On July 19, 2012, Mohammed and Shasta Khan, from Oldham, near the northern U.K. city of Manchester, were found guilty of planning to bomb two nearby Jewish neighborhoods.
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Their deadly plot was only uncovered by chance: Mr. Khan assaulted his father-in-law, which prompted Mrs. Khan’s brother to warn police: “I think he’s a home-grown terrorist.”
The Khans’ conviction came the day after the bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, and the day before the mass shootings of cinema-goers in Colorado at a Batman movie. Bulgaria fits the pattern of international state-backed terrorism, directly or by proxy, that is part of Iran’s on-going shadow war with Israel. The Batman killings also fit a depressingly familiar pattern: that of the lunatic gunman.
The Khans were not part of any international terrorist network and they were not deranged. Rather, they were part of a growing trend that may yet pose the most serious of all threats to public safety: Modern “Lone Wolf” terrorism, in which our fellow citizens self-radicalize via the Internet in the privacy of their own homes.
In the Internet age, radicalizing propaganda is self-selected online, at the click of a mouse. There is no need to somehow physically enter the world of international terrorism, to catch the notice of your local terrorism recruiter, to disappear off to Pakistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Idaho, or wherever.
Why bother with convoluted command and control networks that can be penetrated by security services, damaged by drone strikes, or shut down by nervous host regimes, when the Internet already has all the incitement and instruction that a would-be terrorist requires?
The model fits what American neo-Nazis developed, pre-Internet, as the “leaderless resistance” strategy. Would-be terrorists must act alone to avoid detection; and their actions will inspire others to follow their lead. Hierarchy is redundant. Ideas and physical attacks are all that matter. Al-Qaida has clearly learnt the lesson: its online English-language publication is entitled “Inspire”.
In neo-Nazi circles, the ideas crystallised via the Turner Diaries, a book of pseudo-prophesy about a race war sparked by a lone mass killer, which results in the global victory of the Aryan race. Published in 1978, it inspired Tim McVeigh’s murder of 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. Formerly only available from neo-Nazi groups via underground P.O. Box numbers, you can now buy it on Amazon, or read it on your Kindle.
Back in Oldham, U.K., police investigators found that the Khans had used Facebook to obtain the July 2010 issue of Al-Qaida’s “Inspire”, with its feature article, “Build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.” The Khans set to work, using Shasta’s home-based Sassy Hair Studio as cover for purchasing explosive ingredients, mixed in kitchen pots in the back yard. Wires and timers were bought from nearby stores. The couple made at least eleven “hostile reconnaissance” visits to Jewish neighborhoods, scouting for potential targets: the husband telling his wife “we must kill them all”, as they watched prayer-goers entering a synagogue.
It is the outward normality of such would-be terrorists that makes them so hard to catch. This was brilliantly evoked by the headline with which Britain’s biggest selling newspaper, The Sun, summarised the Khans’ case. It read, “Corrie-loving Brit turned home-grown terrorist after finding hubby No3 on Muslim dating site.”
To explain, “Corrie” is shorthand for Britain’s longest running TV soap opera, Coronation Street. Less glamorous than yesterday’s half-eaten fish and chips, it is a fundamental part of British popular culture. Ironically, its working-class terraced street setting is identical to both the Khans’ Oldham home and the Orthodox Jewish area of Salford that they intended to attack.
Not only was Mrs. Khan a “Corrie-loving Brit” just like the average Sun reader, she was also on “hubby No3” - her third husband. Then, she “turned home-grown terrorist.” The headline tells you the essence of this case. It was local Jihadi terrorists, who had formerly been normal everyday people, and who were now looking to kill their nearest local Jews.
The couple’s honeymoon photographs show him clean-shaven, and her dressed in a T-shirt and without a headscarf. Within a year, they were fully radicalized and Coronation Street had been replaced with beheading videos, downloaded and filed on a home computer. These videos included the beheading in Iraq, of British hostage, Ken Bigley, and Al-Qaida’s beheading in Pakistan of American-Jewish journalist, Daniel Pearl.
The Pearl footage is the most infamous of its type. Prior to being killed and then decapitated, the victim tells the camera, “My name is Daniel Pearl. I'm a Jewish American from Encino, California, U.S.A. My father's side of the family is Zionist. My father's Jewish, my mother's Jewish, I'm Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We've made numerous family visits to Israel. Back in the town of Bnei Brak, there is a street named after my great grandfather Chaim Pearl who is one of the founders of the town."
It was this video that really brought Al-Qaida’s murderous Jew-hatred to the attention of a global audience. Now, as Al-Qaida retreats from physical space to Internet virtual reality, as it increasingly becomes an idea, rather than an organization, so the danger to Jews may, paradoxically, increase, with local actors seeking to make their own deadly demonstrations of international Islamist unity, threat, power and rage. Is this what the future may yet hold? Jewish communities around the world had better hope not.
Mark Gardner is Director of Communications at Community Security Trust, a charity that provides security for Britain’s Jewish communities. He writes regularly at CST Blog http://blog.thecst.org.uk/.