Recent al-Qaida terror threats in Europe have stirred up new interest in the group's foray into urban warfare, as used by Lashkar-e-Taiba in the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Experts say the threats show al-Qaida's flexibility. At the same time, they say prevention of future attacks will require equal adaptability by the West.
A series of bomb scares and plots in Europe - serious enough to bring to mind the attacks carried out in London more than five years ago.
Saudi Arabian intelligence reports said al-Qaida was planning urban warfare - attacks similar to those carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Mumbai in November 2008. Security was tightened in Britain, France and Germany.
The attacks were prevented after suspected US drone attacks - like this one - in Pakistan's tribal region killed militants of German origin who were allegedly plotting the attacks.
Experts say it underscores three crucial points.
One, that the suspected U.S. drone attacks on al-Qaida hideouts in Pakistan can be very effective in preventing such attacks in Europe and the United States.
Two, that the terror threat today is not a single, coherent threat. And that al-Qaida is constantly adapting its strategy to new circumstances.
It shows al-Qaida is getting new leaders and recruits from the West who do not need visas to travel in Europe, says analyst Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "New leaders like Ilyas Kashmiri and Younis al-Mauretani assembled the recruits including British, French, and German nationals, and perhaps one former Turkish Air Force officer to perpetrate Mumbai-style attacks," he said.
The intelligence community has been concerned for some time that this kind of evolution might occur, says analyst Glenn Carle who worked on trans-national threats at the National Intelligence Council during the Bush administration. "As we have degraded them, they have become less capable. They also are clever and intelligent to respond to the circumstances that they have, which means that they will by necessity and design defuse their structure," he said.
Experts say the long-range implications of this evolution are sobering. Al-Qaida leaders are realizing that they can easily create panic and disrupt Western society the old-fashioned way and that too, on a global level. "When you look at multiple Mumbai style attacks carried out simultaneously in Europe, they will have a profound impact, if successful. And what they learned from Mumbai, is it is not that hard to do and their adversary is not very well prepared to defend against it," he said.
The defense this time was to be on the offensive. Suspected U.S. Drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal region were stepped up in the hopes of disrupting the plot, allegedly revealed by a captured German of Afghan descent. "The drone attacks were coming because there were several teams that were part of this plot. Some of the suspected teams hadn't yet been dispatched. So you have records of about 8 Germans being killed in a drone strike as well as an individual who was suspected leader of this plot, named Abdul Jabbar," he said.
Experts say intelligence indicates the European plots show there are several Jihadist organizations that are trying to attack the west and al-Qaida is basically one of many threats.
But different Jihadist groups responding to al-Qaida's jihad against the West is not an accident, warns analyst Thomas Joscelyn, also at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. This, he says, was thought through by al-Qaida a long time ago. "Bin Laden saw the potential of all these localized regional Jihadist terrorist groups and how, over time, he could fold them into his own campaign and what he wanted to do," he said.
Experts say al-Qaida has been quick in changing its strategy by using different Jihadist groups to plot urban warfare. The question is if the West can also change its response with equal speed.