Former Scotland Yard Detective John O'Connor's comments on CNN this morning addressed all of these points nicely. (TPM has posted the clip.)
"I think that rather than using the all-embracing term of 'al Qaeda,' I think that you should be using the term 'jihadists,' which I think makes more sense. Because, though they may share common purposes with al Qaeda, I don't think that al Qaeda has the control to operate something like this. They could operate a major terrorist outrage, but I think it would be more professionally run. I mean this was a hopeless, incompetent terrorist attack."When you see the ludicrous situation where none of the bombs were able to be detonated and these guys are trying to set fire to petrol, when all they did, they didn't get a detonation at the doors of the airport lounge; all they got was a bomb fire.
"They set fire to fuel. Well, that in its own way, is not going to detonate the gas cylinders and it's not going to cause an explosion. It was just a fire. I mean, that is so incompetent as to be almost laughable."
An Andrew Sullivan reader also adds a helpful perspective about the contrast between British officials commenting on the events in London and Glasgow and those of Bush administration officials addressing various plots.
You can't watch the response of UK police authorities in their public statements without being impressed with the careful balance they strike between exorting the public to vigilance and resistance to being stampeded into premature conclusions. And particularly their restraint in talking about those who were arrested. "Out of respect for proper process, we will avoid comment," they say. And indeed, that's exactly what responsible law enforcement in a democratic society should say. It couldn't contrast more sharply with the conduct of the Ashcroft and, still worse, Gonzales Justice Department which engages in hysterical rants, leveling charges that almost never pan out, and screaming "terrorists!" at the top of their lungs - on a manifestly partisan political message. Let's call it department of calm heads vs. department of headless chickens. In any event, our friends in Britain are providing a model on this.