Al-Qaeda terror plot targeting Europe uncovered
Western intelligence agencies have uncovered an Al-Qaeda plot to launch attacks in Britain, France and Germany by extremists based in Pakistan, security sources and media reports said Wednesday.
"The threat is very real," a European-based security official told AFP, after British and US media reported that militants were planning simultaneous strikes in London and major cities in France and Germany.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that France and Britain had been targeted in the threat, which first came to light last month.
Orders have been given at the highest level of Al-Qaeda to punish Europe, and France in particular, the source said.
US intelligence services identified the threat from various sources, including the questioning of suspects from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which had been confirmed by information from other countries, the source added.
This tallies with reports by US broadcasters ABC and CNN that the source of the intelligence was a German suspect detained in Afghanistan.
However, the official could not confirm a BBC report that commando-style teams of militants planned to seize Western hostages and murder them, in a manner similar to the attacks in Mumbai two years ago.
In those attacks, 10 gunmen killed 166 people and injured more than 300 in three luxury hotels, a railway station and restaurants.
The European-based source said any threat would more likely take the form of a bomb.
The BBC described the threat as "one of the most serious Al-Qaeda attack plans in recent years" and said it was inspired by the terror group's fugitive leadership in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Britain's interior ministry refused to comment on the reports of a plot, but a spokeswoman said: "We know we face a real and serious threat from terrorism."
She told AFP there was "no change at all" to the national threat level, which since January has been at "severe", the second highest of five levels, meaning a terror attack is highly likely.
The German government meanwhile said it was aware of Al-Qaeda's "long-term" aim to attack Western targets, but its risk assessment of the security threat was unchanged.
"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," an interior ministry statement said.
The United States was also a possible target in the reported plot and President Barack Obama had been briefed about the threat, ABC said.
Sky News said a recent surge in US drone attacks in Pakistan's border areas was aimed at eliminating the plot's leaders, and had killed some of them.
At least 21 US drone strikes have targeted Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the tribal zone in September -- the highest number in any single month -- and the latest on Tuesday killed Al-Qaeda's operational chief in the region.
The investigation into the plot is reportedly ongoing, but the BBC said no imminent arrests were expected in Britain.
France has been on a heightened state of alert amid warnings of an imminent attack but a source with links to the intelligence service said these warnings were not linked to the latest reported Al-Qaeda plans.
Authorities in Paris evacuated the Eiffel Tower for several hours on Tuesday evening after a phone call to the landmark's operator warning of a bomb.
French officials said Wednesday they had no new information on a specific threat of a Mumbai-style attack, but last week government sources said US intelligence had warned of jihadi cells moving back to Europe from Pakistan.
© 2010 AFP