Bombs show tactics of Britain's militant groups

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 May, 1999, 12:00am

Britain is having to face the possibility that it does not consist of the tolerant community it liked to believe.

A series of vicious bombings over the past few weeks have drawn attention to a minority prepared to cause carnage to try to destroy the country's increasingly multi-cultural society.

While police believe the bombings were the work of a young man working on his own, investigations have revealed a number of far-right groups which are using the tools of the Internet to recruit members and spread their message of hate and white supremacy.

Officers have discounted a variety of groups which claimed responsibility for three nail bombs that targeted the capital's Afro-Caribbean, Bangladeshi and gay communities.

But while they may not have been responsible for the bombings, fascist groups have exploited the uncertainty surrounding the attacks with an indiscriminate deluge of hate mail, death threats and hoax bomb warnings.

One letter signed by a neo-Nazi group and sent to a London hospital warned: 'England for whites only, not niggers, Pakistanis or Chinese.' A Chinese community group in central London's entertainment district of Soho, where a bomb exploded on Friday leaving three dead and more than 70 injured, also received a threatening letter claiming to come from a right-wing group. Charles Lee Yung-kee, who manages a restaurant in Chinatown, just metres from where Friday's bomb exploded, insisted he was not intimidated.

'The Chinese community get on very well with all our neighbours here. We are not really worried about such things,' Mr Lee, who came to Britain from Hong Kong 25 years ago, said.

'London is a busy city, so of course there is trouble from time to time, but our biggest worry is that these bombs have affected our business. How are we going to pay the rent if people stay away because they are frightened by the bombs?' But Bob Allwood, who regularly busks outside Mr Lee's restaurant, admitted he was worried about the prospect of growing racism. 'There is definite tension in the air at the moment. People here are usually very friendly but now everybody is nervous,' he said.

The right-wing groups do not appear to have a clear political philosophy but their actions are aimed at provoking ethnic communities into a violent response likely to polarise society.

Police admit they have little intelligence on these organisations which have adopted a strategy of leaderless resistance, allowing small units to operate on their own with little chance of infiltration from informers.

The tactic encourages members to form small cells of two to five people which act autonomously while following a similar ideological and terrorist path.

But work by a number of dedicated campaigners has spotlighted the network of neo-Nazi organisations mainly consisting of disaffected white males motivated by a confused sense of resentment at the success of many migrant groups.

One of the most dangerous is believed to be a group known as Combat 18, which takes its name from the first and 18th letters of the alphabet, A and H, the initials of Adolf Hitler.

The group's activities have been followed by the Searchlight Education Trust, a charity dedicated to combating racism, which managed to obtain a copy of a manifesto published by Combat 18 that gives members information on how to plan attacks.

Entitled 'What We Stand For', the document spells out the group's aim of driving all immigrants from Britain as well as targeting homosexuals and Jews.

Members are given regular lists of targets and suggestions on how to carry out an attack and how to build up an arsenal of weapons.

It gives instructions on how to avoid detection by police and tips on how to contact the press to publicise terrorist activities.

Members are urged to join the part-time Territorial Army or other military units so as to receive training in how to handle explosives and firearms. The group claims connection with similar extremist groups in the United States.

'The race war is not about to happen so we must start it ourselves,' the manifesto says in part. 'Sophisticated weaponry is not necessary to start the ball rolling - anything which stirs the racial pot is justified.' Though new laws will be introduced later this year to target violent right-wing organisations, Home Secretary Jack Straw has ruled out banning such groups.

'So far as these racist groups are concerned, I doubt whether such bans would do more good than harm. These 'organisations' are very loose in form; proving membership would be very difficult.

'The only effect may be to drive those involved further underground and making intelligence gathering harder,' Mr Straw said.

The new Prevention of Terrorism Bill includes much broader proposals which it is hoped will dismantle such groups' organisational and fund-raising abilities.

A new definition covers the use of serious violence against persons or property or the threat to use such violence to intimidate or coerce the public for any political, religious or ideological ends.

At the weekend, Prime Minster Tony Blair used a speech at a rally to mark the 300th anniversary of the Sikh faith to emphasise that the right-wing groups were excluding themselves from society.

'These cowardly bigots are not part of modern Britain. They are the real outsiders in our society. They are the outcasts. They don't share the values which link the overwhelming majority of people in this country.'