July 12th, 2011
05:02 PM ET

UK government: Al Qaeda weakened, but terrorism still greatest threat to Olympics

By Paul Cruickshank, CNN Terrorism Analyst

The threat posed by al Qaeda in the UK has lessened, but the future Olympic Games in London and the UK’s radicalization problems are still key security concerns, according to a report released by the UK government Tuesday.

The report comes a day after the UK terrorist threat level was lowered from “severe” to “substantial” - meaning that a terrorist attack is now a “strong possibility” rather than “highly likely.”

The Home Office document - an updated strategy for countering terrorism and the threat faced by the UK - suggested that increased pressure on al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and the death of Osama bin Laden were linked to the reduction in the threat level to the UK.

“The operational capability of Al Qa’ida’s leadership is now less than at any time since 11 September 2001. Many have been killed, captured, or dispersed. Communications, training and planning have been significantly disrupted,” the UK Home Office document stated. (See the full government report)

“The death of Usama bin Laden on 2 May 2011 is a significant blow against Al Qa’ida. It has further disrupted Al Qa’ida operations and decision making and will leave a gap which it will not be possible for the Al Qa’ida leadership to effectively fill.”

A backlash against al Qaeda’s violent tactics in the Muslim world and the Arab Spring democracy movement also lowered the number of potential recruits for the terrorist organization, according to the UK government report.

The Home Office document identified the 2012 London Olympics as a key security concern and outlined preparations for what it called the largest ever peacetime security operation in British history.

“Terrorism poses the greatest security threat to the Games,” the report stated.

The document said that despite the improvement in the threat environment, the UK still “faces a significant threat from Al Qa’ida, its affiliates, associated groups and terrorists acting on their own - so called lone-wolves.”

The document stated that UK residents were among hundreds of European militants currently training or linked to jihadist groups in Pakistan and that al Qaeda operatives there had continued to try to send operatives back into Western countries.

For much of the period after 9/11, “the greatest threat to the UK has come from terrorist groups based in Pakistan,” the report stated.

Western militants trained or directed by Pakistani jihadist groups have been responsible for 53% of serious terrorist plots against the West since 2004, according to a new study I authored, published by the New America Foundation last week.

Other destinations for jihad are creating increased concern. “The threat to UK interests from terrorists in Yemen and Somalia has significantly increased. People from the UK are also travelling to these countries to engage in terrorist related activity; some are returning to the UK to plan and conduct terrorist operations,” the Home Office document stated.

The new counterterrorism strategy document singled out al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, as a growing threat to UK national security. (Related: Al Qaeda advances in Yemen’s hidden war)

“The breakdown of law and order in parts of Yemen and the departure to Saudi Arabia of President Saleh on 4 June 2011 enabled AQAP to seize territory and weapons from the Yemeni armed forces. The death of Usama bin Laden has made no difference to AQAP’s operational capability: its internal and external operations have not been closely coordinated with the Al Qa’ida leadership, “ the document stated.

In addition, the Home Office judged that the Somali militant group al Shabaab may formally affiliate itself with al Qaeda.

“Shabaab have adopted the global jihadist ideology associated with Al Qa’ida and have attracted hundreds of foreign fighters, including people from the UK,” the document stated.

The UK government also indicated that there was a growing risk of “lone-wolf” attacks on the country.

“Al Qa’ida and some Al Qa’ida affiliates have increasingly encouraged acts of terrorism by individuals or small groups independent of the Al Qa’ida chain of command and without reference to, or guidance and instruction from, the leadership. The internet has enabled this type of terrorism by providing material which encourages and guides radicalisation and instructions on how to plan and conduct operations,” the document stated.

The Home Office document made clear that the UK still had one of the most significant radicalization problems in Europe.

“Significantly more people were arrested in France and the UK for Islamist terrorist offences than in any other country,” the document stated.

However, the Home Office revealed that the number of arrests on suspicion of international terrorism in the UK in 2010 (76 arrests) was about 50% lower than in 2009 (155 arrests), indicating some progress in combating violent Islamist extremism in the UK.

The Home Office document sounded an alarm over new technologies being used by al Qaeda for operational planning, stating that software to encrypt mobile phone and Internet communications had become widely available and was improving.

“Cloud computing offers new, potentially more robust means for storing, sharing and distributing material online. It can be encrypted and configured to work with new generation mobile devices, leaving little or no trace of the data behind,” the document stated.

The concerns about such technologies follow a number of cases in which Western-based jihadists were able to communicate with terrorist handlers overseas without being detected. For example, in the UK trial of UK-based AQAP operative Rajib Karim earlier this year, it emerged that he had been able to communicate over the Internet without being detected with the radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen by using sophisticated layers of encryption.

The document stated that social media was playing an increasingly prominent role in radicalization.

“There have been a number of attempts by terrorist and extremist groups to ‘invade’ Facebook. Twitter will be used to repost media or forum articles enabling extremist content to be shared more quickly, widely and amongst people who would not normally search for extremist content,” the document stated.

