Doctor's Orders

A chilling account of the intellectual legacy of one Abu Musab al-Suri, an Islamist who helped pioneer the tactics we have just seen among middle-class religious fanatics in Britain:

Al-Suri's ideal would be to isolate the self-created cells completely from one another before and during their attacks in the West, although in practice this has rarely been the case. A study by John W. Books at the University of North Texas, who is looking into links among terrorist networks in Britain, shows that contacts among several groups that operated in the U.K. from 2004 to early 2007 were much more extensive than initially reported when arrests were made or bombs went off. So, too, were the visits of their ringleaders to secret training camps in Pakistan. "There seems to be a strong urge by these people to reach back to the leaderships of Al Qaeda," Books told me over the phone. "It seems like this [terrorism] is not something you can just do on your own. There's this need to be touched on the shoulder and told, ‘Yes, you are a member of the larger global jihad'."

According to Brynjar Lia, al-Suri offers "a comprehensive war-fighting theory" in which "individual terrorism" is just one element. The idea is to carry out terror attacks in the West while at the same time fighting somewhat more conventional guerrilla wars like, say, the one in Iraq. The attacks on the home front make it harder to sustain support for faraway combat on Muslim lands. When "spontaneously organized and self-radicalized cells" in the West can’t get the job done alone, al-Suri allows for "cell builders" to work with them. The facilitators might supply some start-up money and training, but they're supposed to "vanish from the scene completely before any jihadi operations commence," says Lia. They don’t want to leave any telltale footprints that could compromise the rest of the network.

Untangling this is hard, lengthy police work, whether done by law enforcement or parts of the military. I see no other option.