Farzana Shaikh, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, said Osama's death would "heighten rather than ease" the climate of fear
If there is one European country for which Osama bin Laden had special contempt it is Britain because of its pro-active role in America's “war on terror” and its direct involvement in the invasion of Iraq. He regarded Britain as his biggest enemy in the West and it became central to his terror campaign.
The attack on the London Underground system on July 7, 2005, which killed more than 50 people and left hundreds maimed for life and traumatised, was the most audacious terror atrocity carried out by al-Qaeda in Europe and has been dubbed Britain's 9/11. The most shocking aspect of the London bombings was that they were planned and executed not by the usual suspects — hired guns from the badlands of Somalia and Chechnya — but by a group of educated young men born and brought up in Britain with no apparent “jihadi” bent. This revealed the extent to which al-Qaeda had infiltrated into Britain.
Britain a safer place?
Will Osama's death make Britain a safer place?
The sense of relief on Monday was tempered by a palpable fear of an al-Qaeda backlash amid warnings of possible “reprisals” against western targets. Prime Minister David Cameron cautioned that Osama's death did not mark the end of threat from terrorism and stressed need for utmost vigilance in the days ahead.
“The news Osama Bin Laden is dead will bring great relief to people across the world. Of course, it does not mark the end of the threat we face from extremist terror — indeed we will have to be particularly vigilant in the weeks ahead,” he said.
Foreign Secretary William Hague ordered a review of security of British embassies abroad and across Britain amid a heightened sense of alert though the “threat level” remained unchanged. He said that any organisation that suffered a serious blow such as the one al-Qaeda had in Osama's death would “want to show in some way that they are still able to operate.”
“We must remember that this is not the end of being vigilant against al-Qaeda and associated groups, and, in fact, there may be parts of al-Qaeda that will try to show that they are still in business in the coming weeks, as indeed some of them are,” Mr Hague said.
The Foreign Office asked Britons overseas to “exercise caution in all public places and avoid demonstrations, large crowds of people and public events”.
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister, whose close alliance with America in the wake of 9/11 made Britain particularly vulnerable to terrorism, said Osama may be dead but the ideology that he preached was still very much alive and continued to pose a threat.
“This is a huge achievement in the fight against terrorism but we know the fight against the terrorism and the ideology that Bin Laden represents, continues and is as urgent as ever,” he said.
Experts pointed to reported claims revealed in WikiLeaks documents that al-Qaeda had hidden a nuclear device somewhere in Europe which would unleash a “nuclear hellstorm” in the event of Osama being captured or killed. The claim was made by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed , the self-confessed mastermind behind 9/11, during his interrogation at Guantanamo Bay.
Farzana Shaikh, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, said Osama's death would “heighten rather than ease” the climate of fear.
“He remains for his followers (and there are still many) an icon, a hero and a worthy crusader for Muslim causes. But I suspect that in the first instance we are going to witness revenge attacks mainly in Pakistan orchestrated by pro bin Laden groups allied to the Haqqani group and LeT. The death of bin Laden may well heighten rather than ease the climate of fear both in the U.K. and in Pakistan,” she said.
There has been no attack on Britain since 7/7 but a number of terror plots allegedly targeting high-profile public buildings in London and other major cities have been foiled. In 2006, an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights taking off from Heathrow airport was disrupted. Al-Qaeda or groups linked to it are believed to have infiltrated deep into Britain. The MI5 claims that it is aware of around 2,000 radicalised Muslims who might be involved in terror plots.
According to WikiLeaks, Britain became a happy hunting ground for al-Qaeda in the 1990s using mosques and so-called “Islamic” centres to recruit “jihadis.” Most of them came to Britain as economic migrants but fell under the spell of radical preachers who incited them against the West by showing videos of “atrocities” committed against Muslims in places like Chechnya and Bosnia. Over the years, London has earned the nickname “Londonistan,” a haven for extremists from around the world though not all were directly linked to al-Qaeda which, as The Times noted, has come to stand “as a kind of shorthand” for terrorism. There was no immediate public reaction from British-based extremist groups but some Muslim critics of al-Qaeda reported receiving abusive messages. A message on the web declared: “Bin Laden Killed — But Al Qaeda Lives On.”