ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Eight Germans and two British brothers are at the heart of an al-Qaeda-linked terror plot against European cities, but the plan is still in its early stages, with the suspects calling acquaintances in Europe to plan logistics, a Pakistani intelligence official said Thursday. One of the Britons died in a recent CIA missile strike, he said.
The revelations underscore the role of Pakistan as a haven for many would-be Islamist militants with foreign ties, a worrying prospect for Western countries, which face additional challenges when tracking terror suspects among citizens who have passports and easier access to their shores.
Pakistan, Britain and Germany are tracking the suspects and intercepting their phone calls, the official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information to the media.
The official is part of an intelligence team that has been tracking the two British brothers of Pakistani origin for nearly a year and the Germans for more than six months.
He said the suspects are hiding in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region where militancy is rife and where the United States has focused many of its drone-fired missile strikes.
“They have been making calls to Germany and London,” the official said. “They have been talking about and looking for facilitators and logistics they need there to carry out terror strikes.”
Western security officials said Wednesday that a terror plot to wage Mumbai-style shooting sprees or other attacks in Britain, France and Germany was still active. Both European and U.S. officials said the plot was still in its early stages and not considered serious enough to raise the terror threat level.
Still, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was evacuated briefly on Tuesday — the second time in two weeks because of an unspecified threat — and there was a heavy police presence around Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Big Ben in London. Police on Thursday evacuated a street near Britain’s Parliament after reports of a suspicious vehicle but said they did not regard the incident as serious.
Although he characterized the plot as immature, the Pakistani official warned against underestimating the suspects, who he said have backing from al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban — all groups that are separate yet interconnected.
“It does not mean that they are not capable of materializing their designs,” the official said. “They are very much working on it.”
The United States has dramatically stepped up its missile attacks in North Waziristan and is believed to have launched at least 21 this month. The official said a Sept. 8 strike killed one of the Britons, whom he identified as Abdul Jabbar, originally from Pakistan’s Jhelum district. Jabbar was believed to be younger than 30.
In Brussels on Thursday, Europol Director Robert Wainwright said a drop in terror attacks in Europe, coupled with intelligence that thwarted major plots in the past, masked an ongoing threat.
“There has been a significant decline in the number of terrorist attacks in Europe — certainly committed by Islamist groups — that hides the reality that these groups are still active,” Mr. Wainwright told AP.
Asked about the suspected plot, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit, said the government was unaware of any such plans.
“Let me reiterate that Pakistan is committed not to allow its territory for terrorist actions anywhere in the world,” he said.