Friday, June 02, 2006

UK terror raid catches two and a gym connection?

UK: This is an interesting possible connection.

The BBC reported that today's operation had followed months of surveillance by MI5 officers. An air exclusion zone, preventing aircraft from flying under 2,500ft over a five-mile area of east London, had been set up. This morning, a few dozen police continued to patrol local streets that remained cordoned off. A white and yellow tent had been put up in front of a terraced property at the scene of the shooting in Lansdown Road. An ambulance, police van and a dozen police officers in boiler suits remained outside the house, while three ambulances and at least 10 police vans stood at the junction of Lansdown and Katherine roads. Speaking at the police cordon, a woman in her 50s, who has lived in Lansdown Road for more than 25 years, said a family lived at the address at the centre of the raid. She said the family consisted of a man, a woman and their four teenage children, two girls and two boys. "I looked through my window and I saw the police vehicles," she said. "They were coming very quietly. There wasn't any noise at all. I didn't hear any bangs." She added that the location of her home meant she could not see what had happened at the door of the house, but a large number of officers and vehicles had suddenly appeared in the street. "They [the family] were respectable and nice people, and we do not know anything else," she said. "They have always been nice to us. They have lived there for a long time. The kids all go to school locally." This afternoon, between 20 and 30 protestors gathered outside the Royal London Hospital and said the arrested man was innocent of any crime. A friend and distant relative said he was a postal worker and motorbike enthusiast who had previously worked at Tesco and a Pizza delivery company. "When we were younger he was no angel," one friend said. "But he changed, we all just grew up. "He chose to go on the right path. He prayed five times a day, he went to the gym every day, and other than that he stayed at home. "Every time he spoke he would say peaceful things. He would give advice to everybody. Out of all our crew, he was one of the good ones, working and looking after his family."
Slate ran this piece on Thursday.
There have been three major terror attacks in the West over the past five years—9/11, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, and the 7/7 suicide attacks on the London Underground. For all the talk of a radical Islamist conspiracy to topple Western civilization, there are many differences between the men who executed these attacks. The ringleaders of 9/11 were middle-class students; the organizers of the Madrid bombings were mainly immigrants from North Africa; the 7/7 bombers were British citizens, well-liked and respected in their local communities. And interpretations of Islam also varied wildly from one terror cell to another. Mohamed Atta embraced a mystical (and pretty much made-up) version of Islam. For the Madrid attackers, Islam was a kind of comfort blanket. The men behind 7/7 were into community-based Islam, which emphasized being good and resisting a life of decadence. The three cells appear to have had at least one thing in common, though—their members' immersion in gym culture. Often, they met and bonded over a workout. If you'll forgive the pun, they were fitness fanatics. Is there something about today's preening and narcissistic gym culture that either nurtures terrorists or massages their self-delusions and desires? Mosques, even radical ones, emphasize Muslims' relationships with others—whether it be God, the ummah (Islamic world), or the local community. The gym, on the other hand, allows individuals to focus myopically on themselves. Perhaps it was there, among the weightlifting and rowing machines, that these Western-based terror cells really set their course. The British government recently published its Report of the Official Account of the Bombings in London on 7th July 2005. It reveals that three of the four members of the 7/7 cell seem to have become radicalized in gyms rather than in mosques. Mohammed Sidique Khan, leader of the cell, worked on his protégés in "informal settings," primarily at a local Islamic bookshop where they watched radical DVDs and at local gyms, some of which were based in rooms below mosques. According to the report, "Khan gave talks [at the gyms], and worked out." He set up two gyms, one in 2000 with local government money—which means that government officials unwittingly funded one of the settings for his efforts—and another in 2004. Shehzad Tanweer, the 22-year-old who seems to have been the second-in-command of the 7/7 cell, "got to know [Khan] again (having known him a little as a child) through one of the gyms." Indeed, Tanweer was as much a fitness fanatic as he was a religious one. Shortly after 7/7, one of his former friends told the Guardian: "Shehzad went to a few mosques around here but he was more interested in his jujitsu. I trained with him all the time. He is really fit." Jermaine Lindsay, another of the 7/7 bombers, has also been described as a "fitness fanatic." A report published by the Terrorism Monitor at the end of July 2005 said that he "met his fellow bombers while attending one of the gyms set up by Khan." According to the British government's report, one of Khan's gyms was known locally as "the al-Qaida gym." Khan also seems to have used outdoor sporting activities to win over and indoctrinate recruits, and the report suggests that other alleged terror cells in the United Kingdom may have done so as well. "Camping, canoeing, white-water rafting, paintballing and other outward bound type activities are of particular interest because they appear common factors for the 7 July bombers and other cells disrupted previously and since." The report asks if such outings may have been used to "help with bonding between members of cells." Khan seemed to view gym and sports activities as more than an opportunity for physical bonding; he also appeared to consider them moral and pure, an alternative to the decadent temptations of contemporary society. Healthy living, as a doctrine, appears to have been close to his radical heart. In Khan's talks to young Muslims and potential recruits, he reportedly made numerous references to keeping fit. His talks "focused on clean living, staying away from crime and drugs, and the value of sport and outdoor activity," says the British government's 7/7 report. Perhaps it was the gym setting that nurtured the 7/7 cell's combination of arrogance and fury, its seeming belief that they were good and the rest of us were rotten.

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