Homegrown bombers

July 14, 2005

THE SUICIDE bomber has reached Western Europe's shores. From Jerusalem to Casablanca to Baghdad, the terrorist has plied his evil ways, detonating a belt of explosives to kill and maim and terrorize in a ghastly display of self-destruction.

For years now, the strategy of suicide bombings has been considered a creation of another culture, viewed from afar with horror but also a disquieting sense of relief that this twisted brand of political warfare was peculiar to the Middle East.

We can no longer take comfort in that. Now it appears that suicide bombing has been exported to Great Britain and its sick ideology embraced by a few local sons. If people aren't yet asking how this could happen in a society of diverse cultures, freedoms and opportunities, they should be. The Muslim community in Britain and Europe, anguished though many of its members may be, should be alert to the personal, cultural, economic and political grievances that may make their young people vulnerable to untoward, outside influences and willing to act on them.

Unlike last year's Madrid train bombing, the ongoing investigation into the London terrorist attacks has revealed evidence that strongly suggests four suicide bombers at work. If the theory holds, it would mark the first time a terrorist attack in Western Europe has been attributed to suicide bombers. But more troubling than this unsettling news is the discovery that the suspect bombers are likely four Britons born of Muslim families from Pakistan. In a phrase, homegrown terrorists.

It's a frightening prospect considering the initial information about their working-class family backgrounds. These were not young Palestinians living under occupation, restricted in their personal freedoms, engulfed in a decades-old conflict of violence and retribution that has been fueled by a network of Islamic militants. One such Palestinian blew himself up in a seaside Israeli town Tuesday, shattering a months-long hiatus from violence. The Palestinian had been recruited by the militant group Islamic Jihad.

The London transit bombings also bear the mark of professional terrorists - well-planned, methodically synchronized and executed with military-grade explosives. An affiliate of al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the bombings, and investigators are looking for links. Security cameras in a London train station served their purpose, capturing the alleged bombers on tape. But a worried parent's telephone call about a missing son provided critical information that led to a suburban neighborhood in the city of Leeds.

What the London bombings show is that the cult of suicide bombings is not restricted to any one continent. Preventing other attacks will require a vigilance beyond that of police and security agencies. It demands that families and communities assume responsibility for thwarting the cult's lure.

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