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article imageIraq war made Britain prime jihadist target: expert

By Michel MOUTOT (AFP)     May 24, 2017 in World

Britain has been a prime target for jihadist groups for nearly 15 years, beginning with Al-Qaeda and now the Islamic State group (IS) which claimed the Manchester bombing.

Using explosives in a confined space is a direct throwback to Al-Qaeda's July 2005 attacks on London public transport that killed 52 people, said Mathieu Guidere, a terrorism expert and professor at the University of Paris.

Following are his responses to three key questions:

- Why Britain? -

For both IS and Al-Qaeda, Britain has long been a top target along with the United States. It dates back to Britain's key role in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. There's a lot of baggage. Added to that, Britain is today a large part of the international coalition fighting IS on the ground in Syria and Iraq, with ground troops and multiple air strikes.

- Why explosives? -

Explosives are among the modus operandi recommended by jihadist movements. There's nothing new in it: in July 2005, Al-Qaeda showed that it had members prepared to blow themselves up in public places to try to claim as many victims as possible. And even then it was people from Britain, not jihadists sent in from abroad. Nothing has changed in Britain between 2005 and 2017. The motivation and rationale is the same: the country's intervention in Iraq.

- Should the claim of responsibility by the Islamic State group be taken seriously? -

Just because they claimed the attack doesn't mean they were necessarily the instigators -- we need to wait for the results of the ongoing investigation. Especially so because the allegiances between IS and Al-Qaeda are currently in a state of flux. For the past two or three months, a number of IS fighters who were initially with Al-Qaeda and changed affiliation to Daesh (another name for IS) from around June 2014 have been returning to Al-Qaeda. It has been happening little by little since last September, as the offensive against Daesh progresses. The fighters who believe Daesh risks being weakened in the next few months are going back to Al-Qaeda.

We don't yet know exactly what Salman Abedi's allegiance was, but it's possible he was someone who went from Daesh to Al-Qaeda. We are seeing this happening with a certain number of known names and leaders, particularly in Iraq. We've also seen it happening in Libya since Daesh was chased out of Syrte. The allegiances are elastic because the aim is the same: to create an Islamic state and impose sharia law. It's just the means and the strategies that differ.

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