The United States issued a rare blanket travel alert for Americans in Europe on October 3, warning of a possible Mumbai-style al-Qaeda attack there. While the State Department alert did not offer specifics about the targets and countries at risk, news sources reported that the countries of concern include Germany, France, and Britain, with target locations including the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the luxury Hotel Adlon near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and Berlin’s Central Station. “It’s clear and the plot is clear. The clarity of detail on the plans for these attacks is disturbing,” a security official told Fox News.
A group of jihadists from Hamburg, Germany with dual citizenship are allegedly at the heart of plot. German officials say members of the plotting group were recruited from the Taiba mosque in Hamburg – the same mosque attended by Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker in the 9/11 attacks. The mosque has since been known to attract extremists and was shut down in July of this year when Ahmed Sidiqi, a German citizen of Afghan descent involved in the recent plot, was arrested in Afghanistan. Officials reportedly learned of the plot when questioning him.
Last Tuesday, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was evacuated following a bomb threat called in from a telephone booth.
This incident points to the fact that al-Qaeda is evolving. First, intelligence officials suspect that Osama bin Laden is more involved in plotting this attack than any other since Sept. 11, 2001. In addition, Bin Laden and his allies have abandoned their earlier preference for big spectacular attacks in favor of using low-impact technology, as they did two years ago in Mumbai. Although likely, it is unclear if these changes are related to U.S. advancements in the Global War on Terror.
Moreover, the uncovered plot illustrates that al-Qaeda has changed its preference and, for obvious reasons, enjoys using homegrown operatives in planning attacks on Western targets. The eight plotters of this foiled attack were all born and raised in Europe. Indeed, as al-Qaeda and its allies continue to transform, the important question is this: Are the counterterrorism strategies employed by the United States and its Western allies evolving as well?