The document also made several predictions of how the threat of al Qaeda terrorism might evolve in future years.

Some of these were:

• The death of bin Laden would further damage the operational capability of al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and make it more difficult for the terrorist organization to plan attacks.
• Al Qaeda will try to exploit the withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan.
• Al Qaeda affiliates may continue to grow and will all aspire to attack Western targets.
• A wider range of al Qaeda-inspired terrorist networks, groups and unaffiliated individuals will collaborate to launch attacks against the West, sharing resources and capabilities.
• The ideology that has come to be associated with al Qaeda will be more resilient than al Qaeda itself.
• Al Qaeda and other groups will maintain their long-term interest in using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials.

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Filed under: Living With Terror • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. musclecar61

    The world will never see peace until end times. It seems like yesterday they were worried about terror attacks on the last Olympics. What would Islam do if they weren't murdering infadels? Oh killing other Muslems. I spent five tours between Afghanastan and Iraq and we take prisoners, the Afghan government releases the to kill again. What does the Muslems do with their prisoners? If American or British they cut their heads off, they don't take prisoners, they just hung an 8 year old boy because his father a policeman would not give them a police car. Do people like this deserve to live?

    July 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Reply
  2. Steve

    wake up, destroy islam, there is nothing good in islam, it is a scar on human kind, stop giving them shelter, food stamp, money and other goverment benefits, they are going to bleed your economy, you will be in a crisis soon, if you do not stop all these funding, and let people earn their living with some dignity.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  3. Guy

    I agree with this article .. Al Qaeda should compete in the olympics.

    July 20, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  4. MyPictureOfMohammad

    8=>(_|_)

    July 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Reply
  5. TheJOKESONME!!HEHHEHE

    ALQaeda!! WHO's ALQaeda?

    July 18, 2011 at 10:13 am | Reply
  6. Tony

    I just cilcked the the headine Al Qaeda And The Olympics to find this page thinking they were taking part in the event lol.They would do well with shot put they would replace it with a bomb.

    July 18, 2011 at 9:52 am | Reply
    • Be Dover

      And Javelins as they are back in the stone age anyway.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
      • Tony

        Discus with turbans

        July 20, 2011 at 6:20 am |
  7. Abolarinwa

    ISLAM IS A RELIGION OF PEACE.Character is different 4rm religion.what i know is that western are not friend of eastern likewise eastern do so.west are sending troop to east b'cos you want them to practice your culture like Democry which is impossible.killing their children's,wives,destroyed their houses wit bomb gerally innocent do you know how many people wester kill in iraq,afganistan,pakistan,libya,etc.what u expect 4rm them is to retardate by mean of confrontation by group like Al qaeda.killing Osama bn ladin it does'nt stop them not to fight you.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:11 am | Reply
    • jay

      What I expect of them is to live in a glass ashtray if our governments ever get tired of them.

      July 18, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  8. Jeff

    Do you think Al Qaeda will ever realize, "Hey, maybe if we stop attacking people, they will stop retaliating!"?

    July 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Reply
    • guest

      maybe if foreign troops had left the middle east back when they were first warned, the attacks would not have happened.
      if the us could take care of its own problems first, then the us would have some room to get tangled in other nations problems.

      July 22, 2011 at 9:13 am | Reply
  9. Kerry Bedford, TX

    If Al Qaeda participants adapted a real life they wouldn't need to kill and destroy others who have an opposing view point. As those ancient ones die off hopefully the younger generation will get with the program and join Arab Spring to build peace, freedom of religion, manage to coexist together, and join the human race. Killing people and forcing your religious beliefs on them has not advanced any cause, it's a losing battle.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:49 am | Reply
  10. Paul Willson

    Look for UK to look like a prison next summer.Cancel the Olympics FOREVER

    July 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  11. C. Cantu

    Islam is the #1 threat. Muslim clerics (ayatollahs, muftis, mullahs, imans, sheiks, ullemas, etc) supported by Islamic monarchs and leaders are the main responsible for the violence, hatred, terrorism, resentment and discrimination around the world. They preach their own distorted Islamic faith which lacks universal ethical and moral standards. Thanks to Islam, Muslim monarchs -as opposed to European monarchs- have absolute power, they entirely appropriate for themselves their countries' natural resources (oil), they have harems with hundreds of concubines and the greatest pleasures, they free or incarcerate their people without questioning and always have the last word on any kind of decision. No wonder they need to impose and spread their satanic religion otherwise they risk losing all their privileges.

    July 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Reply
    • ozozoz

      Thanks Cantu for saying nothing new, you might be feeling light now though

      July 14, 2011 at 2:48 am | Reply
    • sss11

      before 9/11 muslim clerics were openly calling for the blood of infidels (normal everyday human beings). its hard to believe that European countries open up their lands for such ungrateful people and give them their passports.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:33 am | Reply

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