Ever since al-Qaida attacked the United States in 2001, U.S. authorities have worked to detect and prevent the next big terrorist strike.
But officials and counter-terrorism experts say the Christmas airline plot and last November's shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, may have shown al-Qaida that smaller-scale attacks also can prove unsettling, without the complexity and risk of bigger attempts.
The Christmas Day attempt to bring down a Detroit-bound flight — allegedly by a young Nigerian man with explosives in his underwear — was not successful. The attempt, however, shook the government, set agencies against each other and led to months of political second-guessing.
Short of mass casualties, the attack produced the kind of reaction that al-Qaida desires.
Now it appears that the group, which has prided itself on its ideological purism, seems to be eyeing a more pragmatic and perhaps more dangerous shift in tactics. The emerging message appears to be that big successes are great, but sometimes simply trying can be just as good.
It's not clear what Osama bin Laden and his senior leaders are thinking and plotting. But U.S.-born al-Qaida spokesman Adam Gadahn made a public pitch for such smaller, single acts of jihad in a recent Internet video.
“Even apparently unsuccessful attacks on Western mass transportation systems can bring major cities to a halt, cost the enemy billions and send his corporations into bankruptcy,” Gadahn said in the video.
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