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Embassy Bombing In Pakistan Demonstrates Al-Qaeda Strengths And Weaknesses

A very powerful car bomb detonated outside the Danish embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan today. Latest figures cite 8 killed and more wounded in the blast which severely damaged the embassy of Denmark, destroyed several other vehicles in the street and ripped away the fronts of several buildings nearby.

Confusion lingered about the extent of the casualties hours after the blast in the capital city of Islamabad.

Police at the scene said a suicide car bomber pulled up next to the embassy about 1 p.m. and detonated explosives. But Senior Superintendent of Police Ahmad Latif told CNN that authorities could not immediately label it a suicide attack.

Likewise, a medical personnel told CNN that the explosion killed eight people, including a young child and at least one foreign national.

No one has claimed responsibility, but al-Qaeda should be considered the top suspect based on the nature of the attack, proximity to al-Qaeda's Pakistani global base of operations, and past threats against Denmark over the 2006 Muhammed cartoon controversy as well as the rest of Europe for participation in the war in Afghanistan.

In an audio message earlier this year, bin Laden threatened Europe regarding participation in Afghanistan as well as the Muhammed cartoons and said, "Don't listen to our words, watch our actions."

The militant leader said publishing the controversial caricatures of the Muslim prophet was a greater offense than the "bombing of modest villages that collapsed over our women and children," in a reference to the invasion of Iraq by US and European forces.

"The punishment will also be more severe," he said, addressing the "intelligent ones" in the European Union: "Don't listen to our words, watch our actions."

There is little room for doubt that today's attack on the Danish embassy is intended for Europe and the rest of the West to watch al-Qaeda's actions. That said, several points can be taken from the attack.

• The attack on Danish interests occurred close to al-Qaeda's powerbase and not in Europe, where the execution of such an operation and a blast of such power is magnitudes more difficult to pull off.

• Al-Qaeda ideally seeks to strike with such force on Western soil and does have assets in such regions. However, resorting to a more localized attack demonstrates that the risk-averse organization likely still assesses that it does not have the capability yet to reliably execute on such a scale in tougher security environments.

• Converse to the groups relative level of tactical challenge abroad, the successful attack - a relative term, as it appears the driver may have been stopped by Pak security forces just short of ideal placement - demonstrates al-Qaeda's strength within its 'wheelhouse' inside Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

• The attack also demonstrates the ill-advised nature of CIA Director Hayden's assertions that al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened globally. Al-Qaeda remains capable of replacing mid-level to upper-mid-level commanders, strategists and operators that are liquidated and removed from circulation.

Al-Qaeda remains a highly motivated, well-funded and lethal terrorist organization with an under-appreciated depth chart. We risk much in overstating our successes and understating the state and nature of this enemy.

The Islamabad bombing may demonstrate some areas of weakness, such as comfort of reach, but it also demonstrates remaining al-Qaeda strengths, such as raw lethal capacity and intent, maintained within its havens inside Pakistan. We would do well to acknowledge both without overstating either.