For the last few days British law enforcement sources have asserted the near-certainty of an attempted Islamist terror attack in Britain on Christmas. Now the reports are becoming more specific, according to today’s Guardian:
The Channel tunnel has been targeted by a group of Islamic militant terrorists aiming to cause maximum carnage during the holiday season, according to French and American secret services.
The plan, which the French DGSE foreign intelligence service became aware of earlier this year, is revealed in a secret report to the French government on threat levels. The report, dated December 19, indicates that the tip-off came from the American CIA. British and French intelligence agencies have run a series of checks of the security system protecting the 31-mile tunnel but the threat level, the DGSE warns, remains high. British security services remain on high alert throughout the holiday period.
According to the French sources, the plan was put together in Pakistan and is being directed from there. The plotters are believed to be Western Europeans, possibly Britons of Pakistani descent. The DGSE say that levels of ‘chatter’, the constant communication that takes place between militants, has not been so high since 2001. Last week Sir Ian Blair, the head of the Metropolitan Police, described ‘the threat of another terrorist attempt’ as ‘ever present’ adding that ‘Christmas is a period when that might happen’.
‘It is a far graver threat in terms of civilians than either the Cold War or the Second World War,’ he said. ‘It’s a much graver threat than that posed by Irish Republican terrorism.’
American security sources told The Observer that the threat was ‘sky high’.
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Those Chunnel trains must be a tempting target right now, packed as they are with
Christmas holiday travelers. Since the advent of the EU there have been no customs or immigration checks at either end. When we took the Chunnel train back in 2002, we had to pass through an X-ray machine under the watchful gaze of security officers, but the scrutiny was lighter than it was at the airports.
‘A successful attack on such an installation would be almost as spectacular as September 11’, said one terrorist expert. ‘Al-Qaeda and those they inspire are trying everything from low-level strikes to major attacks on critical infrastructure.’
The detail in which the attacks have been planned in Pakistan will worry British counter-terrorist services. The UK is in a particularly vulnerable position as a result of its close alliance with America, its physical accessibility compared with the US, and its large Muslim minority, many of whom have links with Pakistan.
Osama bin Laden and other key senior al-Qaeda leaders are thought to be based in the tribal territories along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There is believed to be a steady stream of British militants making their way to the newly reconstituted al-Qaeda bases in the region. More than 400,000 British citizens travel to Pakistan every year. Though the vast majority are visiting family or friends, some have exploited the ease of travel for darker reasons: at least two of the 7/7 bombers spent time in the south-west Asian state.
That’s a startling statistic: 400,000 Britons traveling to Pakistan every year. Think how hard it must be to monitor the traffic — the plotters can count on a low probability of being watched by British intelligence as the move back and forth.
Last week news reports in America detailed a squad of a dozen English-speaking militants, nine of whom are said to be British who, having sought out the al-Qaeda bases, have now been trained to a high level in terrorist tactics. The group is known as the English Brothers because of their shared language. Apart from the nine Britons, the squad is made up of an Australian and two Norwegians. It was reported that Bin Laden and other militant leaders hope they will lead a new wave of terror attacks on the continent.
Eliza Manningham-Buller, director-general of MI5, recently disclosed that UK intelligence services are monitoring more than 200 networks and 1,600 individuals in Britain. She said that her investigators had identified nearly 30 plots ‘that often have links back to al-Qaeda in Pakistan, and through those links al-Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here’.
How many personnel does MI5 assign to these tasks? Is it like a CPS caseload, with one harassed, demoralized, and overworked caseworker for every hundred “clients”?
One hopes the British intelligence services are doing some serious racial profiling right now…
Hat tip: LN.