Last week, news agencies around the world reported that a plot hatched in the Pakistani tribal regions was aiming to conduct a "Mumbai-style" attack in London and major cities in France, Germany, Italy, and Belgium. Since then, each day has brought new revelations about its extent and scope. In the past, jihadists targeting the West have used spectacular, carefully synchronized suicide bomb attacks on various modes of transportation or in highly populated areas. But the reported plan to mimic the 2008 Mumbai attack, in which Pakistani gunmen shot at civilians in "soft" targets such as hotels and restaurants, reveals an important shift for al-Qaeda. Pressured by the increased effectiveness of Western governments' counterterrorism efforts and learning from its string of recent failed bomb attempts, al-Qaeda is adapting its tactics.
Since the July 7, 2005, attack in London, in which coordinated suicide bombings targeted commuter buses and trains, there has not been a large-scale jihadist attack on Western soil. (The obvious exception, the March 2010 suicide bombings in Moscow subways, was more about Chechen separatism than global jihadism.) The U.S. and European leadership have adjusted their counterterrorism measures by enacting new laws to better prosecute terrorists, sharing more intelligence, monitoring terrorist cells more effectively, disrupting training camps in the Pakistani tribal areas, just to name a few. Since then, though the terrorists are still plotting, the success rate for their attacks has dropped precipitously.