Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Iraqi doctor's road to radicalism

Bilal Abdulla

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

How does a man sworn to preserve life decide that it is his mission to take it?

During compelling testimony from the witness box, Bilal Abdulla, doctor turned car bomber, told how he convinced himself to strike at those he blamed for the destruction of his country.

He denied wanting to kill people with the London and Glasgow Airport car bomb attacks - but he now faces a life sentence.

The story of his personal conveyor belt towards political violence starts with one word: Iraq.

They shared in murdering my people... the British government and American government. Without Blair, Bush couldn't have invaded Iraq
Bilal Abdulla

The destruction of his home country was the catalyst. The insurgency became his inspiration - and al-Qaeda's indiscriminate tactics showed him a way.

Bilal Abdulla was born in the UK to a well-to-do Iraqi family with a tradition of medical careers. They had close ties to the West and Abdulla regarded England as a much-loved second home.

But back in Baghdad, he says he watched the country implode under sanctions and Saddam Hussein's dictatorship - and his view of the West began to change.

Abdulla told Woolwich Crown Court how post-operative infections rose to "almost 100%" because some medicines were banned under sanctions designed to prevent the regime building weapons of mass destruction.


He said he had no doubt a rise in childhood leukaemia was caused by depleted uranium shells, special armour-piercing US ammunition used in the first Gulf War.

Abdulla blamed the US and its allies for the deteriorating situation - and he wasn't standing and applauding when they came again in 2003.

"We understood the Americans were here for one reason - they were not liberators. We saw them in 1991, they were here for petrol and gas and we were happy. Take the petrol, fix the country, the price is worth it.

"But the Americans didn't do that. They destroyed the infrastructure again."

These events, coupled with personal calamities such as his sister's nervous breakdown, and his apparent antipathy towards Shias, brought him to a turning point. Seemingly overcome by personal guilt and his powerlessness on a hospital ward, he decided to support the bloody insurgency.

"My political views changed dramatically towards the [British] government," he said. "They shared in murdering my people. It was the British government and American government. Without Blair, Bush couldn't have invaded Iraq."

Ideological path

What remains unclear is the extent to which Abdulla's self-professed guilt and anger led him to be directly involved in the insurgency.

Abu Musab Zarqawi
Zarqawi: Inspiration?

There are clues to his mindset in a document recovered from a laptop in the burning Jeep at Glasgow.

Prosecutors allege that it was Bilal Abdulla's will. It was addressed to the "soldiers of Islam in the country of the Two Rivers", the name al-Qaeda uses for Iraq.

"God knows that I have not ever seen people better than you," it reads. "I learned from you the love for death and from you I understood the meaning of remaining on the ideological path.

"If it were not for the opening of jihad front here and the wish of our Emir [leader] to expand the jihad arena against our enemy, I would not have preferred to be in a land other than yours.

"March, following the footsteps of Abu Mu'sab and let the meeting place be paradise."

The last appears to be a reference to Abu Musab Zarqawi, the self-proclaimed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed a year before the London and Glasgow attacks.

In court, Abdulla denied links to Zarqawi, saying the document was bold rhetoric. No further evidence has been offered of a direct link.

Sense of injustice

Dr Jonathan Githens-Mazer, an expert in radicalisation from Exeter University, says that Bilal Abdulla's story exposes simplistic claims of a "clash of civilisations". Abdulla's personal conveyor belt, he argues, was driven by personal perceptions, politics and experience.

That is my case in a nutshell. I am told I am a terrorist. But is your government not a terrorist, is your army not a terrorist?
Bilal Abdulla

"During his evidence, there was almost no mention of Islam. This is about a conflict finding a person rather than a person finding a conflict," said Dr Githens-Mazer.

"You see what he would regard as tragedies and personal setbacks and it's a really interesting story to watch how these things build up to a sense of injustice.

"All these events [in his life] are really telling. They attach to a perception that society around him could not understand injustice."

Moral obligation

Dr Githens-Mazer said Abdulla's move towards violence, and triggers based on his perception of justice failing to be done, was a familiar pattern.

"Radicalisation comes down to someone believing they have an individual moral obligation to take direct action," he says. "Bilal Abdulla thinks that there's no alternative.

"Now, that's not necessarily an unproductive viewpoint. It is this feeling which motivated the millions who took part in the Stop The War coalition [in 2003]. The difference is where in Abdulla's case it gets translated into violence."

Bilal Abdulla was confident and confrontational in the witness box - an extraordinary combination of intellect and uncontrolled rambling emotion.

And one of his rhetorical shots went to the heart of how he saw the situation in Iraq.

"Everyone was saying you are a terrorist, you are arrested under the Terrorism Act," said Abdulla.

"That is my case in a nutshell. I am told I am a terrorist. But is your government not a terrorist, is your army not a terrorist?"

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