European counter-terrorism officials: More than 100 'dangerous Islamists' on continent
France arrests 12 terror suspects amid warnings of Al-Qaida plot; anti-terror police swoop on network with links to bombmaker held in Italy, after U.S. issues travel advisory and U.K. raises terror alert.
Hundreds of "dangerous Islamists radicals" are suspected to be based around Europe, counter-terrorism officials from Europe have said, amid warnings of a potential Al-Qaida attack on the continent.
"The number of dangerous Islamists [in Germany] lies at more than 100," Konrad Freiberg, chairman of Germany's main police union, told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Tuesday, adding that about 40 had explosives training. "This is very dangerous for us."
German police and security experts believe radical Muslim communities like a Hamburg mosque linked to the 2001 attacks on the United States have produced up to 100 trained militants who now pose a major security threat.
Reports of eight German militants killed in a suspected U.S. drone attack in Pakistanon Monday put a spotlight on a growing number of trained, battle-hardened jihadists from Germany who are back in Europe and could take part in attacks.
While the German government has played down the latest U.S. and British warnings of a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in Europe, dismissing them as "alarmist", police see a growing threat from militants trained on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
With papers picturing Berlin landmarks named as potential targets, including the Brandenburg Gate and the Fernsehturm (TV tower) that dominates the skyline, Freiberg warned: "We should expect attacks."
The head of the BKA Federal Crime Office, Joerg Ziercke, told Tagespiegel newspaper on September 5 that he put the number of militants living in Germany at 400, some of whom had battle experience from Afghanistan.
Police had seen an increase "in travel and attempted travel from members of violence-prone Islamist circles" since 2009 and Germany classified 131 people "as potential instigators" who could carry out attacks "of a considerable magnitude", he said.
At least 12 arrested in terror raids across France
Anti-terrorist police arrested at least 12 suspected Muslim militants in various parts France on Tuesday, days after the United States and the U.K. issued travel advisories in light of threats against European targets.
The U.S. State Department issued its warning on Sunday to American citizens to exercise caution while traveling in Europe, while Britain raised its terrorism threat level to "high" from "general" for its citizens traveling particularly in Germany and France. Sweden and Japan issued similar travel advisories on Monday
In one of the anti-terror operations on Tuesday - focused on an alleged network supplying false papers for jihadists returning from Afghanistan - police arrested two men in the Mediterranean port of Marseille and a third in the city of Bordeaux in the southwest, the sources said.
The three were linked to a man arrested in the Italian city of Naples and suspected of links to Al-Qaida militants, they said.
In a separate operation, eight people were arrested on suspicion of involvement in arms and explosives trafficking, the sources said. Those arrests took place in the region around Marseille.
In early September, Italian anti-terrorist police arrested a Frenchman suspected of belonging to Al-Qaida and capable of securing explosives, Italian sources said on Sunday.
French authorities said last month they had received a tip-off that a suicide bomber was preparing an attack on the Paris metro system and Western intelligence sources said they had uncovered plans for a coordinated attack on European cities.
The FBI and U.S. Homeland Security Department said Monday they had no indication that terrorists are targeting the U.S. or its citizens as part of the new threat against Europe.
Intelligence sources told Fox News that Paris and Berlin were the main targets for a potential Al-Qaida attack, and ABC News reported that at least five European airports were also on the list.
The Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, as well as the Hotel Adlon and Central Station in Berlin topped the list of targets. An official told media that the British royal family has been placed under tight security, according to Fox News.
An intelligence bulletin revealed that the FBI and U.S. Homeland Security do believe that the Al-Qaida terrorist network continues to want to attack the United States, but there is nothing pointing to anything specific, imminent or related to the European plots.