Al-Qaeda-linked terror plot targeting Europe foiled: reports
Intelligence agencies have disrupted an Al-Qaeda-linked plot to launch terrorist attacks in Britain, France and Germany similar to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, reports said Wednesday.
Militants based in Pakistan had been planning simultaneous strikes in London and major cities in France and Germany, Britain's Sky News television reported, citing intelligence sources.
Planning for the attacks was advanced but they were not imminent, said the broadcaster.
The United States was also a possible target and President Barack Obama had been briefed about the threat, said ABC News in the US citing American officials.
Spy agencies had for some time been tracking the militants who were planning the attacks, which would have been similar to the commando-style raids carried out in Mumbai, Sky and ABC said.
In those attacks, 10 gunmen went on a three-day rampage, killing 166 people and injuring more than 300.
Sky's foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall said the leaders of the plot "had an Al-Qaeda and possibly some sort of Taliban connection projecting into Europe."
The plot in Europe was uncovered after intelligence-sharing between London, France, Germany and the US, and their cooperation had led to the plot being severely disrupted, said the broadcaster.
The source of the threat information was a suspected German terrorist captured on his way to Europe and now being held in Afghanistan, said ABC, citing intelligence and security officials in the US and Europe.
The report of the foiled plot came on the same day the Eiffel Tower in Paris was evacuated following the second bomb threat at the landmark in a month and amid official warnings in France of an imminent terrorist attack.
However, a French intelligence source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP he was "not at all in the know" about the reported plot.
A French government source, with links to the intelligence service, said recent warnings of an attack in France were not linked to Wednesday's reports of planned attacks on European cities.
Security officials in London had no comment on the report.
When investigators discovered the plot, the US military began helping its European allies track down the organisers in Pakistan, which explains the recent increase in drone attacks in the country, said Sky.
A number of the attacks were designed to target the leaders of the plot and several of them were killed, according to the broadcaster.
The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reported Tuesday that the CIA had stepped up drone attacks against militants in Pakistan's tribal areas in a bid to foil a suspected terror plot against Europe.
The Journal, which cited current and former officials, said the exact nature of the plot was unclear but it was believed to target multiple countries, including Britain, France and Germany.
Pakistani security officials have reported around 20 drone strikes in the country's tribal belt along the Afghan border this month, the latest on Monday killing four militants.
Reports of the plot came after US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said last week "increased activity" by terror 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," she told a US Senate hearing asked about warnings in Europe of a growing terror threat.
In Paris, the all clear was given late Tuesday following the evacuation of the Eiffel Tower, sparked by a phone call to the operator of the tower at 1640 GMT warning of a bomb.
© 2010 AFP