At the end of his Daily Bleat, Lileks mentions the recent al Qaeda bombing in Riyadh and says:
And it makes me wonder: They stick the shiv in the ribs of their richest and most enthusiastic backers.But that question presupposes that there's a high-level organizational force directing and organizing these recent attacks. Mr. Lileks may have been speaking rhetorically, but if anyone thinks that Osama Bin Laden is lounging in a cave, watching satellite TV, and pulling terrorist strings anymore, they're mistaken.
What makes them this confident?
Combined with the attacks on the Red Cross and the UN in Baghdad (and the earlier bombings in Saudi Arabia), the only real possible conclusion is that there simply isn't anyone in control anymore (if there ever was). At it's strongest, al Qaeda was a sort of terrorist venture capitalist that financed and trained killers around the world, but often the plans and projects themselves were instigated and led by locals. OBL may have given some ideological direction (such as prohibiting attacks on Arab oil infrastructure), but it's doubtful that he ever had much authority (such as the power to stop terrorist attacks, if he so chose (as Arafat has done in the past in Israel)).
No, the attacks we're seeing now aren't motivated by confidence, they're the death-throes of fragmented terror cells around the world. I doubt that many attacks are really the work of any organization that can legitimately called "al Qaeda" -- the name has grabbed international recognition, and I imagine that every otherwise-unaffiliated Muslim terrorist uses it just to assure that his attacks get attention and reinforce the myth. Like the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride, the name is used for effect and cover, nothing more.
As many others have speculated, the targets of these recent attacks were likely chosen for 2 reasons: they're "soft" targets and thus easy to hit, and they'll scare people by their randomness. That's the difference between a "military operation" and a "terrorist operation". Militaries (even guerrilla forces) select targets and make attacks for the purposes of damaging enemy forces and acquiring material assets. Terrorists just blow up whatever's handy to show their power, and then make demands; the point isn't so much what gets blown up, as long as it's something that will get attention for the terrorist's cause.
I had more, but it was rambling.