Al-Qaeda-linked ‘terror plot’ targeting Europe foiled

There has been lots of news about this threat, but what do we know exactly?

Targets: Britain, France, Germany, the United States
It is claimed that intelligence agencies have disrupted an Al-Qaeda-linked plot to launch terrorist attacks in Britain, France and Germany “similar to the commando-style 2008 Mumbai attacks“, reports said.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.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.

German officials denied Tuesday they had intercepted threats, saying there had been no change to their threat level.

The treat is not the reason the Eiffel tower had to evacuate for the second time this week. French sources refer to threats made by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in this context.

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.” Planning for the attacks was advanced but they were not imminent, said the broadcaster. A British official would not confirm the plot was “al-Qaida inspired” but said there was an “Islamist connection” and that the plots were in an early stage. The main source of the threat information is a ‘German terrorist’, but the ‘organisers’ were in Pakistan.

How was it discovered?
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. According to ABC:

Intelligence and law enforcement authorities in the US and Europe said the threat information is based on the interrogation of a suspected German terrorist allegedly captured on his way to Europe in late summer and now being held at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

The captured German reportedly said several teams of attackers, all with European passports, had been trained and dispatched from training camps in Waziristan and Pakistan. Officials say the German claimed the attack plan had been approved by Osama Bin Laden.

This is quite important news, because as far as I know this German person is the only European which is currently being held in Bagram.

(More about the German Taliban Mujahidin here and here.)

Drones led to disruption of the plot?
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. A number of the attacks were designed to target the leaders of the plot and several of them were killed, according to the broadcaster.

Round-up of academic articles

Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman have recently published a report entitled “Assessing the Terrorist Threat: A Report of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group”. Here is the executive summary of the report:

    Al-Qaeda and allied groups continue to pose a threat to the United States. Although it is less severe than the catastrophic proportions of a 9/11-like attack, the threat today is more complex and more diverse than at any time over the past nine years. Al-Qaeda or its allies continue to have the capacity to kill dozens, or even hundreds, of Americans in a single attack. A key shift in the past couple of years is the increasingly prominent role in planning and operations that U.S. citizens and residents have played in the leadership of al-Qaeda and aligned groups, and the higher numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups. Another development is the increasing diversification of the types of U.S.-based jihadist militants, and the groups with which those militants have affiliated. Indeed, these jihadists do not fit any particular ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile.
    Al-Qaeda’s ideological influence on other jihadist groups is on the rise in South Asia and has continued to extend into countries like Yemen and Somalia; al-Qaeda’s top leaders are still at large, and American overreactions to even unsuccessful terrorist attacks arguably have played, however inadvertently, into the hands of the jihadists. Working against al-Qaeda and allied groups are the ramped-up campaign of drone attacks in Pakistan, increasingly negative Pakistani attitudes and actions against the militants based on their territory, which are mirrored by increasingly hostile attitudes toward al- Qaeda and allied groups in the Muslim world in general, and the fact that erstwhile militant allies have now also turned against al-Qaeda.
    This report is based on interviews with a wide range of senior U.S. counterterrorism officials at both the federal and local levels, and embracing the policy, intelligence, and law enforcement communities, supplemented by the authors’ own research.

The Journal of Homeland Security has recently published an article by Dean C. Alexander (Director, Homeland Security Research Program, Western Illinois University) entitled “Offline and Online Radicalization and Recruitment of Extremists and Terrorists”. Here’s the abstract:

This article addresses the complex and evolving nature of offline and online extremist and terrorist radicalization and recruitment. Crafting solutions that will reduce the prevalence of extremists’ and terrorists’ activities globally requires better appreciation of how such individuals are brought into the folds of radical individuals and groups. With that understanding, methods to lessen the occurrence and potency of extremists’ and terrorists’ radicalization and recruitment can be crafted and adopted.

al-Qaeda fighters take limited role in Afghan insurgency

Although U.S. officials have often said that al-Qaeda is a marginal player on the Afghan battlefield, an analysis of 76,000 classified U.S. military reports by the Washington Post underscores the extent to which Osama bin Laden and his network have become an afterthought in the war.

The reports, which cover the escalation of the insurgency between 2004 and the end of 2009, mention al-Qaeda only a few dozen times and even then just in passing. Most are vague references to people with unspecified al-Qaeda contacts or sympathies, or as shorthand for an amorphous ideological enemy.

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that, “at most,” only 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives were present in Afghanistan. His assessment echoed those given by other senior U.S. officials. In October, national security adviser James L. Jones said the U.S. government’s “maximum estimate” was that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan, with no bases and “no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”

Morocco Breaks Up Radical Islamist Cell

Moroccan security forces broke up a radical Islamist cell that was planning attacks in Morocco, including on foreign targets, official media quoted the interior ministry as saying on Wednesday.

The cell had 18 members, including three Islamists who had been detained in the past over related offences, the official MAP news agency said, quoting a ministry statement.

The statement did not specify which targets the detained Islamists planned to attack or name the foreign countries whose interests were threatened by the cell members.

“The members of the cell were getting ready to carry out terrorist attacks and sabotage inside the national territory and against foreign interests in Morocco,” the statement said.

