Less than 16 months after the Madrid train bombings, terrorism is again stalking Europe. The Thursday morning blasts in London are raising questions about what the region has and has not done to fight terrorism in the interim.
Some analysts say the four blasts that rocked London Thursday morning amounted to a wake-up call for a European Union fractured by infighting over a host of issues. Until recently, fighting terrorism, says Daniel Keohane, an analyst at the London-based Center for European Reform, came second. "Terrorism wasn't exactly at the top of the agenda for the last few months. The focus was on the outcome of the French referendum [on the EU constitution] or on Iran, or on other issues," he said.
Today, of course, terrorism is back on the top of the EU agenda. Europe's terrorism jitters have been bolstered by an Internet statement claiming responsibility for the London strikes. Signed by a previously unknown group calling itself The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe, the statement warns it would stage similar attacks against other European countries with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The London bombings bore a striking similarity to the March 11, 2004 attacks in Madrid. In both cases, the bombs targeted the cities public transportation system. And, in both cases they exploded during morning rush hour, where they could cause the most damage.
In both instances, the attacks coincided with major political events. For London, it was the G-8 summit in Scotland. In Madrid, the bombs exploded just three days before national elections.
But between the two attacks, some analysts say, the EU has been slow to develop a coordinated and effective counterterrorism policy. Mr. Keohane explains why. "The problem is the EU It's not like a national government. It doesn't have its proper terrorism service to arrest people. It can only help governments help each other. And the EU is only as good as its weakest member when it comes to security," he said.
While the EU has created a new post of counterterrorism coordinator, observers say the position lacks sufficient power and funding to make it effective. Plans for European-wide biometric passports, improved coordination in tracking terrorist financing and common arrest warrants have not progressed much beyond the talking stage.
Still, Spanish analyst Barnabe Lopez Garcia cites some progress. Mr. Lopez said there's been quite a bit of coordination between different European interior ministers. But its tougher to develop a coordinated, European-wide strategy that's effective against attacks like the one in London, Thursday.
Terrorism is hardly a new phenomenon in Europe. From Ireland to Italy, governments have long battled homegrown extremist movements. But experts say they are vastly different from the new one posed by Islamist cells. And Europe's close proximity to the Middle East and North Africa, and the many immigrants within its borders, puts the continent at particular risk.
Now, analysts like Daniel Keohane expect a much more proactive Europe when it comes to fighting terrorism. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is EU president for the next six months. "Given that the UK is currently chairing the EU, holding the presidency, and that the UK said it wanted the EU to agree on a clear counterterrorism strategy, I think that it will definitely shoot to the top of the agenda now. There's no question about it," said Mr. Keohane.
But what concrete new measures the EU will actually take to fight terrorism remains to be seen.