So far London has averted two potentially lethal terrorist car bombings and Glasgow’s International airport barely missed being the site of a third. The spate of terror attacks, which to some extent had been expected, led newly installed Prime Minister Gordon Brown to raise Britain’s threat level to the maximum “critical” level. The new designation indicates that attacks are “imminent.”
The two would-be bombers at the Glasgow airport were taken into custody immediately after their Jeep Cherokee rammed into the building, starting a small fire. Fortunately the vehicle, which was packed with gasoline cans, gas canisters and nails, failed to explode.
The two Mercedes found in London’s Theater District, near Piccadilly Circus, on Friday night were similarly packed with explosives and other materials designed to cause maximum loss of life and serious injuries.
In addition to the Glasgow arrests, three suspects, two men and a woman, have been taken into custody by police. They are still searching for a sixth person, who’s suspected of participating in the failed attacks.
The UK in general, and London in particular, remain on “critical” alert, as police try to trace the cars and the explosives in an effort to track down the perpetrators. More attacks are feared.
The timing and coordination of the attacks has led to strong speculation that they are linked to al-Qaeda agents in Britain. In an interview on the BBC Prime Minister Brown stated that it’s “clear that we are dealing, in general terms, with people who are associated with al-Qaeda.” He urged all UK residents to remain alert to threats, praised the “magnificent work” of the police, and reiterated that his country and its people would not be intimidated by the terrorists.
Dr. Gordon Woo, a terrorism risk expert at Risk Management Solutions, gave a few “initial thoughts” on the latest UK terrorist attacks in an e-mail message. He noted that the two potentially deadly vehicles were located near a “London nightclub, a soft attractive target, without barrier protection against car bombs. This is consistent with the principle that terrorists follow the path of least resistance in directing attacks at attractive targets with security weaknesses.”
Dr. Woo also pointed out that “the great majority of UK terrorist plots are interdicted through intelligence; there have been thirty foiled UK plots since 9/11.”
However, these latest attempts “seem to have slipped through the intelligence net.” The fact that there may have been a relatively small number of plotters involved sees the most likely explanation. “Too many terrorists spoil the plot,” he explained. “The more operatives there are in a plot, perhaps with multiple attack targets, the greater the chance that the plot will fail due to information leakage.
“There is an optimal stopping point in attack planning. Beyond this point, the risk of the plot being discovered outweighs the marginal benefit of enlarging the plot. With increased resources allocated to the UK security services, the optimal stopping point may be getting earlier, with the consequence that there may be a spate of moderate scale attacks, such as attempted today.”
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