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Was a Mumbai-style terror attack really 'foiled'?

Public evidence out so far of a Mumbai-style terror attack contains claims that a group of men was hoping to kill people in London, but had no operatives in place, no weapons, and little in the way of logistics.

By Staff writer / September 30, 2010

An armed police officer stands guard outside the Houses of Parliament in London, on Sept. 24. Media coverage in the past few days has written at length about a potential 'Mumbai-style' terror attack planned for Britain.

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

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Breathless coverage in the past few days has written at length about a potential "Mumbai-style" terror attack planned for Britainor perhaps Germany, or France – that was thwarted by the Obama administration's expanding aerial campaign against militant targets in Pakistan's lawless border provinces.

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The reference to Mumbai is to the 10 militants who roamed the city's Taj Mahal Hotel, rail station, and other locations for hours two years ago, murdering 168 people and raising serious questions about the competence of India's security forces.

Many newspapers carried photographs of the Mumbai attackers in action in their stories on the revelation of the plot – which is said to have been disrupted when a US drone strike in Pakistan's North Waziristan killed a British national and alleged plotter on Sept. 8.

While those pictures and references to Mumbai conjured fears of similar carnage in London – where 52 citizens and four militants died in subway bombings in 2005 – what's become clear over the past few days that such an attack was far from being realized.

In fact, the "threat" to European capitals today is probably about what it's been every day for the past few years -- and is much lower than, say, a decade ago, when there was less of an intelligence effort devoted to monitoring and disrupting these kinds of plots. That's confirmed by the British and German decision not to elevate their estimation of the "threat" level inside their countries.

There has not been a successful major attack by Islamic militants in Europe since the London bombings of 2005 and in the US since Sept. 11, 2001.

That second may be arguable, since Army Major Nidal Malik Hassan, who murdered 12 of his comrades at Ft. Hood late last year, was inspired by Al Qaeda fellow traveler Anwar al Awlaki, a Yemen-based cleric and US national. But all indications so far was that he was acting alone.

The evacuation of the Eiffel Tower yesterday appears to be unconnected, since that was prompted by a phoned in bomb threat. Militants inspired by Al Qaeda rarely provide those kinds of warnings and, in any event, no bombs were found at the tourist attraction.

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