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Connecting the Black Friday terror incidents

By Rachel Brooks
Contributing Writer for Telegraph Local | See my blog 

Black Friday was riveted by repeat terrorism and security breaches. Citing NPR, the attacks come a week before a general election in the UK. President Trump is also scheduled to meet with NATO in the UK under controversial circumstances.

Instability in world politics lends anxiety to the terror incidents of Black Friday. Can we determine a correlation between the incidents? If we observe events in the surrounding regions, we can draw some theories.

Al-Qaeda resurges in 2019

The London stabbing attacker was formerly a member of the al-Qaeda movements. Usman Khan was convicted along with his group in 2012 for participating in the London Stock Exchange Bomb Plot. He was released on parole in December 2018 and was fixed with an electronic tag. 

It would seem that Usman Khan strategically planned his attack to complete his jihadi commitment that was cut short. Khan was al-Qaeda then and he remained al-Qaeda on the day he died, taking others down with him. This fact is not lost on the public, as we now witness a resurgence of al-Qaeda activity in the world at large. al-Qaeda could be embattled to attack Western cities again due to a US raid in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan this autumn that killed the son of al-Qaeda’s founder, citing Military Times on October 8. 

Usman Khan worshipped the leaders of his beloved al-Qaeda, calling Osama Bin Laden “beautiful” citing Birmingham Times. The purpose of the terrorist school cited by the Birmingham Times was to train jihadis abroad before returning to the UK. The only outcomes of this pledged jihad would be victory, imprisonment, or martyrdom. 

Usman Khan was a known influencer of al-Qaeda as well. He was implicated for his part in financing a terrorist training school in Kashmir. Citing Times of India, the plan was to build a terrorist training school in his family-owned land within Pakistani Occupied Kashmir to attack Kashmir. 

Only two days before the London stabbing attack, One America News posted this video regarding Al-Qaeda as a current threat. Caitlin Sinclair gave the story straight from ground zero regarding the history of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. 

Screencapture of One America News networks Osama bin Laden coverage

As if they were taking the stage, al-Qaeda makes its statement. This attack in London was an act of a respected influencer member. It happened just two days after US newscasts revealed the opening of an exhibit at Ground Zero, New York explaining in grim detail the hunt that brought down al-Qaeda’s leader. bin-Laden died the same year that Usman Khan was jailed. It was a grave time period for the organization. This could be the beginning of a rebound from that season.

Within Syria is a news blog about the current conflict in Syria. Today, Within Syria reports sightings of Turkish-backed fighters fighting “alongside al-Qaeda in Idlib” meters away from the Turkish posts. 

Screencapture from Within Syria’s Twitter feed. “They have returned already…”

The scare that took place in Paris at the Gare du Nord raises some hairs because of the nature of the shell “souvenir” that was taken. Mubin Shaikh, a counterterrorism commentator and a member of Parents for Peace, posted an image of the round uncovered in a random station bag check. It was not an IED explosive device that was being smuggled out but an 81MM Inert training round. 

Screencapture from the Twitter feed of counterterrorism commentators Mubin Shaikh and “Jimmy”  

From what we know of the London stabbing attack, al-Qaeda has had advanced interests in funding and training terrorist organizations. So, an illegal arms souvenir smuggling out of Paris on the same day as an al-Qaeda attack raises some questions. Does it prove a direct coinciding event? We cannot be certain. Yet, another correlating incident that took place on November 27 in Brussels suggests an emerging pattern and viable connection. 10 immigrants were arrested for lack of legal documentation at the Brussels Gare du Nord, citing Brussels Times. 

The federal police of Brussels arrested 10 migrants, all of whom were male, all total. Seven of them were from Eritrea. Two from Ethiopia and one from Sudan. Two of them were minors. 

Bruzz, a local news station, cites that the arrests of the illegal migrants were part of an operation to bust a smuggling ring in Brussels.  The English translation of the story on Bruzz reads 

“The aim of the action is, according to the spokesman for the federal police, to map out smuggling networks behind the migrants. 20 police officers were involved in the campaign. Someone from the immigration office was also present.”

Brussel’s federal police run anti-smuggling operations at this station every week. For that reason, we know that the rail line that runs from Brussels and into Paris is a known smuggling network. We know that the inactive bomb round was being smuggled out in a passenger bag. 

