Suicide bombers, precision-coordinated attacks, simultaneous blasts: in London or in Sharm el-Sheikh, the terrorists used the hallmark methods of al-Qaeda, even if experts agree the group hardly exists as a structured network.
Internet messages from al-Qaeda claiming responsibility for the attacks in Britain and Egypt, and warning of more to come, give the impression of a centrally commanded global jihad.
"Don't you know that the Al-Qaeda Organization is a fire that will catch all the enemies of God Almighty," warned a group, calling itself the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Levant and Egypt, as it claimed the bombings in the Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheikh.
Like a mutant virus, the movement founded by Osama bin Laden evolved to adapt to international efforts to suppress world terrorism, according to Western experts. Al-Qaeda hardly has a hierarchical structure. Instead, the attacks are mostly carried out by local groups, acting with great autonomy.
"Automonous cells bent on jihad have appeared and will appear across the world, for some years to come," warned Jean-Luc Marret of the Foundation for Strategic Research, based in Paris.
"They appear spontaneously by the acts of facilitators of all kinds: it could be a self-proclaimed imam, a `big brother,' someone who professes to know `true Islam.' And one day they move into action, without having received any particular order from any guide," Marret said.
In a recent interview with the Arab-language Al Qods al-Arabi daily, Abou Jandal, a former bin Laden bodyguard in Afghanistan, said: "Every element of al-Qaeda is self-activated. Whoever finds a chance to attack just goes ahead. The decision is theirs. This is regardless of whether they pledged allegiance to Sheikh Osama bin Laden or not."
According to Paul Wilkinson of St. Andrews University in Scotland, "al-Qaeda has morphed, though that doesn't mean that Osama bin Laden has been pushed into oblivion.
"The core leadership is suffering from setbacks from when the Taliban was moved from power," he said. "But he [Bin Laden] still represents ideological leadership for them."
The structural network, set up in Sudan in the mid-1990s, has changed into a more nebulous organization, an ideological hub favoring "a bloody war in the service of God."
A French anti-terrorist judge explained: "The war in Iraq led to the dispersal of these groups. There are more and more individuals. The individuals we are working on often do not form part of a group, not even informally."
"These are people who, by themselves, are incensed by what they see on television in Israel or Iraq," said French criminologist Xavier Raufer. "They end up thinking there is a conspiracy against Islam and decide to react. They form cells. Most of them become discouraged, others break up, some fall into the police net. A few survive," he said.
Motivated by feelings of anger, frustration and injustice to the Muslim world more than by religion, the new terrorists are even more dangerous because they often choose the route of suicide attack.
In a city where it is impossible to escape the lens of half a million surveillance cameras, the suspects in the two London bombings never tried to hide their faces. They had no plan to survive. That makes them formidable enemies, with little room for counterattack by the police.
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