Terrorism experts believe the attack was carried out by a British cell with no direct links to bin Laden's group A homegrown British terrorist group inspired by al-Qaeda, but with no direct links, was behind the London bombings, leading terrorism experts claimed yesterday. Rejecting suggestions by officials that the organisation headed by Osama bin Laden carried out the attacks, Rohan Gunaratna said the connection with the group responsible was 'ideological'. 'It is a British cell that has existed in the UK for some time,' the author of the acclaimed book Inside al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror said from Canberra, where he is training Australian national police. 'It had perfect knowledge of the targets. It has no operational link to the al-Qaeda leadership.' Dr Gunaratna, head of terrorism research at Singapore's Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, said al-Qaeda's operations had been severely restricted since it carried out the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. The following month, thousands of US-led troops poured into Afghanistan, scattering thousands of devotees from training camps, killing and arresting hundreds more, and overthrowing the country's hardline Islamic government. With less than 500 fighters left, mostly confined to Afghanistan and border regions in Pakistan and Iran, al-Qaeda was no longer capable of carrying out major attacks, he contended. Members were still involved in terrorism elsewhere in the world, but he was certain that there had been no such connection in London. If the Spanish-based terrorist cell behind the Madrid subway bombings in March 2004 was any indication, those involved would not have even trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. 'Al-Qaeda's focus is international terrorism, but it is very difficult for them to operate with the same efficiency as before,' Dr Gunaratna said. 'They are still the vanguard for global jihad, but more in an ideological manner than in conducting actions.' That had particularly become the case since the US and its allies invaded Iraq in March 2003. Radical Muslims inspired and instigated by al-Qaeda had formed cells, such as those that carried out the bombings in London and Madrid. 'These cells today present a much bigger threat than al-Qaeda,' Dr Gunaratna said. Other extremist Muslim groups, such as the Southeast Asian-based Jemaah Islamiah - whose core members had trained in Afghanistan or gone to religious schools there or in Pakistan - had also won increased backing and become more militant. Emboldened by the support, they had taken to copying al-Qaeda tactics. The view was shared by George Kassimeris, senior research fellow in terrorism studies at the University of Wolverhampton in England. Unlike formalised terrorist groups such as the Irish Republican Army or the Red Brigade, al-Qaeda had become an idea rather than a movement. 'There are groups influenced by the idea and they get together and launch various attacks,' he said. 'Al-Qaeda has become a world view, a set of attitudes, even a belief system and it would be a mistake to become fixated on al-Qaeda.' British foreign policy, especially London's backing for the war in Iraq, had galvanised extremists into carrying out Thursday's attacks, Dr Kassimeris believed. Dr Gunaratna said that al-Qaeda was not as well organised as it had once been and was more an ideological movement than an operational fighting force. 'Al-Qaeda, the operational organisation, has severely weakened,' he said. 'It is now principally an ideological force inspiring radical Muslims to mount terrorist attacks.'