September 11, 2008

WHEN FAILURE IS THE LIKELY OPTION:

Trial shows Al Qaeda is still gunning for West -- but failing: Aggressive surveillance has damaged the effectiveness of Osama bin Laden's network. Nevertheless, anti-terrorism officials remain wary of the evolving nature of the threat. (Sebastian Rotella, 9/11/08, Los Angeles Times)

The trial of eight Britons charged with plotting to blow up transatlantic flights ended in London this week with a mixed verdict. But to anti-terrorism officials, two things are clear: The 2006 plot was an ambitious effort by Al Qaeda to match the carnage of the Sept. 11 attacks.

And it failed. [...]

Newly disclosed intelligence illustrates that the airplane plot was part of a broader campaign. British anti-terrorism officials said information that couldn't be used in court linked the plot to the bombing of the London transportation system in July 2005 and a failed follow-up attack two weeks later. Intercepts and other evidence indicate that leaders of the plots had contact with each other, converged in Pakistan and were trained by Al Qaeda bosses, officials said.

But only the first attack, which killed 52 people on the public transportation network, succeeded.

Because a foremost objective of Al Qaeda has been to strike in the West, the absence of attacks since 2005 appears to reflect the network's weakened state. Its North African offshoot wages a deadly campaign in Algeria, but has done little elsewhere. Fears about returning fighters from Iraq targeting the West have not materialized. Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, are still fugitives and are thought to be in Pakistan. But a barrage of U.S. missile strikes near the Afghan border has slain at least three of their frontline operational chiefs this year.

"It's clear that pulling off big attacks is more difficult," said a senior European police official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work. "The police have gotten better. Intelligence services have penetrated the networks. They have the desire to attack, but whether they have the capacity is less clear."

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2008 7:23 PM
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