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Are We Entering a New Phase of Global Terrorism?


Officials do not yet know whether there is a direct link between the recent bombings in London and Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt. But there is concern about the frequency of the attacks, and the fact that they appear to have been deliberately timed.

The July 7th London bombing was carried out just as the Group of Eight, the world's major industrialized nations plus Russia, was meeting in Scotland.

The July 23rd bombing in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt was carried out on Egyptian Independence Day.

And last year's Madrid train bombing was carried out on the eve of the Spanish national elections.

The top leadership of the al-Qaida terror network, which was responsible for the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S., has repeatedly called for attacks against the U.S. and its allies. Does the recent spate of relatively smaller and more frequent attacks signal a change in the way the group is now operating?

The recent bombings are actually similar to those that took place before September 11th, according to Michael O'Hanlon, a senior foreign policy fellow at the Washington D.C. "think tank," The Brookings Institution. "Overall, I would say that the use of individuals carrying, or driving, modest amounts of explosive has been the rule. And big spectacular attacks, as much as al-Qaida may prefer them -- are the exception. It's not so much that things shifted after 9-11, it's that 9-11 was itself a major exception in ongoing period of relative continuity in the kind of attacks we've seen," he said.

Nile Gardiner, a fellow in Anglo-American security policy at the Heritage Foundation, another Washington, D.C. think tank, says the the al-Qaida terror network still wants to carry out large scale attacks, if it can get away with it. He also points out the breadth and reach of the organization is expanding. "I don't think the nature of the enemy is actually changing in terms of the scale of devastation which they would like to achieve. What we are seeing, of course, is the evolution of a terrorist franchise across about 65 countries, across the world. We have seen much of al-Qaida senior leadership decimated. But we have seen a large number of additional cells spreading across the world."

Experts agree that the number and frequency of terrorist attacks is likely to rise. To combat that, they say, each affected country needs to reach out to its own Muslim community.

O'Hanlon adds, "In addition to all the homeland security kind of things we're doing, we need also a more serious political strategy for addressing the root causes of terror."

To do that in Britain, where there are large numbers of Muslim extremists, Nile Gardiner says the government needs to implement a very aggressive policy, to separate extremists from moderate Muslims.

Gardiner says, "I think we're going to see quite a powerful sort of cultural campaign, as it were, to try to clamp down on Islamic extremism in the country and to try to, I think, lessen the long-term threat from homegrown terrorism as a result of Islamic extremists."

Both men also stress the importance of intelligence coordination. The fruits of such cooperation were in full view Friday, when all four of the suspects in the July 21st failed London transit bombing were arrested, after major anti-terrorist operations in London and Rome.

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