Investigators in London are still trying to determine who was behind the plot against U.S.-bound airliners and authorities are searching for around two dozen other suspects still at large. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, a top terrorism expert with a Texas risk-assessment firm sees indications that this might have been an al-Qaida operation that failed spectacularly.
Monitoring events in London and the Middle East from his office at the Austin, Texas-based Strategic Forecasting corporation, also known as Stratfor, Peter Zeihan sees signs of possible al-Qaida involvement in the London conspiracy. He says, had the plan been carried out, it would have been the kind of spectacular, coordinated attack that the terrorist group favors. He says the breakup of the plot could, therefore, represent a major failure for al-Qaida.
"The fact that this group was not just blown, but was broken up in such a spectacular fashion, with so many arrests of people who are believed to be directly involved, indicates that, if this was al-Qaida, their operational secrecy is not nearly as strong as it used to be," he said.
But Zeihan says the fact that such an operation came so close to being carried out also shows the danger still posed by the terrorist organization and local groups that respond to its violent vision. "They still have their planning capacity, they are are still able to recruit bombers at the local level. Most of the people arrested were UK citizens and that is something that should be a worry to any government," he said.
Even if this was an al-Qaida plot, the Stratfor senior analyst says, the actual implementation of the plan still would have fallen on local militants in Britain.
"It was probably carried out more in line with the way the 2005 London bombings were done, where a planner and an expert from Pakistan, from the core leadership, comes in and works with locals, recruits local militants and gives them a job to do. That way, if it gets busted up, he faces minimal threat, because he will probably already be out of the country when the attack happens," he said.
Peter Zeihan says al-Qaida has seen its leadership role among Middle East militants fade somewhat over the past few years as US-led anti-terrorist operations have driven its leaders into hiding. He says the overall uprising against the United States in the region that al-Qaida had hoped for never materialized and that the new leadership of the anti-western, anti-Israeli factions may have now passed to the Iran-backed fighters of Hezbollah.
"In the last month, Hezbollah has proved that, not only can it launch regular attacks, but it can survive Israeli counterattacks, at least so far. Hezbollah, as a result, even though it is Shia, has been able to take that mantle of leadership away from al-Qaida and it is strengthening every day. Had this attack been successful that might have shifted, but since it failed it only reinforces the ascendance of Hezbollah in the minds of most people in the Middle East," he said.
Zeihan says Iran may have replaced al-Qaida to some extent as the main sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East. He says Hezbollah could not possess thousands of long-range rockets and other weapons without the direct support of Teheran.