A US drone strike has killed eight alleged militants, including five Germans, in Pakistan’s tribal belt where Western intelligence has traced an alleged plot to attack high-profile targets in Europe.
The missile attack took place late on Monday in Mir Ali Bazaar, 20km east of Miranshah, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal district bordering Afghanistan.
North Waziristan is a reputed hideout for foreign and homegrown militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and is the operational epicenter of the latest plot -reportedly uncovered by European and US -intelligence agencies.
“Five German rebels of Turkish origin and three local militants were killed in the strike,” a Pakistani security official said.
Two other security officials confirmed that five German nationals were killed, as US forces step up airborne attacks on militant hideouts while struggling to beat back the Taliban on the ground in Afghanistan.
The US does not as a rule confirm drone attacks, but its military and the CIA operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the pilotless aircraft in the region.
The attack came hours after Japan and Sweden joined -Washington and London in issuing an alert warning of the “possible terrorist attack” by al-Qaeda and affiliated groups against their citizens traveling in Europe.
The strikes also followed reports that an Afghan-born German, Ahmad Sidiqi, said to be one of Germany’s most dangerous “homegrown terrorists,” supplied intelligence during interrogation by the US at Bagram jail outside Kabul. German media reports said Sidiqi, who attended the same mosque in Hamburg as some of the Sept. 11 attackers, told the Americans of plans to launch a series of spectacular attacks in Europe, with Britain and France named as possible targets.
British counter-terrorism officials said on Monday there was “credible evidence” that al-Qaeda sympathizers were plotting attacks in Europe, but they played down the significance of warnings issued by the UK and US over the weekend for travelers to France and Germany.
Two separate but coinciding intelligence assessments of possible terror attacks triggered this weekend’s travel alarms, senior European sources said. The US told European capitals and EU headquarters in Brussels that al-Qaeda was preparing coordinated strikes in various European countries. At the same time, French intelligence raised the alarm about attacks allegedly being planned in Europe by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is now believed in EU capitals to be a graver threat than Osama bin Laden. The US was said to have supplied the German authorities with “very precise information” on targets.
Security assessments from Paris and Washington were received by European capitals a month ago, the sources said, raising questions as to why the US and British authorities went public with their travel warnings only this weekend.
British officials said Sunday’s warning from the US State Department was not based on any fresh intelligence but was the result of Washington’s concern to get the US and Europeans to speak with one voice. Sweden increased its terror-threat warning on Friday, the day an audio message was placed on Islamic Web sites purporting to come from Bin Laden, expressing general concern about the floods in Pakistan.
“The threat was real, obviously, and it’s not over,” a European source said. “But why it’s been put on the market in this way is a different issue.”
Various reasons are being suggested: that at a time of budget cuts across the West, the terror alert could furnish strong arguments for shoring up intelligence and security funding; at a time when the EU and Washington are negotiating counter-terrorism measures, the anxiety over renewed terrorism will reinforce US demands for more information from the Europeans; and that at a time when European governments are keen to extract themselves from what they increasingly perceive as a lost military cause in Afghanistan, a terror panic could strengthen the case for staying.
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