Security Increased After Terror Plots Exposed

Intelligence reports suggest terrorists have been plotting to hit targets in Europe, including perhaps in the United Kingdom, Germany and France. The challenge for officials is to determine what the plot actually is and how to head it off.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro.

We're going to take a look, now, at a terrorist plot, before it's carried out.�

Intelligence sources tell NPR that there is growing evidence that al-Qaida and its partners are planning to attack major cities in Germany, France and the U.K. The challenge, for officials, is to determine what the plot actually is and how to head it off. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been reporting on what is known and unknown about this plot. She joins us now.�

Good morning, Dina.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Good morning.

SHAPIRO: So let's start with what's known. What can you tell us about these plots?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the important thing to say, right away, is that these attacks arent or werent imminent. I mean, sources tell me they think that there were at least three different plots targeting three different countries -Germany, France and the U.K.�And each of the plots are thought to be at different stages. In other words in one country, there might be reconnaissance done. In another, the planning is barely off the ground.�

You know, officials are calling them Mumbai-style attacks, because apparently the plots included having small teams of heavily armed gunmen take Westerners hostage and kill them - much like what happened in Mumbai, India in 2008.�And in that case ten gunmen essentially brought the city to a standstill by opening fire in a train station and taking over a couple of hotels. And more than 150 people died.�

SHAPIRO: Where are you intelligence sources getting the information about these plots?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, from various sources. But apparently back in July, they arrested a German citizen who was trying to fly from Kabul to Europe. And his name is Ahmad Siddiqui. And he allegedly had been flagged as someone of interest to counterterrorism officials. And he's now being held at Bagram Air Force base just outside of Kabul. Apparently he provided some of the initial information about these plots and then intelligence officials started following up.�

You know, the concern now, of course, is what the officials in Europe don't know. Some intelligence is telling them that there's a possibility that some of the designated hit teams are already in Europe. There's a concern that now that these plots are public, some of these hit teams might actually act before they were planning to do so.

And there's a manhunt, of sorts, on now. In some cases authorities have names of people who might be involved. In other cases they just have descriptions or nationalities. So they don't have very much to work on.�And now that the plots are public, making arrests could be even harder.

SHAPIRO: Now, you mentioned that these plots look to be similar to attacks in Mumbai, India. Why is that becoming the preferred model? What is it about those attacks?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it concerns counterterrorism officials, that it might become the preferred model, because, you know, heavily armed gunmen are hard to track. These kinds of attacks are easier to launch, much easier to train for, harder to disrupt. And that's why they're worried. I mean, getting guns and grenades is easier than, you know, securing explosives and then training someone to build a bomb.�

SHAPIRO: Now we have reported on this program that there has been an increase in drone attacks in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, just in the last couple of weeks. And there has been some speculation that that increase in attacks is related to these plots. What can you tell us about that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think it's a little bit more complicated than that. Sources have told me that the steady increase in the number of drone attacks has to do with a lot of different things. First of all, there are just more drones, now, in Afghanistan. Theyve moved them from Iraq, into Afghanistan.

There's more targeting intelligence, which has allowed them to order more strikes. And lastly, sources say we can't underestimate how the attempted car bombing in Times Square on May 1st has changed things. It made the Pakistani Taliban a legitimate target since they were behind that attack so the actual target set, the people that they're looking at to target, has actually gotten bigger.

SHAPIRO: All right. Thanks a lot, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston.

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