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Rise in Predator strikes in Pakistan aimed at foiling Mumbai in Europe



According to Sky News, the recent spike in US Predator strike in Pakistan (21 this month) can be attributed to an attempt to foil Mumbai-like terror assaults in major European cities:

Intelligence agencies have intercepted a terror plot to launch Mumbai-style attacks on Britain and other European countries, according to Sky News sources.

Sky's foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall said militants based in Pakistan were planning simultaneous strikes on London and major cities in France and Germany.

He said the plan was in the advanced but not imminent stage and the plotters had been tracked by spy agencies "for some time".

Intelligence sources told Sky the planned attacks would have been similar to the commando-style raids carried out in Mumbai.

Sky News continues:

I am led to believe a number of these attacks were designed against the leadership of this particular plot, which had an al Qaeda and possibly some sort of Taliban connection projecting into Europe," Marshall added.

"And they have killed several of the leaders - which is why the terror threat has not risen."

Several al Qaeda affiliates would likely be involved in such a plot. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its splinter faction the Islamic Jihad Group both have a presence in Germany. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has a strong presence in France. And a multitude of Pakistan-based terror groups, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that executed the original Mumbai assault, would be involved in Britain.

There has been one report of an Islamic Jihad Group commander killed in a Predator strike in Pakistan this month. The IJG commander, called Qureshi, "used to receive foreigners especially the Germans in North Waziristan and then train them and resend them to their country of origins," according to AKI. More on the IJG and its foreign recruits from LWJ's Sept. 9 report of Qureshi's death.



READER COMMENTS: "Rise in Predator strikes in Pakistan aimed at foiling Mumbai in Europe"

Posted by kp at September 29, 2010 2:46 AM ET:

A general comment: organizing a "Mumbai", i.e. a rifleman suicide bomber attack, in Europe is *so* much more difficult than doing it in India.

Even in India it was an amphibious landing so they could bring their guns, ammo and explosives directly from Pakistan without local logistics. This is essentially impossible in Europe. You have to source the explosives, guns and ammo and then bring them into the country (multiple countries?) to attack.

Then you need skilled operatives to perform the attack. Any ideologically motivated dummy can carry a backpack and flip two switched and blow himself into paradise. To be effective as a rifleman actually requires some skill and a lot of training e.g. even most of the Taliban don't have this skill


And these riflemen have to be able to get into the country (i.e. essentially be "clean skins") so they have to be resident or citizens and not suspected. But spending anywhere training for this (e.g. AFG or PAK) will flag those people with immigration and local intelligence services as "unclean".

It also requires a AQ logistics infrastructure in place in Europe to get explsoves, weapons an ammo (from Balkans? Bosnia?) and distribute them to the attackers.

But this seems like a plot with so many moving parts that the chance of discovery and disruption are very high. And that's the last thing a group like AQ wants. They're not launching "chapati flour and peroxide" suicide bomber attacks when even a small team could have a significant impact.

I really don't see them doing this and having a good chance of success when they can't get, say, axe attacks or letter bombs or other low sophistication attacks to work. I'm skeptical (but I perhaps would have been skeptical about 9/11 too).

The other comment about the current PAK UAV tempo affecting current plots is the plots must not be imminent. If the guys are in NW or SW (training?) then the actual plots must be months away (e.g. even a direct from NW singleton like the Times Sq Bomber took time to organize an attack after returning).

US intelligence has also given a (vague) reason for the uptick in tempo: better IMGINT from balloons/dirigibles near the border.

Posted by Marlin at September 29, 2010 6:25 AM ET:

The Pakistani Army is its usual supportive 'see no evil, hear no evil' self.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told Reuters: "We don't have any information or intelligence that militants had gathered there (in North Waziristan) and were plotting attacks. There is absolutely no intelligence on that."

Reuters: Pakistan army dismisses reports of Europe plots

Posted by Tyler at September 29, 2010 10:23 AM ET:

Remember that there was speculation (since dismissed of course) that Ilyas Kashmiri was killed in the same round of drone attacks that killed Islamic Jihad Union chief Najmuddin Jalolov.

Sounds like Kashmiri's plan with Jalolov's men. In which case the drone strikes over the past year have probably done much to disrupt the plot. Remember that even before this recent surge, many of the drone strikes were hitting members of Taifatul Mansura, the German/Turkish cell of fighters originally recruited by Jalolov.

Things to watch for:

Connections to Kashmiri

The July arrest in Pakistan of Rami Mackenzie, another wanted German IJU member.

Confirmation of death of Bekkay Harrach in drone strike?

Connections to the David Coleman Headley case here domestically (he admitted to plotting attacks in Europe as well as participation in Mumbai.)

Posted by kp at September 29, 2010 4:57 PM ET:

Speaking of Kashmiri

Mentioned here 6 days ago in Tom Joscelyn's article

http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2010/09/us_official_explains.php
Appears to be the current AQ eternal ops chief in the mold of KSM

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/sep/20/pakistani-identified-as-al-qaeda-top-brass/

And threatening the Commonwealth Games (a more obvious target for his methods in India).

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1251810/Terror-leader-Ilyas-Kashmiri-warns-British-athletes-face-consequences-visit-Commonwealth-Games-India.html

And earlier in the year

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2010/04/20/As-al-Qaida-expands-enter-Ilyas-Kashmiri/UPI-41711271783751/

In 2009 he gave an interview with the Asia Times (which also includes some details of AQ opsec in PAK border regions). They also point out "Despite what some reports claim, Ilyas was never a part of Pakistan's special forces, nor even of the army.". He was a communications major in college.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KJ15Df03.html

Perhaps the "Mumbai style attacks" previous comments by him and of course the mysterious cell(s) that in Europe Hadley mentioned. Plus some other intel.

