Bourada was involved in a mid-1990s bombing campaign in France. Cherifi, who has a university math degree and had worked as a chief receptionist at a luxury hotel, was convicted in 2002 of providing fraudulent documents to a suspected Al Qaeda cell.
Their new-generation soldiers ranged from radicalized hoodlums, who raised a war chest by robbing armored cars and extorting from prostitutes, to fierce converts trained in bomb-making in Lebanon. Like militants across Europe, they were swept up in a wave of radicalization that is faster and wider than ever.
In December, French police found a stash of weapons and explosives in the garage of a housing project in the gray slums north of Paris. One plan called for simultaneous attacks during Bastille Day celebrations July 14, investigators said. In April, Moroccan police captured a Tunisian based in Milan and seven suspected henchmen accused of preparing to bomb a cathedral in Bologna, Italy, because it displays a painting of Muhammad in Dante's Inferno.
Nonetheless, the network did not come close to striking, officials say. Information from North Africa may have been manipulated, they say. The fog of the battlefield obscures the true dangers and even the face of the enemy.
"For me, using the term GSPC can be problematic," Dambruoso said. "I think it encompasses many things, many groups, it has stimulated and motivated a lot of different radicals. But in this world, it's difficult to talk about the networks as if they were very organized."
Five years from Ground Zero, the threats on this side of the Atlantic are fragmented and elusive. But they have moved uncomfortably close for Europeans and, as a result, for Americans as well.
European-born terrorists "are willing to attack their homeland," a U.S. law enforcement official said. "Something's happening in their melting pot. And the fear with these guys is that they are just an e-ticket away from getting to the U.S."