Group suspected of planning “terrorist attack” held, police chief says.
|Intelligence sources reportedly said an al-Qaeda-linked plot targeted attacks against major European cities [EPA]|
Western spy agencies have foiled an advanced plan linked to al-Qaeda to attack Britain, France and Germany, according to British and US media.
Citing intelligence sources, Britain’s Sky News said on Tuesday that Pakistan-based fighters were plotting simultaneous operations in London and major French and German cities, but the attacks were not imminent.
The broadcaster said that spy agencies had been tracking the suspected plotters who were planning attacks similar to commando-style raids seen during the co-ordinated atttacks of November 2008 in India’s financial capital, Mumbai.
BBC said that arrests were not immediately expected, and that there had been no change to the UK’s current threat level.
The purported plot was uncovered after intelligence-sharing between the UK, France, Germany and the US.
The source of the information was a German suspect captured on his way from Afghanistan to Europe, the US broadcaster ABC reported, citing intelligence and security officials.
Germany ‘analysing’ intelligence
Richard Barrett, the head of the United Nations’ al-Qaeda monitoring team, told Al Jazeera that al-Qaeda is struggling to field large operations, and that the alleged plot probably would have relied on a small cell.
“They are squeezed for money, it’s very much harder for them to connect with people in other countries,” he said. “They have to rely on lone individuals or small cells to conduct attacks.”
The US military reportedly helped its European allies track down the suspected plotters in Pakistan after investigators uncovered the plan.
Germany said on Wednesday that it was aware of the “long-term” al-Qaeda aim to attack Western targets, but that it had no evidence of any “concrete” plans.
“Accounts, particularly in US and British media, saying that al-Qaeda has long-term plans to launch attacks in the United States, Europe and also in Germany are known to the [German] security services,” an interior ministry statement said.
“This information, which comes from the intelligence services, has been and is being analysed and assessed by the German intelligence services with the appropriate sensitivity and intensity, and in co-operation with international partners.
“At the moment there are no concrete indications of any imminent attacks on Germany resulting from this. The current information does not change our risk assessment.”
The report came on the same day the Eiffel Tower in Paris was evacuated following a bomb threat for the second time in a month, and amid official warnings in France of an imminent attack.
Meanwhile on Tuesday the Wall Street Journal said the CIA had stepped up drone attacks against fighters in Pakistan’s tribal region to try to foil a suspected terror plot against European targets.
The Journal cited current and former CIA officials as saying the exact nature of the plot could not be ascertained except that it targeted several countries, including Britain, France and Germany.
Pakistani security officials have reported around 20 drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal belt along the Afghan border this month, the latest on Monday killing four fighters.
Phil Rees, the author of Dining with Terrorists, indicated that there could be a link between the suspected potential attacks on Europe and the increase in drone attacks in Pakistan.
“It’s not unnatural that when somebody’s home country is being bombed in such a way, that some people might feel they have a right to respond,” he told Al Jazeera from London.
“What we’ve seen is a transformation of the Pashtun Taliban rebellion. The Pashtun people don’t really care about the outside world, but [the attacks] have turned a number of them into transnational-jihadists, who now feel because of these drone attacks that maybe they have a right to respond with violence against Western targets.”
Last week a senior US security official said “increased activity” by fighter groups signalled a heightened threat against Western countries, including European states.
“We are all seeing increased activity by a more diverse set of groups and a more diverse set of threats,” Janet Napolitano, the US homeland security secretary, told a senate hearing.
She said the growing threat, which prompted warnings in Europe, was “directed at the West generally”.
French authorities gave the all clear late on Tuesday following the evacuation of the iconic Eiffel Tower, sparked by a phone call to the tower operator at 16:40 GMT warning of a bomb.
A major Paris train station was evacuated on Monday after a bomb alert that later proved to be a false alarm.