The travel advisory issued on Sunday by the US State Department in Washington is neither standard, nor exaggerated. It is based on concrete intelligence from agencies in the US, Pakistan, Britain, France, and Germany. A picture has come together in recent days justifying the warning and the beefed up security measures in Europe.
In general, the elements posing a threat are two jihadist cells – i.e. al-Qaeda or an organization operating under the terror network's influence. The group planning terror attacks in Britain and Germany (and in Sweden, too, apparently) is hiding, organizing, and training in the tribal area in western Pakistan. Its members are Muslims with German and British citizenship and it is led by extremist religious figures. They arrived in Pakistan and Afghanistan about a year ago in order to train and join the jihad. Now, they are trying to carry out missions in their home countries.
This group's immediate objective is to avenge the fatal blows sustained by al-Qaeda in Pakistan as result of US drone attacks in recent months. Since entering the White House, US President Barack Obama has authorized no less than 122 drone hits against senior al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban leaders hiding out in the tribal regions of the country. This is more than double the number of attacks former President George W. Bush authorized in all eight years of his presidency.
Just last month, at least 22 such attacks in Pakistan alone killed dozens of Muslim terrorists. In response, and in a bid to deter the US and its European NATO allies deployed in Pakistan and Afghanistan, jihadists are now trying to leave Pakistan for a revenge campaign in Europe. The reasoning is clear. There are many American tourists on the continent, whose urban centers and public transportation systems are packed with people, and security measures are relatively lax.
The Mumbai modelThe preferred method of attack is shooting attacks and taking hostages. This modus operandi, which was successfully executed last year in Mumbai, India, does not necessitate the smuggling and transport of large explosive devices, nor the expertise required to operate them. It allows the perpetrators, British and German citizens, to reach their targets unhindered, armed with assault rifles and handguns that can be obtained on the local market and hidden in handbags.
The planned attack is not the first time this year that extremist Muslims have tried to attack the West in revenge for the drone attacks. In the beginning of May, members of an extremist Muslim organization attempted to detonate an explosive-laden jeep in the bustling hub of Times Square. Fortunately, the explosive was faulty, and no one was hurt. The main operative who transported the car bomb to New York City and detonated it was caught in a quick FBI operation. During his interrogation, he indicated that he sought to avenge the deaths of Muslims killed by drones in Pakistan.
American and Pakistani intelligence officials, bolstered by British and German sources, have been on to this group for more than a year. However, only in July did they reveal the group's preparations to carry out attacks via cell phone conversations between the German citizens and their handlers. In these telephone conversations, eight German and two British operatives tried to secure weapons, cars, and hideouts where they could prepare their attacks.
More critical information was received in recent days following the killing of the group's leader, Sheikh Fatah al-Masri (apparently an Eygptian), and one of its members, a British Muslim of Pakistani descent, Abdul Jabar. It is unclear how the two were killed, but the rest of the group's members who weren't caught or killed were believed to be working on the final preparations for the attack, and perhaps may have already arrived in Europe.
France's Twin Towers
Another group, threatening to carry out attacks in France and maybe Italy, belongs to an organization called "al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb" and is a splinter of the mother organization operating in North and Sub-Saharan Africa. This group is also aiming to avenge the actions against it members undertaken by special French forces sent to fight in Nigeria and other African countries.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb recently kidnapped several groups of French citizens, including tourists and professionals from the mining and oil industries. The terrorists even executed one of the French hostages. In response, French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered special troops be sent to take action against al-Qaeda. In at least one case, the forces successfully released the captives.
Following the French operation, the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's leadership decided to carry out a mass-casualty attack by detonating explosives at central French tourist sites, first and foremost being the Eiffel Tower. This is the reason that French authorities have evacuated the site, a symbol of France's strength, twice in recent weeks. Like the Twin Towers in New York that symbolized the power of America, the Eiffel Tower is high-up on the terrorists' list of targets due to its symbolism of French achievement.
There is concrete intelligence indicating terrorist intentions to carry out the said attack in France. It is likely that this information reached the security establishment in Paris after Italian police arrested a French citizen of Algerian descent in possession of explosive devices about a month ago.
It remains unclear whether the Pakistani group and the North African group are coordinating their attacks with one another. It is more likely than not, however, that each group chose the timing most befitting of its objectives, and only by chance their two attacks are being planned for the same time period. The modus operandi adopted by the two groups is also different.
However, it is likely that al-Qaeda is trying to time the actions of the two groups in order to create the impression of simultaneous, coordinated attacks on different sites in Europe, something which would increase their deterrent effect and grant al-Qaeda new momentum in its effort to recruit new members.
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