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Counterterrorism Agencies on High Alert during the Holidays

Samara Greenberg

A suspicious package full of wires and powder was found in a subway car in the outskirts of Rome today, Italian news agencies ANSA and Apcom reported. According to the reports, the device was left in a grocery bag underneath a seat and spotted by the conductor. While Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno recently told ANSA that “the device could not have exploded,” bomb disposal experts are still analyzing it.

Meanwhile, U.K. police arrested 12 men yesterday in one of the largest counterterrorism operations in Britain in recent years. Although the investigation is at its “earliest stages,” the “arrests were absolutely necessary to keep the public safe,” said Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates, head of the U.K.’s counterterrorism policing effort. The threat level in the U.K. remains at “severe,” Yates added, meaning “an attack is highly likely.”

Police officers stand in an alleyway between two houses being searched in England on December 20, 2010.

Moreover, reports out yesterday also note that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is considering a new attack that would include poisoning salad bars and buffet tables at various U.S. hotels and restaurants over a single weekend. AQAP is responsible for last year’s attempted Christmas Day bombing and the plot to put explosives on cargo planes in October.

Last week, the FBI and U.S. Homeland Security Department encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to increase their awareness of suspicious behavior after Iraqi authorities obtained confessions from captured insurgents claiming that al-Qaeda is planning suicide attacks in the U.S. and Europe during the Christmas season. According to Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, the bombing in Stockholm last weekend was among the plots revealed by the insurgents.

As the Western world welcomes in the holiday season and a new year, the above incidents only remind that the threat from Islamic terrorism is still very much alive, even nine years after September 11. As the U.S. enters 2011, Washington can’t be afraid to be “honest about what it is we’re [the U.S. is] facing,” as former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.