Western intelligence agencies are analysing details of an al-Qaeda plan some believe is aimed at seizing and killing hostages in Europe, amid heightened fears of a Mumbai-style attack in European capitals.
European intelligence agencies suggest Pakistan-based militants had planned to carry out simultaneous strikes in London , France and Germany.
The current threat is credible but not specific, and no one should conclude that it’s subsided,” said a US official.
Some western intelligence sources say the plot had been in the early planning stages and would have involved small groups of assailants taking and killing hostages. British officials suggested the plot had not been stopped and that the potential perpetrators were still at large. But they said an attack was not expected immediately. Disclosure of the details had probably wrecked any chances of making arrests, they added.
US officials signal that a record number of US drone strikes in Pakistan – more than 20 this month alone – is aimed at eliminating some of the perpetrators of the plot, as well as protecting Nato forces in Afghanistan. But they concede that they have more information about likely plotters than about the plot itself.
“Details are scarce when it comes to timing or even precise targets,” said the US official. “You often have to work backwards, with your starting point being individuals you believe are involved in plotting, even when you don’t have the full outlines of the plot itself. That’s why we have been striking – with precision – people and facilities that are part of these conspiracies.”
US officials have argued the sustained pressure of the drone strikes made it difficult for al-Qaeda leaders to plan a September 11-style attack, but officials now acknowledge the increase in strikes is linked to fears of a new plot.
The lesson intelligence agencies are learning from the plot is that aspiring Militants are trying to recreate the kind of attack that occurred in Mumbai in 2008.