentioned by Brown. And even where non-Afghans have allegedly received funding or training from inside Afghanistan in order to carry out terrorist attacks, their drive and motivation has come from elsewhere.

A brief overview of recent attacks suggests that, contrary to what Brown says, the problem of contemporary terrorism will not be resolved by occupying Afghanistan.

***

The 7/7 bombings in London

Date: 7 July 2005
Afghan involvement: NONE

All of the pepetrators of the 7/7 attacks, which killed 56 people on the London transport network, had British citizenship and no record of prior involvement with terrorist activities. The young suicide bombers grew up in Leeds and Huddersfield and only one was born outside of the UK, in Jamaica. Many have argued that the radicalisation and training of these bombers occurred outside of the UK, including in Pakistan where bomber Shehzad Tanweer studied for a short period. However, their radicalisation certainly did not take place in Afghanistan. And as Brendan O’Neill has previously argued on spiked, the politics and attitude of the 7/7 bombers were shaped more by British ideas and values than by Eastern Islamism (See 7/7: a very British bombing, by Brendan O’Neill). Not one Afghan was involved in the 7/7 bombings; however, a 24-year-old Afghan named Atique Sharifi was killed in these attacks carried out by homegrown British terrorists.

***

The 21/7 failed bombings in London

Date: 21 July 2005
Afghan involvement: NONE

The majority of those convicted for the failed attempts to blow up buses and underground trains two weeks after the 7/7 attacks were, once again, British nationals. Some of them originally hailed from Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the organisation of the failed attacks also involved two Somalian nationals and a Ghanaian. However, all of them had spent the majority of their adult lives in Britain (2). Muktar Said Ibrahim, the mastermind of the failed attacks, had reportedly undertaken training in Pakistan and Sudan. However, there is nothing to suggest he, or any of the other plotters, had any links with Afghanistan (3).

***

The failed bombings in London and Glasgow

Date: 30 June 2007
Afghan involvement: NONE

There were also no Afghan connections in the failed attempts to attack a nightclub in central London and the airport in Glasgow in 2007. Dr Bilal Talal Abdulla, the passenger in the car that failed to explode when it was driven into Glasgow airport, was born in Aylesbury, England, though he moved to Iraq as a child and studied medicine there. The other Glasgow attacker, Kafeel Ahmed, who is also thought to have been involved in organising the failed London bombings, was an Indian-born Muslim raised in Bangalore and Saudi Arabia before coming to Britain to study for a PhD. According to the Indian Express, Ahmed frequently communicated with individuals in Malta, Finland, Saudi Arabia and Oman during his time in India, but there is nothing to indicate he had any close connections with Afghanistan (4).

***

The crashing of planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon

Date: 11 September 2001
Afghan involvement: SOME

Of the 19 hijackers of the planes on 11 September, none was from Afghanistan. Fifteen were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Lebanon and Egypt (5). The attacks were devised largely by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti, and were organised and executed by fairly middle-class Egyptians and Saudis who were radicalised during their time studying in universities in the West. The attacks were opportunistically supported by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi, who at the time of 9/11 was resident in Taliban-governed Afghanistan. However, this does not mean the Taliban, far less Afghanistan itself, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, it is known that the Taliban was generally opposed to al-Qaeda’s publicity terror stunts. It was primarily the isolation of the Taliban by Western goverments in the mid- to late-1990s that encouraged the Taliban to invite Osama bin Laden into their country: they needed him to fund their new state (6).

***

The bombings in Bali, Indonesia

Date: 12 October 2002
Afghan involvement: SOME

The three bombers executed for the 2002 bombings which killed 202 people in the nightclub district of the island of Bali, Indonesia, were all born in Indonesia (7). The main financier of the attacks, Riduan Isamuddin, was also born in Indonesia. According to the Indonesian police, a number of the bombers seem to have trained in Afghanistan, but their main training is believed to have taken place in Malaysia, where a large number of Indonesian Islamists took refuge in the 1990s. One of the main players in the Bali bombings, Huda bin Abdul Haq, had been to Afghanistan and had reportedly once met Osama bin Laden in 1987 while both were fighting in the Afghan-Soviet civil war (on the side of the Western-backed Mujahideen). But there is nothing to suggest bin Laden or anyone else resident in Afghanistan around 2001 and 2002 organised or gave the go-ahead to the Bali bombings (8).

***

The Madrid train bombings

Date: 11 March 2003
Afghan involvement: NONE

The blasts that killed 193 people on the public transport system in Madrid were not, as some initially suspected, carried out by the Basque separatists of Eta. However, none of those convicted were of Afghan origin, either. Thirteen of the convicted came from Morocco, three from Spain, two from Syria, one from Lebanon and one from Algeria (9). An investigation into the attacks that lasted two years found no real links between the Madrid bombers and al-Qaeda, though some speculate that the attackers may have been ‘inspired’ by bin Laden. The only ‘link’ with Afghanistan is that, reportedly, Morocco’s Islamist Combat Group may have built the rucksack bombs used in Madrid, based on a model reportedly developed in camps in Jalalabad, Afghanistan (10).

