By Robin Simcox
This week, Mohammed Merah killed four French Jews and three French soldiers. Merah, a French national of Algerian descent, claims to be associated with al-Qaeda and spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His attacks relied solely on identifying targets and obtaining a weapon – the kind of unsophisticated attacks that extremists are currently being encouraged by al-Qaeda to launch.
Merah was also linked to Forsane Alizza , a radical group who, according to ICSR analysis, principally focus on the French military, Jews, Jewish institutions, and Israel and perceived anti-Muslim prejudice in its extremist rhetoric. This seems to have been reflected in Merah’s targets.
The targeting of Jews and Jewish organisations is part of an antisemitic ideology that radical Islamists have long adhered to—ranging from revolutionary groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir to violent ones such as al-Qaeda. Additionally, extreme Islamist narratives have long argued that soldiers serving in Muslim majority countries are legitimate targets for attack.
However, an overlooked trend has been plots or attacks that target soldiers in Western countries over the past 15 years (of which a brief overview is provided below). These plots are often not elaborate and would not lead to casualties on the scale of an attack such as those that took place on 9/11. However, because of their unsophisticated nature and the fact that they are planned by small cells or radicalised individuals, they are – as has been tragically shown this week – harder to track and, subsequently, stop.
Attacks or plans to target soldiers in the West
- Amer Mirza – a member of the now banned Islamist group, al-Muhajiroun – attempted to petrol bomb army barracks in 1998.
- Abu Bakr Mansha obtained what he believed to be the UK address of Cpl Mark Byles, a British soldier who had served in Iraq and who had been awarded the Military Cross after spearheading an attack that killed five terrorists. Mansha had acquired jihadist material, a working firearm and a newspaper article listing Byles’s achievements. He was jailed for six years in 2005
- In 2007, Parviz Khan was convicted for conspiring to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier ‘like a pig’. He had planned to film his attack and broadcast the video as a warning to other Muslims against joining the British Army, apparently receiving prior approval for his plans from al-Qaeda. He was sentenced to life. Basiru Gassama also pleaded guilty to failing to disclose information to the police about this plot; he was jailed and subsequently deported.
- Imran Mandhai and Shueyb MossaJokhan pleaded guilty in the summer of 2005 to charges that they conspired to attack a National Guard armory and Jewish businesses.
- Kevin James, and three other members of his Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh network were jailed in December 2007 for plans to attack United States military facilities, and Israeli and Jewish targets in Los Angeles.
- The ‘Fort Dix Five’ were convicted for crimes relating to conspiracy to murder members of the US military in December 2008. The cell discussed attacking US soldiers at the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey, as there was ‘a heavy concentration of soldiers’. Four were jailed for life, and another for 33 years.
- Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, convicted of terrorism charges in 2009, discussed attacking Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia.
- Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 at the Fort Hood air base in November 2009. Hasan had been in contact with the al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in the build-up to the attack and had become increasingly angry at US foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad was convicted in July 2011 for the murder of two soldiers outside an Arkansas recruiting center.
- An extremist cell in North Carolina was convicted in 2011 for charges relating to a potential attack against a Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia.
- Antonio Martinez pleaded guilty in January 2012 for his attempts to detonate an explosive at Catonsville military recruiting center in Maryland.
- Yonathan Melaku a U.S. Marine Corps reservist, was convicted in January 2012 after admitting to using his handgun to shoot the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the Pentagon, and two other military buildings.
- Nizar Trabelsi was convicted for his role in an attempted suicide bomb attack on a Belgian NATO air force base housing US troops at Kleine Brogel in 2003. His task had been to drive a lorry full of explosives into the base’s canteen in an attempt to kill American soldiers.
Robin Simcox is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, where he specialises in al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda inspired terrorism. He is the co-author of both editions of ‘Islamist Terrorism: The British Connections’ and several other reports broadly focussed on national security, terrorism and al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliated movements across the world. Simcox has written for the likes of the Wall Street Journal, New Republic, Guardian, Weekly Standard, Spectator, Huffington Post and Daily Telegraph and regularly appears across a broad variety of media outlets, including the BBC, Fox News, Sky News, Channel 4 and al-Jazeera. He has spoken on a variety of platforms, including the British Parliament, US Special Operations Command and the European Parliament.