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In the end, Spanish police reconnected with him through dumb luck. A bomb that didn't explode on March 11 was connected to a cell phone whose SIM card was tracked back to Zougam's shop. Spanish press reports say he purchased a whole box of them recently, along with 14 cell phones. In a thorough search of his shop, police reportedly found a piece of plastic broken from the casing of the cell phone found with the unexploded bomb.
Still, Zougam's possible role in the Madrid plot is unclear, and experts are still divided over who might have ordered it. Although the key arrests in the railway bombings were Muslims, there is no iron-clad evidence--though there is plenty of speculation--that they worked for al-Qaeda or any other group. Analysts say the timing of the attacks may signal a dangerous turn: a new generation of terrorists, impressed by their seeming ability to sway an election, could plan to calibrate future attacks to achieve political objectives.
IRAQ'S NEW INSURGENTS
The mighty car bomb last week that lit the sky orange as flames shot from the wreckage of the five-story Mount Lebanon Hotel in downtown Baghdad was the latest evidence of the changing nature of terrorism there too. Though the bombing killed only seven, not 27 as originally reported, its impact was outsized, underscoring the trend toward striking ever softer targets. That included last week's murders of four U.S. missionaries and two European engineers working to rebuild Iraq.
It all seemed intended to stamp a negative image on the course of the occupation one year after it began and step up a calculated campaign to disrupt the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30. U.S. officials expect attacks to increase as the date nears. "All of a sudden, it put a countdown clock on this country," says General Mark Kimmitt, the military's chief spokesman in Iraq. Kimmitt and other U.S. officials in Iraq increasingly believe Islamic radicals have taken charge of orchestrating the violence as Saddam Hussein loyalists fade from the scene. Their intent is to push the country into anarchy, where extremism can flourish.
It seems to be working. Brigadier General Mark Hertling, assistant commander of the 1st Armored Division patrolling Baghdad, told TIME that compared with capturing Saddam, unraveling the network of terrorist organizations in Iraq is a much rougher struggle. Unlike Saddam's loyalists, the jihadists operate in cells that are not based in specific neighborhoods or tribes. They avoid fighting the U.S. directly, instead using terrorism to sow fear and undermine security among Iraqi civilians.
The U.S. believes the new extremists are not the made men of al-Qaeda, but men with a similar militant mind-set. A few come from abroad, but others seem to be indigenous. "We are not seeing a major flow of foreign fighters coming across the border," says Kimmitt. He thinks there are a "couple of hundred" extremists doing the dirty work, including a few al-Qaeda elements, remnants of Ansar al-Islam that were dispersed from their headquarters in the Kurdish north during the war, Sunni extremists who share bin Laden's radical brand of Islam and a trickle of individual volunteer jihadis.