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Peter Bergen: Signs point to jihadist groups

CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen



G8 Summit
Acts of terror

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A previously unknown group calling itself the Secret Organization group al Qaeda Organization in Europe released a statement Thursday claiming responsibility for the London subway and bus bombings.

CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the statement, which was posted on a Web site connected to Islamic radicals.

British officials have pledged to carry out an exhaustive investigation to bring the perpetrators of the London bombings to justice. (Related story)

CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen talked Thursday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer about whether the bombings bore the marks of al Qaeda-style terrorism.

BLITZER: Peter, let me ask you first, what does your gut tell you? Clearly we don't know for sure who was responsible, but does this have the hallmarks, the fingerprints of al Qaeda?

BERGEN: Well, I want to preface my statements by saying remember the Oklahoma City bombing attack. There was some speculation it was Arab terrorists. It turned out to be domestic. Timothy McVeigh. So, we have to be careful.

However, there are several factors that lead us in the direction of jihadist terrorists. Britain is a close ally of the United States. They have a large number of troops in Iraq. It's a symbolic attack in the sense it was an attack during the G8 summit.

There is a large pool of like-minded militants in London. Just last year, a group of people were arrested with half a ton of ammonium nitrate in London near Heathrow Airport. They were storing it.

Ammonium nitrate was used in Oklahoma City. It was used in the Bali blast. It's not the sort of thing that you store in your locker to do gardening with, half a ton of it.

So you've got previous arrests in London indicating a strong support structure.

You've got the right people there. The universe of possible suspects is pretty small. The IRA has never engaged in this kind of activity. ...

I think you have to go back to some jihadist groups.

BLITZER: And you've reported, Peter, because you've done a lot of work on this over the years, there could be freelancers who are sympathetic to the goals of al Qaeda, who are operating basically on their own without any direct central control from Osama bin Laden or anyone else who may be hiding out in Afghanistan or Pakistan or someplace else.

BERGEN: Indeed, indeed. And British citizens have killed Danny Pearl, the journalist in Pakistan. He was killed by a British citizen, Omar Sheikh. British citizens have tried to bring down American airliners. Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, was a British citizen.

So, the fact these things are happening in London obviously is terrible and tragic, but we shouldn't in the United States say, "Hey, it's just an English problem," because people can come to this country relatively easy if they're European citizens.

There's a thing called the Visa Waiver Program, which allows you to get in without an interview with embassy officials.

I'm not suggesting we should change it. I think we have to be very careful of the idea that somehow these things are all happening in Europe, because these people can come here. They obviously have the motivation and the ability to mount fairly major terrorist attacks.

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