updated 10/19/2006 2:47:36 AM ET 2006-10-19T06:47:36

Britain has become the prime target for a resurgent al-Qaida, with last year’s London bombings seen as just the beginning, the Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday, citing counter-terrorist officials.

Intelligence chiefs, said to have access to the most comprehensive and current information, told the Guardian that al-Qaida had regrouped and grown more organized in Pakistan, despite a four-year campaign to track down its leaders.

The Guardian said experts feared Britain had never before been such a clear target, with groups plotting to conduct an atrocity on the scale of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

“They viewed 7/7 as just the beginning,” one unnamed senior source was quoted as telling the newspaper, referring to the July 7, 2005 suicide bombings on London’s transport system.

“Al Qaeda sees the UK as a massive opportunity to cause loss of life and embarrassment to the authorities.”

A second anonymous source agreed: “Britain is sitting at the receiving end of an al Qaeda campaign.”

Links with Pakistan
Britain’s traditional links with Pakistan made it a particularly easy target, with thousands of people travelling between the two countries each year, rendering it harder for the authorities to monitor security suspects, the Guardian said.

Officials also told the newspaper that groups in Britain were developing new structures, with a leader, a quartermaster in charge of acquiring weapons and conducting training and finally several volunteers. Britain’s intelligence services and the police say they have successfully foiled a number of alleged plots in the aftermath of the London attacks in which four Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 commuters on three subway trains and a bus.

But intelligence sources told the Guardian there were always other willing recruits to replace those arrested.

“It’s like the old game of Space Invaders,” a senior counter-terrorism source said. “When you clear one screen of potential attackers, another simply appears to take its place.”

A Home Office spokesman was not immediately available for comment. A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said she was unable to comment on a report sourced to intelligence officials. A Foreign Office spokesman declined to comment.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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