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Dhiren Barot was born in India but grew up a short bus ride from where I was raised in northwest London. The son of a Kenyan-born father, Manu, and an Indian mother, Bhartia, he lived in a comfortable semi-detached house, studied with limited success for his exams at the local Kingsbury High School and later began what was going to be a career in tourism, landing a job as an airline ticket clerk with Air Malta.
I played soccer and cricket with kids like him, from the local Indian and Pakistani communities, in the park behind my house every summer and most weekday evenings throughout my childhood. Typically, the parents were soft-spoken and self-effacing, self-made people with a strong work ethic (Bhartia worked at a local supermarket). They placed a high stress on their children's education, anxious that they would benefit from opportunities that had been unavailable to them as adult immigrants.
Barot had been brought up as a Hindu, but at around age 20 he got drawn to Islam, the death-cult extremist brand of Islam peddled in London by men like the notorious, hook-handed "fight and kill the infidels wherever you find them" Abu Hamza al-Masri.
The radical shift in Barot's life began when he started attending prayer meetings and lectures at a library in nearby Willesden organized by Abdullah al-Faisal, a charismatic Abu Hamza disciple who was jailed in 2003 for incitement to murder. Faisal, a convert to Islam, "inspired" some of the men who would go on to carry out the July 7, 2005, London suicide bombing attacks. He inspired Barot's conversion, too.
Barot also listened to sermons by Abu Hamza, the al-Qaida recruiter jailed last February for inciting followers to kill Jews and other non-Muslims. It is believed that Barot first met Abu Hamza and heard him speak in 1994; a year later, the Hindu-turned-Muslim was learning terrorist techniques at a training camp in Kashmir.
Barot never told his parents how drastically he'd changed. His mother believed he had left home to work at a travel agency in northern England; actually he was living close by. When he came back for a rare visit after his father had heart surgery, Manu reportedly took one look at the beard his son was sporting and told him to shave it off. "You look like a Muslim," he said.
THIS WEEK, Dhiren Barot, said to be the most senior al-Qaida terrorist yet brought to justice in the UK, was sentenced to life imprisonment by a London court for planning a horrifying array of attacks. He had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder.
His aim, in the words of the judge, Neil Butterfield, was "to bring indiscriminate carnage, bloodshed and butchery - first in Washington, New York and Newark, and thereafter the UK - on a colossal and unprecedented scale." The intention was "to murder, but it went further," Butterfield continued. "It was designed to strike at the very heart of democracy and the security of the state."
Barot was the ringleader of a terror cell, several more of whose alleged members, including three from the same northwest London suburbs, are to go on trial next year. He had spent years drawing up meticulous plans for bombing attacks. He was readying to blow up a London Underground train as it passed under the River Thames, making notes that relished "the pandemonium, what with the explosions, flooding, drowning, etc., that would result." He planned to detonate gas canisters in stretch limousines in underground parking lots, with added napalm and nails, aiming to bring the buildings above crashing down. He had cased a series of central London hotels and railway stations for the purpose.
He had also drawn up plans for attacks in the US, and had made video-surveillance films on trips to the US in 2000 and 2001 of prestige office blocks in Washington DC, Newark and New York, where he filmed the World Trade Center before the September 11 attacks. The London court was given no indication that he had any connection to that attack, but under his alias "Issa al-Britani" he was named by the US commission that probed the 9/11 bombings as an associate of the man who allegedly planned them, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Barot's film clip at the Twin Towers features a background noise of someone imitating an explosion.
While Barot put his US bomb plans on hold after 9/11, he was moving ahead with the scheme for simultaneous attacks in London, and it was in "its final stages" when he was arrested two years ago, the London court was told. As Barot wrote of the limousine-gas canister plot in a document made available to the court on Tuesday: "Projects are planned to be coordinated back to back as they were with 9/11, thus forming another memorable black day for the enemies of Islam and a victory for Muslims (Inshalla)."
Barot had been coordinating with al-Qaida in Pakistan for years. He first flew there in 1995, and then flew on to receive instruction on the use of weapons and explosives, taking copious notes on manufacturing poisons and bombs, at a terror camp in Kashmir (as well as in the Philippines four years later). He presented the fruits of his planning labors to al-Qaida financiers in Pakistan in the early months of 2004, and was arrested that summer.
Chillingly, Barot had also toyed with the notion of detonating a "dirty bomb" - a radiation dispersal device - designed to cause colossal harm. In the paperwork made available this week are photocopies of his research into this field. If a fraction of a gram "of an appropriate isotope was spread over a square mile, the area would be uninhabitable," reads one snippet. Runs another: "A few grams of cobalt 60 with several pounds of explosives are enough to close an area the size of Manhattan."
IF ISRAEL'S bitter experience with Islamic extremist terrorism were not sufficient to persuade the international community of the untenable, incendiary combination of radical Islam and weapons of mass destruction, you would have thought that 9/11, 7/7 and the grisly list of Islamic extremist-inspired indiscriminate attacks elsewhere could have left no one in doubt of the danger.
Yet here we are in late 2006, with Iran closing in on a nuclear weapons capability. Iran, the prime fomenter of the Islamic extremist death cult; the inspirer, the trainer and funder of Hamas, Hizbullah and other "kill the infidels in the name of Allah" terror groups. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fresh from his recent jaunt to the United Nations General Assembly, has seen barely an admonitory finger wagged at him: not for repeatedly demanding the destruction of the state of Israel; not for training and funding suicide bombers; not for insistently defying calls to halt that drive to the bomb.
After 9/11, there can be no underestimating the willingness of the Islamic extremist terror groups to use any and every weapon they can get their hands on. No underestimating whatsoever, either, the willingness of men like Dhiren Barot, studiously honing his dirty-bomb-making skills, to make use of materiel infinitely more potent.
And why would an Iran inspired by so violent a religious interpretation not make such capabilities available once it had attained them? It might, or might not, think twice about using nuclear weapons itself; it might, or might not, be pragmatic enough to want to avoid the devastating retaliation that would follow. But what would deter it from secretively arming a terror group?
AS TIME ticks mercilessly by, and the Iranian nuclear program proceeds unobstructed, Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told The Jerusalem Post this week that it was not too late to thwart Teheran. The "point of no return" had not been reached, nor even the earlier "critical point" at which the last technological hurdles were cleared.
Livni purported to believe that harsh international sanctions would yet be imposed, and would have the effect of stopping Iran in its tracks. Given that the Chinese government, for one, is said to have earnestly been assuring concerned parties that it would strongly condemn Iran were it to go nuclear, but not otherwise do much about it, one wonders how well-placed the foreign minister's confidence can be.
A senior American official in Israel, meanwhile, has this week been opining that Israel has no effective military option for Iran, no one-raid capability of destroying the many, well-protected nuclear facilities from the air. "We do not have enough information about the Iranian nuclear program to be confident that you could destroy it in a single attack," this US official said. "The worst thing you could do is try and not succeed."
But Israel would not be the only target of a nuclear Iran. And a nuclear Iran should not be an Israeli problem.
In an era where a perverted religious imperative can turn unremarkable non-Muslim northwest London school kids into murderous fanatics, and the nuclear non-proliferation regime is breaking down, the only way for the international community to save itself is by uniting to keep the fanatics away from the bomb.
Just maybe, now that we've passed the US midterm elections, the Iranian threat can be recognized in all its gravity, and confronted by a bipartisan American alliance that swiftly gathers the necessary international momentum. It's either that or a dismal future, in the words of Dhiren Barot, of memorable black days for the enemies of Islam.
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