Europe in the Crosshairs

Posted: November 16, 2010 in HSToday
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A new piece for HS Today, this one looking in some greater detail at the alleged Mumbai-style attack that had agencies in a great worry. Unsure this one is all over yet, and the information might ultimately have come out for just this reason. Am also going to try to do some more digging on the British end of it, which I think might be more precarious than this might suggest.

Europe in the Crosshairs

by Raff Pantucci

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Plots aimed at Mumbai styled assaults in Europe.

And the beat goes on…

Weeks have passed since Europe’s threat tempo was ratcheted up as security forces across the continent went into full alert in expectation of a possible terrorist attack. While nothing has actually happened from that particular threat with attention focused on the parcels out of Yemen, information has slowly started to leak out about the specific threat on the minds of security planners. Hatched in Pakistan’s badlands, the alleged plot (or plots) aimed to conduct a Mumbai-style assault on a European city (or cities) in which a team of terrorists would wage open war on the streets killing in the name of God.

It is not entirely clear where the thread that unravelled this series of plots came from – an obfuscation in part no doubt due to security concerns about terrorists figuring out how their networks have been penetrated – but it seems as though France, Germany and the UK were all being targeted. The actual potential plots appear to have been on a variety of trajectories, but most had an address which could be tracked back to Pakistan’s badlands. This came as the head of Britain’s Security Service MI5 recently highlighted that half of the plots his service was watching were “linked to Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al Qaeda senior leadership is still based.” While down on previous statements that stated that three quarters of the plots targeting the UK had links to Pakistan, Evans emphasized that “this does not mean that the overall threat has reduced, but that it has diversified.”

For the UK, the specifics of the latest threat appear to focus around a British-Pakistani militant from the Jhelum province of Punjab named Abdul Jabbar. Allegedly killed during a drone strike in Waziristan which also killed top Al Qaeda leader Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, Jabbar had apparently been put forwards in July as the leader of a group dubbed “Islamic Army of Great Britain” that was tasked with planning a Mumbai-style attack in the United Kingdom. While British officials were keen to downplay the state of readiness of the plot (and some Pakistani officials rubbished Jabbar’s existence), the BBC’s flagship Newsnight program claimed that “senior security sources” in Pakistan had revealed to them that Jabbar was a long-time jihadist who had featured in previous investigations.

Jabbar, according to the BBC, was named in a document provided to security sources by Mohammed Junaid Babar, the American-Pakistani “supergrass” who was arrested in April 2004 and who provided detailed testimony about a broad network of British plotters. Babar’s testimony revealed that Jabbar was from East London and that around the time of September 11, 2001, he and his brother had gone to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Following the fall of Kabul, the two men moved to Pakistan where they connected with infamous British jihadist Omar Saeed Sheikh who helped them get to training camps in Kashmir. Sheikh is currently on Pakistani death row having been found guilty of the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Jabbar was also believed to be close to Omar Khyam, the leader of a cell of British Muslims who were convicted for plotting to carry out a large explosion using a fertilizer based bomb. This is the second time in recent months that this cell has been in the news: in July, following the discovery of an Al Qaeda connected cell in Oslo, recent passport photographs were discovered of Adam Ibrahim, the brother of another of the men convicted for the fertilizer bomb plot. Another associate of this cell, Kazi Rahman, is currently incarcerated having attempted to buy Uzi submachine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers off undercover agents in the UK.

It is not entirely clear, however, that this is the same Jabbar. While Babar’s testimony indicates that Jabbar is from East London, reports in the Times newspaper suggested that he was in fact from northwest England. Another report from a Pakistani official cited in the Guardian newspaper suggested that Jabbar had only arrived in Waziristan in 2009 with his brother and was being monitored by British sigint intelligence agency GCHQ. Details remain unclear, but nevertheless, there has been a noticeable increase in training and preparation in the UK for the eventuality of an armed assault on a British city. British police have taken to training alongside the Special Air Service (SAS), the UK’s elite commando unit, and are being given heavier weaponry. The threat, as former Security Minister Lord West put it to the BBC, is that “these people like the Mumbai terrorists are a bit like soldiers, they do fire and support, move forward, all they want to do is kill as many people as possible.”

