by Sultan M Hali

The Sunni jihadists perceived the move of the West as treason against their tacit understanding thus they want revenge. While there have been attacks in France, Germany, Brussels and even Saint Petersburg in Russia, Britain is bearing the brunt of vindictive attacks, for its apparent Middle Eastern and foreign policy failures.

We sympathise with those who lost their near and dear ones in the recent terror attacks in Britain as also in assaults by terrorists elsewhere. At the same time, we need to question the causes of this terror upsurge. Three gruesome assaults in less than three months have occurred in the United Kingdom; March 22 – the crushing and stabbing incident by Khalid Masood a.k.a. Adrian Elms, the Manchester Arena suicide bombing two months later by Salman Abedi, and the latest, June 3 – a vehicle crashing at the London Bridge and stabbing at Borough Market.

While searching for the rationale behind the attacks, which British Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump were quick to pin on militant Islam, one finds that the Occident has to bear responsibility for the radicalisation. The morphing of al-Qaeda elements into the Islamic State (IS) is rooted in the support provided by the British and the West to Sunni militants in the Middle East against the Shia Iranian axis. Apparently, an understanding was reached, according to which Sunni Arab militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Shia-dominated Syrian regime.

In Iraq, US and UK led intervention also destroyed the existing state infrastructure and fuelled an Islamist insurgency which incubated al-Qaeda in Iraq and culminated in the emergence of ISIS. In Syria, the US and UK covert action, again in partnership with some Gulf States has had the effect of augmenting the role of al-Qaeda in the rebel movement.

This arrangement of an unwritten contract between the Western powers and the Middle Eastern Sunni Arab jihadists against the Shia Iranian axis persisted up to August 2014 when the Obama Administration abandoned its previous regime change policy in Syria and began conducting air strikes against one group of Sunni militants battling the Syrian regime, the IS for occupying Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, which had been vacated by US troops in December 2011. The Sunni jihadists perceived the move of the West as treason against their tacit understanding thus they want revenge. While there have been attacks in France, Germany, Brussels and even Saint Petersburg in Russia, Britain is bearing the brunt of vindictive attacks, for its apparent Middle Eastern and foreign policy failures. Take the case of the barbaric Manchester bombing, which killed 22 innocent people on May 22. According to Mark Curtis and Nafeez Ahmed, the perpetrator of this heinous crime, Salman Abedi and his father were members of a Libyan dissident group – the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) – covertly supported by the UK to assassinate Qaddafi in 1996. At this time, the LIFG was an affiliate of Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and LIFG leaders had various connections to this terror network. Members of the LIFG were facilitated by the British ‘security services’ to travel to Libya to fight Qaddafi in 2011. Both Salman Abedi and his father, Ramadan, were among those who travelled to fight at this time (although there is no evidence that their travel was personally facilitated or encouraged by the security services).

Related: The London terrorist attack

A large number of LIFG fighters in Libya in 2011 had earlier fought alongside the IS in Iraq – the al-Qaeda entity which later established a presence in Syria and became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These fighters were among those recruited into the British-backed anti-Kaddafi rebellion and are even said to have been trained by the British SAS.

Thus it is clear that LIFG was used by the UK as a proxy militia to promote its foreign policy objectives. David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, and Theresa May – who was Home Secretary in 2011 when Libyan radicals were encouraged to fight Kaddafi – clearly have serious questions to answer. While in Libya, US and UK led intervention destroyed the functioning state and created a vacuum allowing hardliner Islamist fighters to consolidate their foothold in the country. This paved the way for the empowerment of ISIS. The direct line between Libyan and Syrian Islamist rebels fuelled jihadism in both countries. In Iraq, US and UK led intervention also destroyed the existing state infrastructure and fuelled an Islamist insurgency which incubated al-Qaeda in Iraq and culminated in the emergence of ISIS. In Syria, the US and UK covert action, again in partnership with some Gulf States has had the effect of augmenting the role of al-Qaeda in the rebel movement.

This combination of Anglo-American policies across the region has contributed to further instability and the rise of violent jihadism. Based on the evidence of UK covert and overt action in the region in alliance with states consistently supplying arms to terrorist groups, it may be concluded that agencies of the British government itself have, in some senses, become part of the broader ‘terrorist network’ with which the British public is now confronted.

Related: Pakistani-born British citizen named as one of the London attackers

Coincidentally, according to former Chatham House researcher Mark Curtis, one of the London attackers, Rachid Redouane, like Salman Abedi also fought in the 2011 British/NATO war against Kaddafi and joined a militia which went on to send jihadist fighters to Syria. In Libya, he is believed to have fought with the Liwa al-Ummah unit. The Liwa al-Ummah was formed by a deputy of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the former emir of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In 2012, the Liwa al-Ummah in Syria merged with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which was formed in August 2011 by army deserters based in Turkey whose aim was to bring down Assad. In Syria, the Liwa al-Ummah was often referred to as an ‘FSA unit’ and sometimes teamed up with al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria.

Whosoever wins the 8 June 2017 elections and assumes the mantle of the next Prime Minister of Britain, will have to look inwards and do some soul searching for pinpointing the genesis of the terror attacks and devise a cogent plan to tackle terrorism rather than blindly scapegoating Muslims. Britain cannot meddle in other nations and not expect a boomerang effect.

In this backdrop, Theresa May talks of having a hard talk with the British Muslims while Donald Trump perceives it to be an opportune moment to fire broadsides at Muslim immigrants and the Muslim Mayor of London. Ms May should be answering hard questions and having a hard talk with those Arab States, which may be having a soft corner for the Sunni Jihadists in their apparent confrontation with Iran. Apparently, she will refrain from that because most of them are markets for British arms and technology.

One may also examine the timing of the attacks. The United Kingdom general election of 8 June 2017, may have a link. By striking on the eve of the elections, the terror mongers have hit upon the factor of intensifying anti-Muslim rhetoric, justifying harsher “security” responses from the British state and shifting political support towards the right. Such a move would lend support to the radicalisation of other disillusioned Muslim youth. Even those sitting on the fence may become willing recruits to the terror leaders’ heinous cause.

Whitney Webb, a renowned columnist, believes that the timing of the attacks is not coincidental, as one of the candidates, Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Theresa May is also putting the blame on the internet and social media, stating that the internet provides a safe space for extremist ideologies to breed and needs to be regulated. Having served as Home Secretary, she should know that she can’t blame the internet alone for the debacle and what challenges any government will face in regulating the internet.

George Bush, in his naiveté, had rationalised that terror attacks were perpetrated because “the bombers hated our values and our democracy.”

Tony Blair had used similar oversimplifications following the 7/7 attacks and now Theresa May is talking about “values” and “democracy” and “evil ideology”. She will have to do better than that. Whosoever wins the 8 June 2017 elections and assumes the mantle of the next Prime Minister of Britain, will have to look inwards and do some soul searching for pinpointing the genesis of the terror attacks and devise a cogent plan to tackle terrorism rather than blindly scapegoating Muslims. Britain cannot meddle in other nations and not expect a boomerang effect.

Sultan M HaliThe author is a retired Group Captain and author of the book Defence & Diplomacy. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and TV talk show host.