In the end, it might not make a difference whether or not the terrorists were associated with al Qaeda or if their operation was extremely sophisticated -- they still wanted to kill innocent people.
"I'm not sure it matters, because they espouse the same type of hatred," explained Terry Turchie, a former FBI counterterror expert and the author of "Hunting the American Terrorist." "It wasn't just placing a simple device near a statue in a park. They had to plan on renting cars, building devices, remotely detonating them. That really takes a lot of talent and a lot of skill. ... They were obviously prepared to die for what they were doing."
The perpetrators were more likely inspired than directed by al Qaeda, due to the changing nature of that organization. "It used to be a hierarchy when they were in Afghanistan," said Lehr. "After they were driven out, they devolved or evolved into a loosely structured network. The plotters of the terror attacks in Britain "may have subscribed to the ideology without being members."
In essence, al Qaeda seems to operate like a loose federation with "a lot of franchises around the world," said Lustick. "You get crazy people who think, 'If I come up with a nifty idea, maybe I can get some money from them.' But they usually have no real links to al Qaeda."
He said that there seem to be clear differences between homegrown terrorists in the United States, most of whom seem to be bumblers tripped up by FBI informants, and those in Europe, who seem to be more serious in their intentions.
"When you talk about amateur hour, you could be talking about the hucksters in Queens who wanted to blow up the fuel line or the Rastafarians who wanted to blow up the Sears Tower," said Lustick. "Crazy people gravitate toward that type of fantasy when they go crazy. But in Europe, their Muslim populations are different from ours, and they were not as well assimilated. They are much more isolated, and that's why you get much more serious activity in Europe, whereas the Americans didn't even come close to carrying out their operations."