Terror plot in Europe still a concern
CIA targeted suspects in Pakistan strikes
LONDON — Security officials said yesterday that a plot to wage Mumbai-style shooting sprees or other attacks in Britain, France, and Germany is still active and that recent CIA strikes in Pakistan were aimed at Al Qaeda operatives suspected in the threat.
The plot was still in its early stages and not considered serious enough to raise the terror threat level, officials said. Still, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was briefly evacuated Tuesday — the second time in two weeks because of an unspecified threat — and French police were on alert.
A heavy police presence was seen yesterday around Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and Big Ben. Victoria Station was briefly evacuated after an unusual smell was reported.
“This plot was in its embryonic stages,’’ a British government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work. He said the plot had preoccupied the security community more than other recent threats, but did not merit changing the security threat level from severe to critical.
Intelligence authorities used National Security Agency wiretaps to flesh out details, US officials said, and while a Mumbai-style shooting spree was one possibility, there was no concrete plan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the plot.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters yesterday that the United States is working closely with its European allies, but declined to provide specifics.
“We are not going to comment on specific intelligence as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical in protecting the United States and our allies,’’ Clinton said. “As we have repeatedly said, we know that Al Qaeda and its network of terrorists wishes to attack both European and US targets.’’
“I want Americans to know how focused we all are in the government and how committed we are not only in protecting our own country but in protecting our friends and allies.’’
The Department of Homeland Security would not say yesterday whether US security has been enhanced as a result of the terror threats in Europe.
Revelations of the plot came just ahead of the anniversary today of the publication of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons in a Danish newspaper.
It also came as Spanish authorities said they had arrested a US citizen of Algerian origin on suspicion of financing Al Qaeda’s North African affiliate.
Mohamed Omar Debhi, 43, was taken into custody Tuesday, although Spain’s Interior Ministry said the arrest was not connected to the terror threat. He is suspected of laundering money and sending some of it to an associate in Algeria to be passed on to Al Qaeda cells in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algerian terror group.
Europe has been a target of numerous Islamic terror plots — the deadliest being the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people.
US intelligence had heard of the European plot about a month ago and was monitoring the people involved, according to two US officials. The CIA recently stepped up airstrikes from unmanned aircraft in northern Pakistan, in part to disrupt the plot.
However, a British official said that while the drone strikes were thought to have disrupted the planning of the attacks, the operation was still considered active. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Obama administration has intensified the use of drone-fired missiles in Pakistan’s border area. This month there have been at least 21 attacks — more than double those in any other month.