Saturday, July 23, 2005

London Lives

BBC NEWS | UK | Police issue bomb suspect images

I landed in London just after the second wave of attacks had started, and spent the day and the day thereafter in that magnificent city.

London has seen much of this before. There are still memories of the Blitz during the war, and there was the sustained campaign by the IRA during a number of years. The attack on 7/7 left 56 persons dead.

So, life tends to go on. If you are alert, you might notice some beefed up security and some movements that are normally not there. If you are not, and if you don't intend to use the subway, you are not likely to notice anything at all besides the news reports.

Life goes on. There is no terrorism that will terrify London.

I commented immedately after the 7/7 attacks that one conclusions seemed to be that the quality of these attacks seems to be declining. And with the quality we of course see a declining political effect of them.

That conclusion is certainly reinforced by the follow-up wave of attacks. That second wave follows the pattern we saw in the Istanbul attack and what we know was planned after the Madrid attack.

But obviously it all failed. Detonators went off but failed to ignite the explosives in all of the cases. The prospective suicide bombers fled in panic. They are most unlikely to be able to be on the run for long.

Obviously, the technical competence of this particular group - or groups - leaves much to be desired. They - literally - blew it.

Even if Prime Minister Blair has warned of the possibility of the terrorists creating an "Armageddon" in Britain and elsewhere, the reality so far is different.

In fact, there have so far been only five succesful al Qaeda inspired attacks in the West, with the recent London one - if that could be considered a success - being the sixth. Most of them kill a fairly small number of people, or none at all. Since 9/11, the average death toll in all al Qaeda-linked attacks has been 32.

Bad and horrible - but hardly Armageddon.

The average lethality of al Qaeda linked attacks has more than halved in the last two years. Including 7/7, the average number of attacks during this period has been 15.

This is not to say that the threat isn't serious. It certainly is. These are attacks that aim at killing as many innocent people as possible. But we shall not paint the enmeny larger than he actually is, and we should not let fear dominate our socities.

It was great to be in London these days. The calm counter-operations of the police were impressive. The determination of the city to just continue was obvious.

In these cases, and so far, the terrorists are losing, and we are winning.