Terrorism of opportunity 

Now, the two incidents could be looked at as merely occurring at the same time, except for the surge of Islamic insurgencies in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan, as well as all throughout sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade. Global Policy Forum has debated the presence of al-Qaeda as a backer for eastern Africa’s greater militant group al-Shabaab, as early as 2011. This source as of this incident cited a supposed member of Al-Qaeda who was said to hail from the US handing out Islamic scriptures and care packages to refugees of Ala Yasir camp, southwest of Mogadishu, Somalia.  This forum also continued by citing possible enlistments of the Oromo Liberation Front of Ethiopia. These al-Qaeda influenced Oromo militants are linked to an attempted bomb plot at the Africa Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that year. There was also some belief from this report that funding to al-Shabaab was coming out of Asmara, Eritrea. 

If we know that terrorist activity was being funded and supported in these regions as early as 2011, we can only assume that they would have likely continued. When Brussell’s federal police then arrest a smuggling operation out of Eastern Africa’s al-Qaeda influenced regions just two days before an inactive training round is discovered in Paris it suggests a connection.     

Google maps fair use image. This is the distance between the Gare du Nord stations between Paris and Brussels. 

The BBC states that the suspect in the Hague attack has been arrested. He is a 35-year old man, citing Politie Den Haag eo. He has no fixed abode. He will be held for questioning. The motive is not yet known, but the suspect stabbed three teenagers, a 13-year-old boy from the Hague, and two 15-year-old girls, one from Alphen aan den Rijn and one from Liederdorp. 

The distance between The Hague and Brussels is 1hour and 57 minutes via interstate A4. This is what that course looks like via the train rails. 

Screencapture Google fair use images. Brussels to The Hague via the trains. 

It is a straight shot. The entire area of the attacks over the weekend are technically in close proximity. Also, the region between London and France is connected by the Channel Tunnel. The Channel Tunnel connects directly to Lille, France. Citing Al Jazeera,  there have been violent altercations between Arab-speaking immigrants and French political activists in the city. The activists are called Identitarians and have links between Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party. Politicized motives in these local European region conflicts, such as this Lille conflict, may cause immigrants to join the offer of organized groups such as al-Qaeda in the region.

Screencapture Google Fair Use images of the general area of the terrorist attacks.
Screencapture of the Channel Tunnel connection to Lille, France Google fair use

Islamic foreign competition a possible motive

With the Channel also a known smuggler connection, citing France 24, we have a good reason to believe that these repeated attacks could be connected to crime from the sophisticated international crime networks of the rail lines. The case in Calias stated that Polish men showed up at the Channel with a van full of coffins, a local prosecutor told Lille AFP. The Polish smugglers were carrying an Iraqi national in one of the coffins. The French government also arrested 8 Iranian people smugglers in Calais earlier in 2019, citing Express UK. The boat the smugglers of this case were using had been bought in Belgium, which suggests this unit could have connections to the smuggling operations that Brussels continues to monitor. 

Could the patterns of attacks have been a diversion?

Citing, ISIS and al-Qaeda are resurging in Iraq and Syria. They are now competing with each other over the domination of the Islamic State. ISIS is trying to win on foreign fronts while al-Qaeda aims to rewin the hearts of local cells and strike out against Muslim targets. Terror attacks of opportunity to draw attention away from strategic portions of the rail line would be a prime way to secure the domination of European traffic operations. 

Uman Khan had connections to al-Qaeda and frequented the vicinity of the Channel Tunnel implied by his relationship with Cambridge University. Khan may have chosen this position as a diversion from other politicized terror-motivated criminal activity in the surrounding area. 

The area in which Uman Khan chose to attack on the London Bridge is roughly 36 minutes away from the Victoria Coach Station Stop W of the Channel Tunnel. It is also nearby the Cambridge University which was hosting the rehabilitation event to feature him at Fishmonger’s Hall.

He was wearing a false bomb vest at the time of his martyr attack. It is possible that his motive, attacking in a highly trafficked area with a knife and drawing public spectacle to his death by police, was to serve as a diversion from a much more complex sophisticated criminal/terrorist network operation. Could they all be connected and all have been diversions? If mass killing had been the motive, then why not light off explosives or use firearms?

Could it be that Khan has at last completed the plot he had in the beginning, to fund and supply the terrorist school of his family’s making? 

It is too early yet to say, but the pattern of these attacks trends toward a connected pattern more than it does a random coincidence. 

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