For terrorism analysts, this places immediate suspicion on groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Experts have cited a growing decentralization of the terrorist movement but continue to see consistency in the methods used by localized groups.
Authorities couldn't confirm the authenticity of a claim of responsibility from a group calling itself “The Secret Organization for Qaidat al-Jihad in Europe.”
But the attack bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a research and consulting firm that focuses on global political risk.
“What they are trying to do is maximalize global attention and one way to do that is ensure you do have casualties in major urban centers when you launch attacks. When you combine that with the opening of the G-8 summit and the focus on London, a global center of commerce and finance and international politics, all of those pieces add up to something that makes Al-Qaeda look quite credible,” Bremmer said.
Terrorism experts interviewed by RFE/RL pointed to parallels in last year’s attacks on commuter trains in Madrid, in which 191 people were killed and 1,900 wounded. The attacks were followed by an immediate claim of responsibility from an obscure Al-Qaeda-linked group. Spanish authorities have traced those attacks to local groups loosely affiliated with Al-Qaeda," Bremmer said.
Matthew Levitt is a former FBI counter-terrorism intelligence analyst and senior fellow in terrorism studies at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
He says the Madrid bombings involved experienced operatives and new adherents to the Al-Qaeda ideology of global jihad. The London attacks, he said, likely had the same mix of actors.
“I think what we’re going to find here is a motley crew put together to carry out this attack, with some trail leading back from one of the more experienced individuals to some Al-Qaeda person at some point probably, but this was a local cell that didn’t exist as a cell or a network prior to the planning for this attack,” Levitt said.
The attacks succeeded despite stepped up anti-terror efforts by British authorities in the past year involving hundreds of arrests. They included the arrest of eight men near London in connection with the seizure of ammonium nitrate bomb-making material in February 2004.
Last November, British security services said they disrupted a plot to stage air plane attacks on London’s Heathrow airport and the Canary Wharf financial district. Plans were found at an Al-Qaeda training camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Rita Katz is director of the SITE institute, a terrorist investigation and information group based in Washington.
She tells RFE/RL that the London attacks took a high level of sophistication. She expressed concern that terrorist training camps in Iraq are serving the same function as former centers in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
“This took them a while to plan. This required surveillance, planning, funding, knowledge to know how to carry out such a thing and I wouldn’t be surprised that whoever carried this out could either be a veteran from the Afghan camps or maybe even the Iraqi camps,” Katz said.
For Michael Radu, an important issue is whether the perpetrator of the bus bombing in central London was a suicide bomber. Police have not yet determined whether suicide bombers were involved. If it is confirmed, it would mark a new stage of escalation, says Radu, who co-chairs the terrorism center at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a U.S.-based group.
“That’s significant. European suicide bombers existed before. In the last few years you had British and French-born individuals blowing themselves up in Israel or in Iraq but this is on European soil so that is a step farther than before,” Radu said.
Radu and other experts said Britain would have to re-double efforts to confront the problem of Islamic extremism in its midst. Radu and Katz said London has become a center for recruitment of Islamic radicals, extremist ideology, and some fund-raising.