Connecting the Dots, From Casa to Riyadh

Any time, any place, anywhere. Suicide bombers have upped the ante in the past week, delivering a wave of blasts around the globe in a trend some fear could be the spark to a new wave of violence.

Dozens have died in the attacks of the last week and in addition to concerns of al Qaeda launching a new round of violence, a Chechen separatist warlord also signaled two suicide attacks in the region may be just the beginning.

Abdallakh Shamil Abu-Idris, more commonly known as Shamil Basayev, Russia's most-wanted man in Chechnya, said the attacks were "a tiny part" of a new campaign against what the Kremlin calls its "anti-terrorist operation" in Chechnya. Basayev is believed to have ties to al Qaeda.

The biggest attack in Chechnya came just hours after a suspected al Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia when terrorists drove cars packed with explosives into three compounds housing expatriate workers, killing over 30 people and injuring nearly 200.

And on Friday, at least 20 people were killed in four bomb attacks — three of them car bombs — in Morocco's commercial capital Casablanca.

In Israel and the Palestinian territories, five suicide bombings were launched in just two days, claiming nine lives.

The attacks came just weeks after President Bush strode out onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare the end of the war in Iraq and "the turning of the tide" of the war on terror.

Rather than turning the tide, experts say, the latest spate of bombings, and their timing, point to the fundamental nature of terrorism — and a possible change in the character of the war on terror.

The Terrorist’s Modus Operandi

The relative period of calm lasted throughout the war in Iraq. After the war, the State Department's counter-terrorism chief Cofer Black crowed to The Washington Post: "This was the big game for them — you put up or shut up and they have failed. It proves that the global war on terrorism has been effective, focused and has got these guys on the run."

But to Martha Crenshaw, a professor of government at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the new strikes should not have been unexpected.

Crenshaw, who has been a consultant to the State and Defense departments, noted the long-term planning that went into al Qaeda strikes on the U.S. African embassies in 1998, the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"They make plans well in advance," she said. "They go when they're ready."

Jeffrey Simon, author of The Terrorist Trap: America's Experience With Terrorism, also acknowledged that strategy of waiting, but interpreted it in a different way.

Simon, who runs California-based consultancy Political Risk Assessment Company Inc., said that terrorists might have chosen to refrain from attacking during the war with Iraq because security measures were tighter then.

"We think that they will attack on high-profile dates, on ceremonies, like the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, the Olympics, but it's really the opposite; they come after, when we're letting down our guard."

The past week's attacks came at a time when the terror alert level was at orange rather than the higher yellow alert level, he noted. Today, the White House raised the alert level back to orange.

Looking for the Subtext

While the last week of terror attacks may bring on the fear of a new wave of atrocities, Crenshaw said they may actually be a positive signal "in an ironic sort of way."

The attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia were committed not against high-profile targets directly affiliated with the United States, such as embassies, but against softer, secondary targets like complex housing expatriate workers and social clubs.

There is a sense that terrorists are finding high-profile operations too difficult. "They would prefer a 9-11," Crenshaw said, but have been forced to commit less spectacular attacks.

"But with lots of small things sequenced close together, they may have more of an effect," she said.

ABCNEWS' Brian Ross reported on Monday that one captured suspect in the Morocco bombings has reportedly said that he was rushed into action.

Experts described the groups suspected of committing the Saudi Arabi and Morocco attacks as being "looser."

"What is interesting is that these were local actors with links to the international network," said David Smock of the United States Institute of Peace, an independent, nonpartisan federal institution designed to curb international conflict.

With nearly half of al Qaeda's senior operatives in custody, according to the president, the implication is that secondary, less-experienced terrorists are carrying out Osama bin Laden's orders — and with less-sophisticated support.

Security sources told ABCNEWS that traces of ammonium nitrate, a crude explosive material, have been found at one of the sites in Morocco. But that's not too revolutionary — Crenshaw noted that the attack on the U.S.S. Cole was committed with low-tech explosives as well.

Cheaper explosives or improvements in technology are probably not the reason for the most recent spate of bombings, a former FBI explosives expert told ABCNEWS.

The war on terror has made explosives harder to get, he said — but terrorists in the past have been willing to use whatever they can get their hands on.

The Power of Coincidence

Don Hamilton, a former State department official and a staff member of the National Commission on Terrorism, said all the recent blasts were probably not linked. "I think it's necessary to separate Morocco from the Israel bombings."

Terrorist experts agreed the Israel bombings were most likely a reaction to Washington's recent introduction of the so-called "roadmap" to Middle East peace. The fact that they happened around the same time as the other bombings were mainly a coincidence, they said.

The attacks in Chechnya were "somewhere in the middle," Crenshaw said — tied to the republic's separatists efforts, but also claimed by a warlord who has alleged ties to al Qaeda.

H.K. Park, a terrorism expert at the Cohen Group, a consultancy run by former defense secretary William Cohen, said that before Sept. 11, hardly anyone saw links between bombings of the Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the U.S. African embassies, and the U.S.S. Cole.

Those events are now widely considered to be the work of al Qaeda.

Now, "people are more sensitive to it," he said — but maybe too sensitive.

Park said he saw no connection or thematic to conclusions to draw from the attacks. "I don't think we should ever be surprised by terrorism," he said.

"It's important for America after success in Afghanistan and other places in the world to know that we can't rest on our laurels. Like the Cold War, [the terror war] is not not going to end. It will take a long, sustained effort."

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