LONDON—A new video released by al-Qaida on Thursday, the eve of the anniversary of last year's deadly London mass transit bombings that killed 52 and wounded at least 700, claims the attack took place under its orders.
But investigators here say that while they're studying the tape, they have yet to find any convincing evidence that the four bombers received direction or help from outside England in carrying out the attacks.
That conclusion is consistent with a growing belief among European counter-terrorism experts that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida is more of a philosophical presence than a physical one in Europe. While it encourages and applauds attacks, they say, it isn't involved in planning or carrying them out.
In the video, first broadcast by the Al-Jazeera television network, Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida's second in command, claimed that al-Qaida directed the London bombings. The video included a photo of bin Laden with a narrator saying that bin Laden had praised the bombings.
Bomber Shehzad Tanweer, 22, also is shown on the tape, but he's not shown with bin Laden or even nearby.
Tanweer, who killed himself and seven others on a subway train near London's Aldgate station, claimed on the tape, "What you have witnessed is only the beginning." Attacks would continue until British troops leave Afghanistan and Iraq, he said. An Oriental rug appeared to be hung behind him.
Andy Hayman, Scotland Yard's assistant commissioner for specialist operations, said police had learned little new from the video.
"We are aware of the tape and this will form part of our investigation," he said. "There can be no doubt that the release of the video at this time can only cause maximum hurt and distress to the families and friends of those who died on July 7 and the hundreds of people who were injured in the terrorist attacks."
Two major reports on the bombings have noted that Tanweer visited Pakistan with fellow bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan, who was seen in a similar video in September.
But officials don't know whether the two met with al-Qaida officials.
The reports found that the four bombers planned and funded the attack on their own through their jobs and a personal loan. The total cost, including the trips to Pakistan, was less than $14,500.
According to the investigative reports, the four men made bombs from easily found commercial materials, plotted the attack and went on at least one dry run to time train routes.
Officials suspect that much of the help they got they found in what experts call the "virtual world of terror," Internet sites that extol violence and teach the basics on bomb-making and attacks.
Peter Clarke, Scotland Yard's head of anti-terror efforts, said that despite 13,353 witness statements, 29,500 exhibits and more than 6,000 hours of closed-circuit television footage, many questions remain and the investigation would continue.
"We need to know who else, apart from the bombers, knew what they were planning," he said. "Did anyone encourage them? Did anyone help them with money, accommodation or expertise in bomb-making?"
Many experts in Europe now believe that al-Qaida's role in terrorism, at least in Europe, lies more in providing inspiration.
"Our efforts to impose structure on al-Qaida blinds us to the true nature of our enemy," said Magnus Ranstorp, chief scientist for the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College. "Al-Qaida is a vapor, a shifting shape. In Europe, its threat is not so much as an organization but as a common belief in the need for violent action against the West."
A direct role for al-Qaida has yet to be found not only in the London bombings, but also in the March 2004 train explosions in Madrid and the more than 30 thwarted attacks around Europe in the past five years, experts say.
Instead, experts are more concerned about the kinds of activity that made news in Britain this week: The BBC reported that al-Qaida sympathizers had sought for jobs at MI5, the British security service, and a Times of London survey found 13 percent of British Muslims consider last summer's four suicide bombers "martyrs."
British investigations of the bombings found that the four bombers showed no signs of being terrorists. They were Muslim, but didn't appear violent, political or radical. They were English from families with money and community respect.
Maha Azzam, an expert on al-Qaida at London's Chatham House, said that the lack of a firm link between al-Qaida and terrorist actions in Europe shows that the future of fighting terrorism isn't about defeating an organization, but a mind-set.
"The al-Qaida fighters, bombers, of the future will be sympathetic to the group, but not tied to its network," she said. "They're not going to be guided by any central structure. They're going to be people who have decided to go it alone."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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