PARIS – A third generation of an estimated 800 to 1,000 Al Qaeda (search) terrorists -- mainly suicide attackers based on several continents -- is preparing strikes against tourist and economic targets worldwide, a French terrorism expert said Tuesday.
Roland Jacquard, a French consultant to the United Nations, said the new generation of terrorists is unpredictable, hard to track and ready to strike.
Jacquard took part in preparing a report for a U.N. Security Council (search) committee monitoring sanctions against Al Qaeda and the Taliban (search). In a telephone interview, he said the estimate of 800 to 1,000 terrorists in the new generation was his figure and would not appear in the U.N. report scheduled for release next week.
"The U.N. report explains...that the risk of terrorism remains very, very present," said Jacquard, author of several books on terrorism and head of the privately funded International Terrorism Observatory, based in Paris.
Jacquard said, the first generation of Al Qaeda was the original group based in Afghanistan. It spawned the second generation -- those who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
"Today, Al Qaeda has become a terrorist organization that no longer reacts in pyramid fashion," Jacquard said, referring to the highly structured organization headed by Usama bin Laden that handed out orders from the top and followed a strategy.
Now, he said, it works "in concentric circles," with each layer acting independently of the other.
"It is more dangerous as each group chooses its target."
Al Qaeda "has completely changed its nature" since the Sept. 11 attacks, Jacquard said. "Today, Al Qaeda is just a label, a symbol."
The new generation of terrorists is "ready to carry out self-managed, self-financed attacks. ... These are groups that will be difficult to penetrate, difficult to understand their motivation and who will be unpredictable," Jacquard said.
Economic and tourist sites, "which widen the message field," are the targets of choice, he said. He noted the April 2002 attack on an ancient Jewish synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba that killed 21 people, mainly tourists, and the Oct. 12 bombings of two night clubs in Bali in which 202 people, mainly foreign tourists, died.
French and German officials have publicly linked the Djerba attack to Al Qaeda, and Indonesian authorities suspect that Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al Qaeda-linked militant Islamic group, is behind the Bali bombings.
Jacquard blamed the "third generation" of Al Qaeda for the series of bombings last month in Casablanca that killed 43 people, including a dozen suicide bombers. Moroccan authorities suspect an international connection but have brought forth no evidence to back their theory.