***

The Beslan school massacre

Date: 1-3 September 2004
Afghan involvement: NONE

Indentifying the bodies of those involved in the three-day siege of the Beslan school, where 1,200 people were taken hostage and 385 people were killed, proved extremely difficult due to injuries and burns. Russian president Vladimir Putin initially suggested that al-Qaeda had been involved, though there is no proof for this (11). The commission tasked with investigating the attack concluded that it was spearheaded by Chechen rebels Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev and the 32 militants involved in the attacks were Chechen separatists (12). All had reportedly taken heroin before the attacks, to increase their pain tolerance and give them energy, but not even Brown has scraped the barrel to suggest a link between Beslan and Afghanistan’s poppy fields (13).

***

The murder of Theo van Gogh

Date: 2 November 2004
Afghan involvement: NONE

The gruesome murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was shot eight times and stabbed after he sparked anger amongst certain Muslims with his film Submission, was carried out by Dutch national Mohammed Bouyeri. Also holding Moroccan citizenship, Bouyeri was a member of the Dutch Hofstad Network. The attack is now broadly accepted to have been homegrown, a product of political difficulties within the Netherlands, rather than springing from Afghanistan or anywhere else (14).

***

The Mumbai bombings and shootings

Date: 26-28 November 2008
Afghan involvement: NONE

Despite initial denials from the Pakistani government, it did eventually accept that the 10 shooting- and bombing attacks that took place over a three-day period Mumbai, resulting in the deaths of 193 people, were carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba militants from Pakistan. They had been directed from inside Pakistan through a range of communications devices. Officials in New Delhi have claimed that all 10 of the militants originated from Pakistan; however, according to a report by Qatar-based television station Al Jazeera, Pakistan claims the terrorists had potential links with elements in Russia, Bangladesh and Spain. However, despite Brown’s namechecking of the Mumbai attacks, there is currently no investigation into any Afghan involvement (15).

***

This brief overview of recent terror attacks suggest that no Afghan citizen has been involved in serious international terrorism over the past decade. And in the vast majority of recent attacks, the oft-cited terrorist training camps in Afghanistan appear to have played little or no role. Rather than going to training camps, the 7/7 and 21/7 bombers, for example, are thought to have gained their bomb-making know-how from the internet, or even in chemistry classes (16).

The irony is that, to the extent that terrorism has ‘sprung from Afghanistan’, it has been as a result of the West’s own actions over the past 30 years. American and British governments sponsored the Mujahideen during the Afghan-Soviet war, training them in urban warfare and bomb-making and other military techniques – and many foreign Mujahideen, from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere, then made use of this know-how back in their home countries or in international acts of terrorism. The West helped to unleash a new form of Islamic militancy in parts of the East. However, today’s Afghanistan itself is no hotbed of international terrorism, and treating it as such is to avoid asking hard questions about what is really driving contemporary terror attacks.

Patrick Hayes is a co-founder of the IoI Current Affairs Forum and volunteer co-ordinator for the education charity WORLDwrite, producers of the debate ‘Shopping: are we all ethical now?’ at this year’s Battle of Ideas festival.

Previously on spiked

Mick Hume looked at what’s behind the sudden outburst of questions around Afghanistan. Brendan O’Neill stated that answers as to why British troops are in Afghanistan can be found at home rather than over there. David Chandler blamed the invading powers of the West for the weakening of the the Afghan state. He also talked about the theatrical nature of war. Or read more at spiked issue Afghanistan.

(1) PM speech on Afghanistan, 4 September 2009

(2) Failed suicide bombers each get 40-year life term, Independent (Ireland), 12 July 2007

(3) 21/7 bombers failed to kill dozens as ‘mastermind’ could not do maths, Daily Mail, 9 July 2007

(4) Glasgow airport bomber communicated with Malta, 15 July 2007

(5) TWO YEARS LATER: 9/11 TACTICS; Official Says Qaeda Recruited Saudi Hijackers to Strain Ties, New York Times, 9 September 2003

(6) See Funding in Afghanistan, Global Security

(7) Bali death toll set at 202, BBC News 19 February 2003

(8) The Bali bombers’ network of terror, BBC News, 6 August 2003

(9) Madrid train attacks, BBC News

(10) Madrid bombers ‘were inspired by Bin Laden address’, Independent, 7 November 2006

(11) Russia’s colluders, Prospect magazine, 22 July 2006

(12) Beslan attacker jailed for life, BBC News, 26 May 2006

(13) Beslan hostage-takers ‘were on drugs’, Independent, 18 October 2004

(14) New trial looms for Dutch killer, BBC News 14 October

(15) Pakistan admits Mumbai attack link, Al Jazeera, 12 February 2009

(16) ‘Bomb plotter’ studied chemistry, BBC News, 18 January 2007

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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