Britons are not the only European’s of concern who are running around Waziristan. German security services continue to monitor regular flows of individuals back and forth from Pakistan, with a recent senior security source stating that in the past 10 months some 40-50 individuals have gone to train, and overall at least 70 fighters had done this for sure. Approximately a third of this (25 or so) were currently back in Germany part of a larger pool of some 1,000 individuals of concern. The current threat appears to have emanated from a cell linked to a group of some 11 young men and women from Hamburg who used to frequent the now-closed Taiba Mosque – previously the spiritual home to some of the September 11 plotters. In early 2009, something appears to have driven the community from talk into action and in various groups they started to make their way to Waziristan.

Not all of them made it, and some were amongst the 26 “potentially violent Islamists” that German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) head Jörg Ziercke stated his forces had prevented from leaving the country to fight since early 2009. Others instead ended up being killed by Predator strikes, likely in part as a result of information obtained from captured members Rami Makanesi and Ahmed Sidiqui. A German-Syrian in his late 30s, Makanesi was captured by Pakistani forces while attempting to reach a hospital dressed in a burka. He is apparently now back in Germany providing information in exchange for a lightened sentence. Ahmed Sidiqui, a German-Afghan, was instead caught in July by American forces in Kabul who have been quizzing him in detention.

It is from these men that it is believed much of the information about the current Mumbai-style attack has come. According to reports in the press, Ahmed Sidiqui claimed that during a “fireside chat” with top Al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri, the Al Qaeda leader boasted of already having advance cells in place in Britain and Germany. Other reports suggested it was in fact al-Quso who was talking about this plot. Supplementing its own information with details garnered from the captured Germans and sigint from Britain’s GCHQ, the U.S. launched a sustained series of Predator strikes in September and early October this year which appear to have staved on any imminent attack.

British and German authorities have remained calm in reaction to this elevated threat level – something that stands in contrast to their French counterparts who have repeatedly spoken of their concerns on public airwaves. In early September both the Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, and domestic intelligence head, Bernard Squarcini, separately spoke of the “all the red lights” flashing. The threat was believed to be coming from North Africa with intelligence passed along from Algerian sources that a female suicide bomber was apparently on her way to Paris. She never materialized, but at the same time, French forces asked their Italian counterparts to pick up Ryad Hannouni, a 28 year-old French-Algerian veteran of the Afghan conflict believed to be involved in a network sending fighters to South Asia and whom they had heard was returning to Europe via Italy.

Assessing he was not an immediate threat, Italian security followed Hannouni for a few days before arresting him in Naples on September 3rd. Once arrested, they discovered a kit to make explosives, as well as an address book and mobile phone. This wealth of information led, a month later, to a series of twelve arrests in Marseille and Avignon in France which turned up ammunition, an AK-47 machine gun and a pump action shotgun. Hannouni is currently awaiting extradition to France.

Even with these arrests, however, the immediate threat to France does not seem to have gone away. On October 18th, Interior Minister Hortefeux went on the airwaves to announce that “a few hours, a few days ago, [we received] a new message, from the Saudi [intelligence] services, indicating to us that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was certainly active.” The threat was apparently directed at “the European continent and France in particular.” It seems likely that this information came from the same source that provided the Saudi’s with detailed knowledge of the parcel bombs en route to Chicago from Yemen.

Ten days after Hortefeux launched this alert, a new recording emerged on the forums and Al Jazeera in which Osama bin Laden threatened France in particular, highlighting France’s involvement in Afghanistan and criticizing the decision to ban the veil in public places. As he put it, “If you deemed it right to ban women from wearing the hijab, then should it not be our right to expel your invading men by striking their necks?” He also seemed to provide a direct link between France’s actions and the move by North African affiliate Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to kidnap a group of French citizens in Niger. All of which highlighted the very real threat from France’s former colonial backyard that continues to be high on the list of threat for French policymakers.

The drumbeat of terror in Europe goes on: while in the United States, Ashburn, VA citizen Farooque Ahmed was casing metrorail stations in the Washington area for individuals he believed to be Al Qaeda, the actual network continues to keep Europe firmly in its crosshairs.

 

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Comments
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