England has a new heroine and we all have a new champion in the fight against terrorism. She is the 48-year-old Cub Scout leader from Cornwall, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who got off a bus in Woolwich, South London, yesterday when she saw a man lying injured in the street and rushed to give him first aid. He was dead already; literally hacked to death. She saw two men nearby with cleavers and carving knives. One of them had a revolver. Their hands were covered in blood. Loyau-Kennett didn’t run. She confronted one of them.
“I thought I had better start talking to him before he starts attacking somebody else,” she later told London’s Daily Telegraph. “I thought, These people usually have a message. So I said, ‘What do you want?'”
What they wanted was “to start a war in London tonight,” one of them told her. But what they really wanted was even simpler than that. They wanted to be feared. And that is precisely what Loyau-Kennett, at least outwardly, would not grant them.
Such sangfroid is vital at a time when terrorist tactics are evolving from spectacular, highly organized operations like 9/11 or the July 2005 suicide bombings in the London Tube to more random atrocities by individuals or pairs of conspirators, as appears to have been the case with the attack at the Boston Marathon.
The first lesson in the fight against such criminals is not to show that you are frightened: not to let them shut down society; and not to let them think, or let yourself believe, for a single minute that the message they “usually” have is anything more than a rationalization of their own pathologies.
Loyau-Kennett’s account of the incident, published in the Telegraph, is just amazing, and cellphone pictures that have now gone around the world back it up. Other brave women had tried to shelter the mutilated body on the ground. But Loyau-Kennett went above and beyond. You see her standing there in her down vest and jeans looking as casual—and firm—as she must look when she’s putting 8-year-olds in their place. (Many years ago, women leaders of Cub Scout packs were called “den mothers,” evoking an image of ferocious maternal protectiveness that still seems very damned appropriate in this case.)
One of the alleged killers, a tall man in a black hat, “had what looked like butcher’s tools and he had a little axe, to cut the bones, and two large knives and he said, ‘Move off the body,’” she remembers.
“I asked him if he did it and he said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Why?’ And he said because he [the dead man on the ground] has killed Muslim people in Muslim countries,” Loyau-Kennett recalled. “He said [the dead man] was a British soldier and I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘I killed him because he killed Muslims and I am fed up with people killing Muslims in Afghanistan. They have nothing to do there.’”
This was, of course, pure bin Laden boilerplate, a slogan that’s not religion and hardly rises to the level of ideology: if you can’t kill your real enemy, then expand the definition and kill who you can. Scholars like Gilles Kepel, author of The War for Muslim Minds, trace the rationalism back to a medieval jurist named Ibn Taymiyya, and through a strain of fanaticism financed by Saudi oil money that spread across the world and into some of the immigrant neighborhoods of Europe late in the last century where it was distilled into catchphrases.
The butchers of Woolwich, like so many would-be terrorists, probably saw themselves as chivalrous. They were, in their way, punctilious about killing a soldier, however cowardly the attack, hitting him with a car, then laying into him with their blades. The kinds of things they told Loyau-Kennett and others on the scene suggest they saw themselves as warriors killing another warrior, and sparing the innocents. One of the alleged killers even apologized for the fact that women in the neighborhood had to see the carnage on the street.
The murderers’ notion that “justice” is best carried out by decapitations is also a commonplace. In 2007, British security services foiled a plot by a group of British-Pakistanis to kidnap a random soldier, take him to a garage and behead him on video, then post it for all the world to see. In Iraq, the Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi built much of his fame with graphic beheadings posted on the Web. Before him, the murderers of American reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan had done much the same.
Sajjan Gohel, a counterterrorism expert at the Asia-Pacific Foundation in London, calls this “the visualization of terrorism,” meant to communicate that “anger, hate and the fact that anyone is a potential target.”
But Loyau-Kennett simply refused to take the message from the man in the black hat. She kept talking, and listening the way one listens to a child to calm him down, and waiting: 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Still the cops hadn’t come.
“I started to notice more weapons and the guy behind him with more weapons as well,” she told the Telegraph. “By then, people had started to gather around. So I thought, ‘OK, I should keep him talking to me before he notices everything around him.’”
“He was not high,” said Loyau-Kennett. “He was not on drugs. He was not an alcoholic or drunk. He was just distressed, upset. He was in full control of his decisions and ready to [do] everything he wanted to do.”
The man in the black hat, cleaver and knife in hand, decided to take his message to other bystanders, including one who had been on his way to a job interview but stopped to film the incident with his cellphone. That rant about “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” now lives in infamy on the Internet.
Loyau-Kennett turned her attention to the second alleged killer, who wore a light brown coat. He appeared to be “much shier,” she said. “I went to him and I said, ‘Well, what about you? Would you like to give me what you have in your hands?’ I did not want to say ‘weapons,’ but I thought it was better having them aimed on one person like me rather than everybody there, children were starting to leave school as well.”
Finally the cops arrived. The butchers of Woolwich reportedly attacked them as they got out of their cars, and the police shot and wounded both of the alleged murderers. They wouldn’t be hurting anybody else.
The den mother had done her job.