I'm pretty sure that finding and killing IK (after three attempts already) is very high on the CIA list.

The big question is IK as flexible as KSM? Or is he a SF guy at heart with his "signature commando-style attack" (as the WT article puts it). The logistics for that attack would be a serious weakness in Europe. Like 9/11 Mumbai was the first of a "new" tactic: one can be sure that quite a few governments in the West now have contingency plans to deal with this kind of attack (from SWAT/CO-19 ARVs working on fighting assault rifle armed people at 100m rather than just room/building clearing to being able the rapidly scramble local SF to major cities to rapidly respond). If he was behind the Bhutto assassination and Musharraf attempted assisinations then that shows some different "tactics": 15 year old with a hand gun and suicide vest: it worked but they got a bit lucky.

Posted by kp at September 29, 2010 8:16 PM ET:

This ABC News article says (in the photo caption):

http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/us-credible-specific-threat-terrorist-attack/story?id=11747364/Terror_Plot_Reportedly_Uncovered_In_Europe/2171362.html

Quote: "Intelligence and law enforcement authorities in the US and Europe said the threat information is based on the interrogation of a suspected German terrorist allegedly captured on his way to Europe in late summer and now being held at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan."

The Telegraph (linked on the front page) has some more details:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8031570/Terror-plot-against-Britain-thwarted-by-drone-strike.html

Quote:"The US military detained a resident from Hamburg, Germany in Afghanistan in July who allegedly revealed details of planned attacks on targets in Germany and Europe and is said to have been a "major source" of information on future attacks. The man, identified in Germany as "Ahmad S", aged 36, was said to be a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is closely associated with al-Qaeda. Some of his group from Hamburg are known to have attended a terrorist training camp where they learned how to use firearms and explosives."

That would explain the hits taking out the German spokesperson (and perhaps a few of the others in the IMU including leadership).

A few reports have comments that I presume originate with the BND

http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2010/09/29/120647.html

Quote: "Germany's ZDF public television reported on Wednesday that the suspect has been in custody in Afghanistan for several weeks and has been interrogated several times."

Meanwhile the Germans are saying we knew of the long terms plans and an attack is not imminent.

So are the recent strik aimed at AQ external operations network? Or IMU external operations network? Or HN external operations network? Or all of them? How useful are distinctions between these groups when it comes to external ops? Does AQ franchise out to other groups who have a good idea and the people but need some money or perhaps some skills transfer?

Posted by ramgun at September 29, 2010 11:20 PM ET:

Agree with you only partially kp. It may be somewhat more difficult to carry it out in neighbouring India. Yet, Europe is not as geographically protected as the US is. National borders within EU are porous, making it smooth for someone who gets into Belgrade to make it to Paris. Terrorists are also rumoured to have sleeper cells in many European cities to facilitate smooth passage of the gunmen

Mumbai has demonstrated that a dozen youngsters can be easily trained to attack and hold hostages. Without specific intelligence of an impending attack, any security force will be taken by surprise (the way Mumbai's was). Before they recover their bearings, the attacking force will have hostages, an entrenched position and the upper hand

Posted by kp at September 30, 2010 1:42 AM ET:

@ramgun: It wasn't the people but the weapons logistics that I was commenting on. It's much more difficult to move guns around in Europe. Coming from Belgrade means a customs check which might find the firearms and grenades. Clean skins might be able to make it back into Western Europe (but those that were known to have gone to AFG or PAK would stand out) but getting a supply of guns, grenades and explosives for three to six squads is still a challenge. It really requires a logistics org. One question for intel people is of course "is that group already in place?".

The Mumbai attack was "easy": it's on the coast and close to the "home territory". They took most of the supplies with them in the boats. This meant they didn't need a logistics org in India. I don't see this working in Europe. Even if they're supplied, say, from Kosovo just think how many borders they have to cross. It would even make an attack on Italy look better (just across the Adriatic).

Mumbai was taken by surprise (a novel attack) and took 8 hours or more to get SF troops to Mumbai and had an ineffective local police force. That's not just surprise that's also lack of planning. We plan for this sort of eventuality now. Plus groups like CO19 in London would engage the terrorists as soon as they found them and the SAS would be on their way (perhaps 2 hours from Hereford to London max?). The scale is also different: all of the European nations are smaller than India. I don't think the same slow response would happen today in the UK, or France or Germany.

I suspect that it won't take 3 days to resolve in Europe either. They're AQ -- they're not negotiating for the hostages -- they're on a PR stunt -- so there is no reason not to storm a building when the SF are ready move. This is different from almost all other negotiable "hostage" situations. In this case the faster the SF move to kill the bad guys the better. The last example of this in Europe was in France in 1994 when Flight AF 8969 Alger-Paris hijacked, landed in Marseilles for fuel and was raided by French antiterrorist commandos.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_8969

Though the AQ raiding party would love to take and kill hostages being in a fixed location would be lethal for them (though this is a suicide mission). It might be their endgame but I suspect they're better sticking to fire and maneuver even in a large building raid. For small units surprise and maneuver are the only advantages they have. I'd like to see the breakdown of those killed and injured in the Mumbai attack -- were more people killed after being taken hostage or during the initial hit and run raids? My money is on the latter. Same with other "rifleman" style attacks.

The limit to the amount of hit and run damage one can do is the amount of ammo and grenades one can carry or one can resupply from pre-existing caches (which I think happened in Mumbai too). But that is probably the main limit on damage.