Museveni suggests stronger AMISOM mandate to fight Al Shabab

At present, the mission’s main task is to protect the isolated patches of the capital, Mogadishu, that are still held by Somalia’s weak Transitional Federal Government. In his opening speech to the summit Sunday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called on the continent’s leaders to unite against those responsible for the attacks. “Let us work in concert to sweep them out of Africa,” Mr. Museveni said at the African Union summit. By “work in concert” Museveni means boosting the number of troops deployed to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and strengthening the mission’s mandate so that it can go on the offensive against Al Shabab.

“These reactionary groups have now committed aggression against our  country,” Museveni said in a separate statement released ahead of the  meeting. “We shall now go after them.”

The call for a new offensive comes on the back of recent reports that – even given its currently limited mandate – AMISOM has been indiscriminately shelling civilian areas in Mogadishu and sparked fears of more civilian casualties.

Plagued by funding, payment, and personnel problems, it has taken AMISOM three years to reach just over three quarters of itsmandated 8,000 strength.Despite previous pledges to contribute troops from Nigeria, Ghana, and Malawi, the only two countries to have actually sent troops are Uganda and Burundi.

More troops to SomaliaIn the aftermath of the bomb attacks, Museveni pledged to send an extra 2,000 troops to the mission, finally boosting it to full strength. Museveni also backed calls from east African regional body the Intergovernmental Agency for Development,or IGAD, to raise final troop numbers to 20,000.

Now there seems to be some movement from other African countries. Guinea and Djibouti will likely send troops to supplement the AMISOM force, and eventual troop strength could top 10,000, AU President Jean Ping announced late last week. A battalion of Guinean troops is ready to go to Mogadishu, Ping said. They are just waiting for transport to be provided, a series of research trips to be completed, and Guinea to be reinstated to the African Union after it was suspended following a military coup in 2008.

President Obama’s envoy to the summit, Attorney General Eric Holder, promised in a speech to the African leaders to “maintain” – but not increase – support for the AU’s Somali mission. Since 2007, the US has given support worth over $176 million to the mission and intends to giveUgandan and Burundian troops “enhanced pre-deployment training” to help tackle Al Shabab, the state department says.

EU officials at the meeting – responsible for funding the $750 monthly allowances for each AMISOM soldier – said that the current €47 million budget for the second half of 2010 was meant to support 6,000 troops butthat money could be shifted around to cover any new deployment.

But Aidan Hartley in the NYT warns that a military build up is not the solution:

Mogadishu’s battlefield has become a stalemate, Al Shabab’s ranks show fresh internal divisions, popular support has ebbed and rival militias have mobilized against the extremists. Finding an outside target — especially in Kampala, the capital of a nation that provides troops for the African mission — was a means for Al Shabab to get back in the game.

What Mr. Roobow wants, as I witnessed on the road in Somalia, is a war against an alien enemy that will bring him international prestige and jihadi money before his group’s forces implode and his country’s people turn on him. The Uganda bombing is another reason the West has to find an intelligent diplomatic path out of Somalia’s crisis. A military backlash would give Mukhtar Roobow exactly the ammunition that he is looking for.

Uganda: Parliament insists on judicial oversight in wiretapping law

On July 15, 2010, in the wake of a terrorist attack on July 11 in Kampala that claimed 74 civilian lives, the Ugandan Parliament passed into law the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill. The legislators insisted that there be judicial oversight of the process of communications interception, despite arguments put forward by the Ministry of Security that it should be in charge. The law will take effect after being approved by the President of Uganda.

Under the bill, a warrant for interception of communications is only valid for three months and may be issued if there is a “reasonable ground for a High Court judge to believe” that:

  • a felony that puts lives in danger has been or is being or will probably be committed;
  • the gathering of information concerning an actual threat to national security or to any national economic interest is necessary;
  • the gathering of information concerning a potential threat to public safety, national security, or any national economic interest is necessary; or
  • there is a threat to the national interest involving the state’s international relations or obligations. (

The initial language of the bill gave the authority to issue wiretapping warrants to the Minister for Security, a member of the executive branch of government. Parliament, however, on the recommendation of its Sessional Committee on Information and Communications Technology (ICT), decided to place such authority with the High Court in the final version of the bill. In making the recommendation, ICT argued that it was not appropriate to entrust the Minister for Security with the authority to issue warrants, as that would result in a conflict of interest and possible violations of the right to privacy.

(H/T Law Library of Congress)

Two killed in nothern Caucasus power station attack

Two carloads of assailants attacked a hydroelectric station in southern Russia on Wednesday, killing two workers and setting off bombs. The attack took place in Kabardino-Balkariya, part of the North Caucasus region where Russian authorities are battling a Muslim insurgency. However, there were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack.

The attack was a blow to Kremlin efforts to contain an Islamist insurgency in the mainly Muslim provinces of the North Caucasus. Analysts said the raid indicated rebels were fulfilling their promise to target economic infrastructure as part of their fight to create an Islamist pan-Caucasus state in south Russia.

“This shows the scourge of terrorism is not only not subsiding, but expanding geographically,” said Gennady Gudkov, deputy head of the security committee of Russia’s parliament. Kabardino-Balkaria is near Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, but has suffered far fewer attacks.

Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, who calls himself the “Emir of the Caucasus Emirate,” has vowed to attack Russia’s energy pipelines and power stations.

“I think this is a change in tactics,” said Grigory Shvedov, editor-in-chief of the Caucasian Knot Internet news agency. He said it would be reasonable to expect more attacks on economic targets.