By JONATHAN CURIEL
San Francisco Chronicle
July 25, 2005
The latest blasts occurred two weeks after the July 7 bombings that killed and injured scores of people. Though no one was killed in Thursday's attacks, in which some of the bombs failed to detonate, the assault was, as the earlier lethal one, coordinated and aimed at London's bus and train system, considered "a soft target" by terrorism experts. In the weeks and months ahead, those experts say, more London attacks are likely.
"It is the next logical level of terror," said Michael Swetnam, a counterterrorism specialist at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va., who has co-authored a book on Osama bin Laden. "If they're able to do another wave (of attacks), that's stepping up to another level, to really frighten us. If you can demonstrate that you can come back week after week, you raise the fear level to another notch, and that would be a significant accomplishment."
While the experts believe London is the logical next target, they say that other cities in Europe and the United States could come under attack.
Three British men of Pakistani descent and a Jamaican-born convert to Islam are believed to have carried out the July 7 suicide attacks in London. It's unclear who was behind the more recent bombings. Swetnam and other terrorism experts say the bombings fit the pattern of a terrorism network that had planned their operation months ago as a way to "prove" their ability to strike fear into Britons.
"It would be surprising if it's not a jihadist group - whether it's al Qaeda or whatever you want to call it," said Peter Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.," and a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington. "The intent was to kill people simultaneously. (The intent was to show) the police aren't completely in control."
The bombings often reveal patterns. In both London attacks, three subway stations and a bus were hit. The attacks on the Madrid subway took place on March 11, 2004 - six months after the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Steve Cimbala, a Pennsylvania State University political science professor and terrorism expert who is the author of 20 books on defense issues, said the "synchronicity" of the two London attacks is disturbing.
"The eerie similarity and near simultaneity of these attacks (suggest) that there is a sustained, programmatic campaign in place, and it's being acted out," he said. "We may now see the jihadists able to carry out attacks monthly and semi-monthly."
Cimbala fears more attacks in the weeks ahead.
"There is a clear organized underground of jihadists in Britain, and they've obviously got more than one cell," he said. "They may loosely cooperate even if they're not centrally coordinated. I hate to be a pessimist, but my expectation is that (the two London attacks) are an overture and worse is coming. I'm not forecasting that, necessarily, but I don't like the repetition here, right down to the details of target selection."
Bergen, who grew up in London and still has family there, said, "One more of these events would be fairly catastrophic in terms of national self- confidence. It won't be good enough for Tony Blair to say, 'stiff British upper lip.' If there's another attack, that's not going to fly at all. And there's no reason to presume we won't have another set of attacks."
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