"All Terrorism Is Local"


In the London Times, R.P. Eddy argues that just as terrorism relies on local initiative, so should counterterrorism. Here's an excerpt:

The number and simultaneity of yesterday's attacks suggest localised surveillance and bombmaking, requiring a local support apparatus. We can presume that the bombers spent a considerable amount of time in the UK and may have even been UK residents.

In this way and in others, the London attacks conform to post-9/11 terrorist trends. Globally we have witnessed a movement away from the centralised planning of grandiose attacks seen in Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and towards independent groups attacking smaller and less protected targets. The largest recent terrorist attacks before yesterday's—the 2003 bomb attacks in Turkey and the 2004 train attacks in Madrid—were both cases of this "homegrown terror." The terrorists behind these attacks were residents of these nations and appear to have acted entirely independently of al-Qaeda's central hierarchy. While a group calling itself "the Secret Organisation Group of al Qaeda of Jihad Organisation in Europe" has claimed credit for the attack on London's Tube, it is not at all clear if they have any real co-operation with bin Laden's al-Qaeda or rather simply an emotional or aspirational one, or if their claim is legitimate at all.

Eddy concludes that the most important barriers to terror are local police and—though he doesn't stress this as much as he could—local civilians:

Local police have unique advantages over national assets (such as MI5) to help prevent acts of terrorism because they are part of the community. They "walk the beat," communicate regularly with local residents, and are more likely to notice even subtle changes in the neighbourhoods they patrol daily. Common sense tells us—as does experience—that local law-enforcement personnel are uniquely situated to notice (or otherwise learn of) and investigate unusual or suspicious behaviour. Based on the numbers alone, we can assume that local law enforcement personnel are much more likely than national agents to cross paths with terrorists.

Meanwhile, U.K. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has acknowledged that his pet security scheme, a national ID card, wouldn't have warded off the attacks. He still insists, though, that it would "help rather than hinder" the cause.