The Terror Threat in Europe Germany Considers Blacklist for Airports with Lax Cargo Security

There are growing signs that al-Qaida will try to strike in Europe. The bombs from Yemen show how dangerous the terrorist organization remains today. The German government is pushing for a massive expansion of cargo inspections, and it is clear that things will never be the same again for freight traffic. By SPIEGEL Staff


As always, there were early signs, warnings and indications. In July, Saudi Arabian intelligence contacted German security officials to report that al-Qaida was planning an attack involving aircraft, and that it might affect Europe. Unfortunately, the Saudis were unable to provide any further details.

The experts from the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) and Germany's domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) and the foreign intelligence service, the BND, pored over the report at the German government's counterterrorism center. But no concrete steps were taken, and given the vagueness of the information, what could they have been?

A second warning, more specific this time, came only a few weeks later, on Oct. 9. The Saudi Arabians met with the BKA's liaison in Riyadh and told him about a sophisticated plot.

According to the Saudi officials, on Oct. 5, al-Qaida had completed its plans for a spectacular attack "with one or two aircraft." It was to take place in the coming week. In addition to the Germans, several other European governments, including the British, were informed.

Three weeks later, on the night of Oct. 28, the deadly cargo was loaded onto a plane at Cologne/Bonn airport in western Germany. It was coming from the Yemeni capital Sana'a and was bound for Chicago. It was pure coincidence that the bomb didn't explode at the German airport. This time the information had come from more than just chatter and what intelligence officials commonly refer to as "noise." This time it was PETN, a highly volatile plastic explosive, which is also used by the military. On Friday, the group Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing.

The interception of the bombs from Yemen marks the climax of a summer of worries. For months, there had been growing indications that al-Qaida was planning a spectacular attack. Germany was one of the possible target countries. Intelligence officials were convinced that the al-Qaida leadership had made the decision to strike in Europe. It is believed that the group's leader, Osama bin Laden, had personally approved the plans and the funding for the attacks.

The government in Berlin is currently ajusting to the changes in the security situation. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had originally taken a different approach from that of his predecessor Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), who had vocally warned about the risk of terrorism and had even discussed what would happen if a dirty bomb exploded in Germany. But this wasn't de Maizière's style. He preferred not to talk about bombs and potential casualties unless it was absolutely necessary. In his view, there was no need to unsettle the public unnecessarily.

Merkel Calls for Tougher Measures

And now -- with new warnings from the intelligence agencies arriving in Berlin almost daily? The chancellor is already addressing the subject directly and calling for tougher measures. Last week, Merkel called for the "implementation of stricter controls worldwide to prevent terrorist attacks." And there is every indication that de Maizière will also change his lower-key approach.

After all, the security agencies fear the worst, and de Maizière receives personal briefings several times a week. The BKA has formed a special task force it refers to as the "Stars." The domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is compiling all information in its Operation "Moonlight." And, for more than two months now, there have been regular briefings with the CIA and the United States Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

The intelligence experts are looking into the possibility of bombs coming from Yemen and an attack similar to the one that occurred in Mumbai in 2008. In this connection, they are reviewing statements made by two German Islamists, Ahmed Siddiqui, 36, and Rami M., 26.

Siddiqui has long been a supporter of militant jihad. He knew some of the men who piloted the planes used in the Sept. 11 attacks, and he was a regular visitor to an apartment occupied by some of the 9/11 terrorists on Marienstrasse in Hamburg. He left Germany in early March 2009 to join the militants in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This July, US military special forces units arrested Siddiqui in Kabul. He has been held at the Bagram military prison since then, and he is talking. When four German officials with the BKA and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution questioned him in early October, his statements set off a flurry of intelligence activity. Siddiqui is the most important source of information to date about the plans to stage attacks in Europe.

The militant Islamist told authorities about a man named Sheikh Younis al-Mauretani, said to be the No. 3 ranking member of the al-Qaida terror network, who was allegedly planning a major attack in Europe. According to Siddiqui, Al-Mauretani had recruited volunteers from Western countries, and when he ran into Siddiqui and his Hamburg friend Rami M. in a small city in Pakistan this spring, he said to them: "Perfect, this is exactly what I want."

Al-Mauretani let the two Germans in on his plan to stage an attack in Europe or the United States, and he tried to entice Siddiqui by telling him that there would be no martyrs in his scenario, and that the person committing the attack would survive. He told the two men that he wanted to target financial and economic centers.


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