London: Drone attacks intercept militants based in Pakistan
A plot to launch "commando-style" attacks on Britain, France, and Germany has been intercepted and foiled by drone attacks on militants based in Pakistan, security and intelligence sources said last night.
The plan for suicidal onslaughts similar to the 2008 atrocity in Mumbai – where 166 people were killed in a series of gun and grenade assaults – was disrupted after a combined operation involving US, UK, French and German intelligence agencies, officials said.
British security and intelligence sources, who have been concerned for some time about the possibility of a Mumbai-style attack in Europe, confirmed that they believed a plot was being hatched from Pakistan.
The increased rate of coordinated US drone raids along the border with Afghanistan is believed to be a response to intelligence gathered about the plot. Security sources insisted that attacks in Europe were not imminent.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, however, has been evacuated twice because of a bomb scare in the past two weeks, a precaution that may have been prompted by the intelligence.
No further evidence of such a plot was provided. Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, earlier this month spoke publicly about the continuing threat of terror attacks in the UK. In his speech, he suggested that around 50% of the plots identified had links to Pakistan – a decline on previous estimates that suggested the figure was nearer 75%.
The terror group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks was the outlawed, Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.
In the aftermath of the attack western intelligence agencies gained access to computers seized from the Islamist group which listed other potential targets outside the Indian subcontinent for commando-style terror strikes.
Nine of the gunmen were killed – but a lone survivor gave Indian investigators a full confession that the assault was planned in Pakistan by Lashkar, a militant group that originally began an armed campaign against the Indian army in Kashmir.
US military briefings suggested the latest missile attacks in Pakistan had been coordinated by the CIA and were an unusual example of using drones to pre-empt possible terror plots.
"There are some pretty notable threat streams," one US military official told the Wall Street Journal, adding that the significance of the threats is still being assessed by counterterrorism experts.
The CIA is believed to have launched at least 20 drone strikes this month in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the region bordering Afghanistan That is the highest monthly total in the past six years, according tofigures from the New America Foundation think tank which monitors drone operations.
Four people were reported killed in the latest raid on Monday by US Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that are operated remotely out of air force bases in the US. A senior al-Qaida leader was among one of those killed in drone raids, Pakistani and US officials said yesterday.
There has also been speculation that some of the attacks may be targeted against the Islamist Haqqani network, a group that has not previously operated outside the region.
The group controls the area in north-western Pakistan where intelligence officials suspect Osama bin Laden may be hiding.
American officials declined to comment on specific plots in Europe or elsewhere but acknowledged that targeted drone strikes in Pakistan were meant to disrupt militant networks planning attacks.
"It shouldn't surprise anyone that links between plots and those who are orchestrating them lead to decisive American action," a US official told Reuters.
"The terrorists who are involved are, as everyone should expect, going to be targets. That's the whole point of all of this."
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