This morning, it's possible to begin putting the story of the last couple of days failed attempts at terror attacks together. For one thing, it looks like the Glasgow airport vehicle was packed with petrol and propane, exactly as the London cars were.
Police did not say whether the SUV that struck Glasgow airport was carrying explosives, but photographs of forensic officers inspecting the charred vehicle on Sunday showed several gas canisters next to it.No explosives have been mentioned at all. Anywhere. That's significant, as maverick former UK ambassador Craig Murray points out in an excellent post:
Fortunately, amateur does not do justice as a description of these attackers - absolute rubbish comes closer to it. It is worth noting that, if the London car bombs had ignited, they would probably have burnt like the Glasgow car, and almost certainly would not have had the kind of explosive force that the media tried to claim. Gas canisters are designed to withstand fire without exploding; they will eventually vent and the gas flare as it comes out. That is what looked on TV like it might have been happening in the back of the car in Glasgow.Craig also voices one of my own worries - that something has derailled Scotland's history of having a far more open and involved Muslim community than England:
Petrol and gas can be a deadly effective component of a bomb, and even a very small quantity of high explosive would have made the London car bombs potentially devastating. But there was no explosive present - I have held back on blogging on this aspect until I could confirm that fact from my own sources.
So this is not al-Qaeda, and we are not dealing with trained bomb-makers. The Glasgow attack looks like a purely home grown reaction to World events and our role in them. Assuming the London incident really is linked, the same applies.
It is horrible to me to think of the possibility of terrorists coming out of Scotland's Muslim communities; I find it really perturbing. Scotland does not have the completely isolated Muslim ghettoes that Labour created in Northern England. Of course, the fact the attack happened in Glasgow doesn't necessarily mean the attackers came from there. But wherever the bombers were from, and however incompetent they were, their attempt to kill and maim innocent people going on holiday is an act of crazed fanaticism.However, it's beginning to look as if the terror-wannabes may not have actually been from Glasgow even if they chose the tiny and slightly depressed village of Houston, some miles East of the city, as a base. Other than the teo arrested at Glasgow Airport, all the other arrests (three of them) have been in England and the police seem to be focussing on the incredibly poor district of Toxteth in Liverpool where Muslims have seen exactly the kind of ghettoization Murray mentions.
And for those xenophobes who are always talking about how the Muslem community never speaks out on terrorism but who then never call any attention to the many times when the Muslim community does exactly that, here's something to mention:
Khurshid Ahmed, Chair of the British Muslim Forum condemned the attempted attacks and urged the Muslim community to help police in their investigation.That clear enough?
He said: "We take the heightened security level extremely seriously and urge all of our communities to remain calm, be extra vigilant and report anything suspicious to the authorities.
"It is the duty of every British citizen to assist the police in safeguarding national security and ensuring the safety of all our citizens."
Update The Guardian talks to explosives expert Sidney Alford, founder of explosives company Alford Technologies.
"If you are making a bomb and you are limited in the amount of explosives you can acquire you could easily get some gas cylinders of propane to add to them. They would give a more impressive fireball on TV," he said.Which is all pretty much what I've been saying since both yesterday and today. As I said, without an explosive to shred the cylinders, the bottom ends would pop off in the heat of the petrol fire as designed (in the UK, don't ask me about the US although they could be the same) and a vent of gas would be ignited by the already burning petrol, turning the cylinder itself into an underpowered and impressive rocket. No fuel-air explosion, no "BLEVE". Nails, to become effective shrapnel, would have to be outside the original fire and subsequent canister ignitions, not inside or beneath it. Impressive flames, certainly dangerous to be near and probably fatal if you were too close but definitely not a massive fireball and shockwave.
"They are probably keen amateurs who could not get their hands on the real thing and do not realise the limits of what they are doing."
The Metropolitan police's head of anti-terrorism, Peter Clarke, said there was also a "significant quantity" of petrol and nails in the car, as well as the gas. A witness reported nails were lying on the floor of the car, which Mr Alford said was another indication the bomb makers were inexperienced.
"Nails could be considered as an additional way of extending the potential damage and lethal range of the device but putting them on the floor is an incompetent way of building a bomb. They would go straight into the ground," he said.
Mr Alford said that unless there were also explosives present the main impact of the device would be in the economic disruption caused by closing off the normally bustling shops, restaurants and businesses of central London.
"As the IRA knew, you do not need a real bomb to cause real havoc," he said.
Meanwhile, Dan Collins at Protein Wisdom figures he knows more about propane canister explosions than I do - on account of he's a rightwinger (all those militias, right Dan?) and I'm just a "liberal" which as everyone knows means I'm a pacifist who knows nada about things that go boom. My 12 years experience in fire insurance in the UK, including as account handler for for a set of businesses who stockpiled gas cylinders on a large scale (dozens to hundreds at a time) have absolutely no bearing on the matter.
Update 2 Some news on one worry both Craig Murray and I had - the possibility that extremism had spread to the Scottish Muslim community, which had shown few signs of such lunacy to date.
As police waited to question the two men arrested after the failed car bomb attack, the justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, said neither was "born and bred" in Scotland. "Any suggestion to be made that they are homegrown terrorists is not true," he said.It appears, according to reports, that one of those arrested at Glasgow Airport and one other arrested person are doctors - one from Iraq and one from Jordan - and that all of those involved may be from the Mid-East.
Strathclyde's Assistant Chief Constable John Neilson won applause as he addressed a meeting at Glasgow central mosque. "The people we have in custody came to Scotland a short while ago to seek work," he said. "Other than that, I can't tell you - but I'm sure the community in Glasgow in particular will be reassured. These are not your young people."
Police said two minor incidents of racist abuse had been reported since the attacks but promised to clamp down on any backlash.
Nevertheless, the apparent arrival in Scotland of the sort of terrorist violence that has brought mass casualties and devastation to other parts of the UK prompted a great deal of reflection yesterday.
Mohammad Sarwar, the Labour MP for Glasgow Central, told BBC Radio Scotland's Sunday Live: "This is a big surprise to all of us, because we were not expecting this type of incident in Scotland. This is the first incident that has happened in Glasgow and everybody is shocked."
Mr Sarwar said constituents had been threatened since the incident. But he said there was no evidence that any of Scotland's imams or mosques had been fomenting hatred. "The message is moderate and liberal," he said. "Glasgow airport is used by a vast majority of Muslims and people of all faiths. This attack was an attack on all of us, on our city and our communities."
Osama Saeed, Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said there had "not been a peep of extremism" in Scotland to date, adding: "You hear about individuals and groups in London and elsewhere in England, but there has been no presence of this here."
Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, also said the attack was out of character. "Scottish society is very strong, with a strong sense of community," he said. "In Scotland, the Muslim community is part of the fabric of society, and is hugely important for social life, and this community link will remain strong."