A day after President Bush reaffirmed his commitment to the war on global terrorism -- "we will fight until the enemy is defeated" -- the British government revealed Tuesday that last week's terrorist attacks in London appear to be the work of suicide bombers, three of whom are Britons of Pakistani descent.
The prospect of individuals who grew up in Britain perpetrating what is believed to be the first suicide bombings in Western Europe adds a whole new dimension to global terrorism.
While the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America's homeland were the work of terrorists who hijacked commercial airplanes and turned them into lethal weapons, these individuals were foreign born and came to the United States on visas. They weren't home-grown, like Shahzad Tanweer, a 22-year-old cricket-loving sports science graduate, Hasib Hussain, 19, and Mohammed Sidique Khan, the 30-year-old father of an 8-month-old baby, who all lived in Leeds, England.
Thus to the question "why?" that invariably follows such acts of sheer brutality and cowardice is added the concept of the enemy within. Until now, Western Europe had been spared the anxiety that comes with suicide attacks, which are commonplace in the Middle East. But with last Thursday's bombings of three subway trains and a bus in the heart of London -- at least 52 people died and more than 700 were injured -- the definition of "global terrorism" that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair talk about will have to be changed.
But such change won't come easily. It's one thing to launch aerial and ground military attacks in the mountain regions of Afghanistan that have served as safe havens for Osama bin Laden, the world's leading terrorist, and his Al-Qaida organization. Al-Qaida has taken responsibility for the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and two militant Islamic groups with links to Al-Qaida have claimed responsibility for the London bombings. But what does Britain, the United States or any of the Western democracies do about terrorist cells that are already operating within their borders and whose memberships are made up of citizens of those countries?
President Bush keeps insisting that the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq are paying dividends. Terror groups around the world have proof of his resolve to take the fight to them, he says, while nations in the Middle East now know that the spread of democracy is the political endgame.
But the reality that Bush and Blair must acknowledge is that last Thursday's dastardly attacks weren't the work of foreign groups, but rather the actions of hate-filled British citizens against their fellow men and women. What would prompt such extremism from individuals who were born in freedom, grew up in the safety of democracy and had all the advantages the West provides?
It's a question that demands an urgent answer.