Terrorism usually comes like a bolt from the blue, but not so the four explosions yesterday in London, killing at least 37. Some British Islamist leaders have been warning for months that such violence was imminent.
An Islamist British group called Al-Muhajiroun - "the immigrants" in Arabic - for some time publicly stated that Britain was immune from Islamist violence because of its acceptable behavior toward Muslims within the country's borders. In an April 2004 conversation, the 24-year-old Sayful Islam, who heads Al-Muhajiroun's Luton branch, announced that he supported Osama Bin Laden "100%" in the quest to achieve "the worldwide domination of Islam," but went on to voice an aversion to himself performing terrorist acts in Britain.
Yet, Mr. Islam endorsed terrorism in Britain in a broader sense. "When a bomb attack happens here, I won't be against it, even if it kills my own children. ... But it is against Islam for me to engage personally in acts of terrorism in the U.K. because I live here. According to Islam, I have a covenant of security with the U.K., as long as they allow us Muslims to live here in peace." He further explained. "If we want to engage in terrorism, we would have to leave the country. It is against Islam to do otherwise."
Covenant of security? What is that? In an August 2004 story in the New Statesman, "Why terrorists love Britain," Jamie Campbell cited the author of "Inside Al Qaeda," Mohamed Sifaoui, as saying, "it has long been recognized by the British Islamists, by the British government and by UK intelligence agencies, that as long as Britain guarantees a degree of freedom to the likes of Hassan Butt [an overtly pro-terrorist Islamist], the terrorist strikes will continue to be planned within the borders of the UK but will not occur here."
The New Statesman story drew from this the perversely ironic conclusion that "the presence of vocal and active Islamist terrorist sympathizers in the U.K. actually makes British people safer, while the full brunt of British-based terrorist plotting is suffered by people in other countries."
A Syrian immigrant to Britain who headed Al-Muhajiroun, Omar Bakri Mohammed, confirmed the covenant of security, describing companions of the Prophet Muhammad who were given protection by the king of Ethiopia. That experience, he told the magazine, led to the Koranic notion of covenant of security: Muslims may not attack the inhabitants of a country where they live in safety. This "makes it unlikely that British-based Muslims will carry out operations in the U.K. itself," Mr. Mohammed said.
But in January 2005, Mr. Mohammed determined that the covenant of security had ended for British Muslims because of post-September 11, 2001, antiterrorist legislation that meant "the whole of Britain has become Dar ul-Harb," or territory open for Muslim conquest. Therefore, in a reference to unbelievers, "the kuffar has no sanctity for their own life or property."
The country had gone from safe haven to enemy camp. To renew the covenant of security would require British authorities to undo that legislation and release those detained without trial. If they fail to do so, British Muslims must "join the global Islamic camp against the global crusade camp."
Mr. Mohammed went on overtly to threaten the British people: "The response from the Muslims will be horrendous if the British government continues in the way it treats Muslims," explicitly raising the possibility of suicide bombings under the leadership of Al Qaeda. Western governments must know that if they do not change course, Muslims will "give them a 9/11 day after day after day!" When Sean O'Neil and Yaakov Lappin of the London Times asked Mr. Mohammed about his statements on the covenant, he said his definition of Britain as Dar ul-Harb was "theoretical" and he provided a non-bellicose reinterpretation:
It means that Muslims can no longer be considered to have sanctity and security here, therefore they should consider leaving this country and going back to their homelands. Otherwise they are under siege and obviously we do not want to see that we are living under siege.
In a less guarded moment, however, Mr. Mohammed acknowledged that for him, "the life of an unbeliever has no value." Yesterday's explosions mark the end of the "covenant of security." Let's hope they also mark the end of an era of innocence, and that British authorities now begin to preempt terrorism rather than wait to become its victims.
Mr. Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and author of "Miniatures" (Transaction Publishers).