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European Governments Keep Mum on Details of Suspected Terror Plot

September 29, 2010 at 6:06 PM EDT
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New terror threats and reports of a possible plot to attack Europe have governments around the world responding. Ray Suarez talks to Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal about the latest on a suspected Mumbai-style terror plot in Europe.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ray Suarez takes the story from there.

RAY SUAREZ: And Siobhan Gorman joins us. She has been covering this story for The Wall Street Journal. In your reporting, what have you found out about what kind of attacks were contemplated and how far along they were in the planning?

SIOBHAN GORMAN, The Wall Street Journal: Well, what I have been told is that the — the leading theory is that we would be looking at these Mumbai-style attacks, where you would have armed gunmen going at perhaps multiple targets, soft — so-called soft targets, hotels or subways or things like that.

And I was told that they were sort of in the early planning stages, where there were people on the ground trying to get things rolling.

RAY SUAREZ: All the countries involved that have been mentioned, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, worry, do they, that not all the active plans may have been rolled up, that there may still be cells out there?

SIOBHAN GORMAN: Yes, my understanding is that there’s still quite a bit of activity on the ground from law enforcement and security officials in Europe to try to not only get their arms around the plot, but also see if there are suspects that they need to arrest.

RAY SUAREZ: Has there been any connection to the United States?

SIOBHAN GORMAN: U.S. officials are looking at that. My understanding is that, right now, the evidence really primarily points to Europe.

But they are very concerned, and people I was speaking with as recently as yesterday and this morning say that U.S. counterterrorism officials are still trying to run down any lead that might go into the United States, because they’re very aware that they have incomplete information about this particular plot at this point.

RAY SUAREZ: As you heard in the taped report from ITN, they identified a German-born suspect who’s being held somewhere in the region as a primary source. Are there others? Are there other sources for the existence of these plots?

SIOBHAN GORMAN: There are. And I was actually cautioned that this German detainee isn’t necessarily the main source of it all, but he’s one of many sources.

And, I mean, there have been communications intercepts and all of the other kinds of traditional intelligence that you would gather when trying to sort through a plot that have gone into the development of their understanding so far.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s been an increase in the number and frequency of strikes carried out by unmanned aerial drones in Pakistan. Is this in any way connected with this attempt to foil the plots?

SIOBHAN GORMAN: Indeed, it is. What — when U.S. intelligence officials started to learn about some of the contours of this plot, and they saw connections back to the tribal regions in Pakistan, one of the things that they decided to do was to disrupt some of the planning efforts that were going on in Pakistan by aiming drone strikes at some of the people that they thought might be involved in the planning of those attacks.

And so what we have actually seen is what appeared, actually, to be record levels, monthly levels, of drone strikes in Pakistan. This month, we’re looking at more than 20. And the last high was 12 in January.

RAY SUAREZ: Wasn’t it the strikes that got you thinking about whether there was something more connected to this?

SIOBHAN GORMAN: Indeed, it was. I — when I was talking with my sources, I saw that there had been this surge in strikes, and I was — I spent a couple weeks, actually, trying to figure out what it was that was behind that. And I kept getting answers that suggested that there was more of a story there. And it turns out there was.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, foiled attacks are often discussed with the public, in part to show the public that there’s still a danger and that the government involved is still working to make sure these things don’t happen.

Was this talked about earlier in the timeline than any of the intelligence agencies involved would have liked?

SIOBHAN GORMAN: My sense is yes. I mean, I haven’t been told — well, no one’s talked — said that explicitly, but a number of people have said today, both on the European side and on the American side, that they’re not really eager to talk about the nature of the plot or theories about how it might be carried out, because they don’t have it rolled up yet, and they don’t want to do something that could accelerate it or something like that.

RAY SUAREZ: When there is something discovered like this. When there is a sense that it may not be fully foiled, what happens in European capitals? Is there an outward sign, an obvious sign? Was there anything happening in the United States to show that there may be something that we’re trying to defend against?

SIOBHAN GORMAN: I don’t know for sure in Europe, but I did see some reports about stepped-up physical security at key places in the U.K.

We did see these bomb scares that happened at the Eiffel Tower. It sounded like those didn’t turn out to be real, so it’s not clear if they’re really connected or if it just reflects a heightened level of alert in France, for example.

I don’t think that there have been — been any outward examples in the U.S. Really, what I have been told is that intelligence and law enforcement officials are just going through any information that they might have that might link up either people or plans or behaviors between the European plot and the U.S.

RAY SUAREZ: Siobhan Gorman, thanks for talking to us.