A British convert to Islam, Michelle Ramsden, now known as Safiyya Shaikh, has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 14 years for plotting the suicide bombing of an iconic cathedral in London to inflict terror ‘like it was done in Srilanka on Easter Sunday 2019’. 300 people were killed in the Islamic terror attack on Sri Lanka last year, including 8 Bharatiyas.
The 37-year-old Hayes(London) resident converted to Islam in 2007 after periods of isolation, alienation and drug abuse. She was probably seeking a support system but instead found herself drawn into the world of extremist associations and a warped world view. It prepared her to kill innocents and die herself for the sake of jannat (heaven).
In her words “I really would love to destroy that place and the kaffir there.” Having been heavily indoctrinated in Islamic extremism on social media, she began to plan to enact it in real life. She confided in her circle about her plans to bomb London’s iconic St Paul’s cathedral so that she could not only hurt the faith of infidels but also their history.
She confided to one of her contacts “I would like to do church… But want to do a place that also means something to kuffar. Like history. They will care more about the building than people killed… U know where they do the royal weddings? Is it possible to put, like, bomb with detonator and then keep shooting until I am killed?”
Detailing her activities, BBC news reported that she was not only an ISIS sympathizer but was also a keen follower of radical org Al Mouhajirun and local Islamic hardliners like Anjem Choudary. She was also an administrator of a radical Islamic group called “GreenB1rds”. In Islamic mythology, Green Birds is used for those people who wage jihad and give up their lives in Jihad.
Lucky for Britain, some of the ‘contacts’ she confided in, were role-playing undercover agents working with British Intelligence services. Since 2016, they were keeping an eye on her and unknown to her, they had infiltrated her network, her social media contacts and interactions. They even played along when Safiyya went out to ‘recce’ her target area with a handbag so that she could inflict maximum damage on it as a suicide bomber. With this meticulous preparation, they were able to arrest her before she could put her plans in action and do real damage.
These ‘role players’ are a new line of defense in the secret world of anti-terrorism. There are many agencies that deal with internal and external threats and get close to them on social media by pretending to be one of them. With inputs gathered from these sources, they are able to preempt terrorist attacks on Western soil and at times, they tip off other countries as well regarding ‘people of interest’. In fact, not only official agencies but European civilian activists are also actively contributing towards the war on terror from their homes. These public-spirited vigilantes form online groups (e.g. CtrlSec) to snoop on hardliners spreading radical material on social media.
Mostly they limit their activity to reporting such accounts to social media administrators and thus getting these profiles and content purged. But there are also some groups that go beyond this basic seek & destroy strategy. They embed themselves in these groups and pass crucial or actionable information to official agencies, thus making their countries safer from homegrown terror attacks, especially the lone wolf attacks which are hard to detect through normal counter-terrorism strategies.
In Bharat as well, we are witnessing an increase in self-radicalized youths like Salman Wani & Inamul Haq who were recently caught from Kashmir and Bareilly respectively. Whether brainwashed by international groups like Al Qaeda or ISIS or homegrown PFI, these radicals can and probably will inflict damage one day.
While NIA and other security agencies have done an admirable job in preventing terror strikes on our cities outside J&K in the last 6 years, and have busted numerous terror cells, the threat is ever-evolving and growing. If we are to defend Bharat from such extremists, we need to learn to use strategies being adopted in US, Europe & Israel and implement them at home.
Another point to ponder is that Safiyya Shaikh (Michelle Ramsden) was sentenced to life just 9 months after her arrest last September. Such a hard sentence was handed down for plotting a terror attack and despite her history of drug addiction and emotional instability. When was the last time a Bharatiya court moved this fast and decisively? In the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, a special anti-terrorism court pronounced its judgement 13 years after the crime, and out of the 12 people given capital punishment only one was finally hanged in 2015 after a tortuous legal process involving last-minute appeals for clemency and a mid-night Supreme Court hearing.
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