Two British brothers were at the heart of an al Qaida terror plot against British and other European cities, intelligence sources said today.
The plan, revealed earlier this week, was still in its early stages, with the suspects calling contacts in Europe to plan logistics, a Pakistani intelligence official said.
One of the Britons involved died in a recent US drone missile strike on terrorist targets near the Afghan border, 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 who face additional challenges when tracking terror suspects among citizens who have passports and easier access to their shores.
Pakistan, Britain, along with Germany who had eight nationals implicated in the plot, are tracking the suspects and intercepting their phone calls, the official said.
He said the suspects are hiding in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region where militancy is rife and where the US has focused many of its drone-fired missile strikes.
“They have been making calls to Germany and London,” he said. “They have been talking about and looking for facilitators and logistics they need there to carry out terror strikes.”
Western security officials said today that the plot to wage Mumbai-style shooting attacks in Britain, France and Germany was still active. Both European and US officials said the plot was still in its early stages and not considered serious enough to raise the terror threat level.
However the Eiffel Tower in Paris was briefly evacuated 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.
Although he characterised the plot as immature, the Pakistani official warned against underestimating the suspects, whom he said have backing from al Qaida, the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban, all groups that are separate yet interconnected.
“It does not mean that they are not capable of materialising their designs,” he said. “They are very much working on it.”
The source 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.
The US 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 September 8 strike killed one of the Britons, whom he identified as Abdul Jabbar, originally from Pakistan’s Jhelum district. Jabbar was believed to be less than 30 years old.
In Brussels today, Europol director Robert Wainwright said a drop in terror attacks in Europe – coupled with intelligence that had 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,” he said.
French authorities, meanwhile, have received indications from allied intelligence services about the possibility of attacks, but no plot outright, a high-ranking French security official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.