European and Middle East intelligence services are concerned about the recent “disappearance” of more than two dozen fighters with ties to al-Qaida from their base in Lebanon, British newspaper the Observer reported on Sunday.
The militants are thought to have gone to Europe by a newly established route through Syria, Turkey and the Balkans.
According to the paper’s correspondent in Beirut, multiple intelligence sources in Lebanon have warned that the group appears to be operational and could be planning attacks in Europe in the holiday season.
The report comes on the heels of recent incidents such as a suicide bombing in Sweden, attacks on two embassies in Rome, and arrests in Britain and Holland of people suspected of ties to al-Qaida.
Munir al-Maqda, a senior PLO official in the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp, where the fighters had been hiding for the past few years, told the Observer that the militants have indeed left the camp.
Two Lebanese intelligence service officials added that Lebanon was co-operating with European intelligence organizations to track down the militants, who are described as "extremely dangerous".
Stephen Tankel, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has done field research in the Ain el-Hilweh camp, explained that the militant group was potentially dangerous because of their lack of overall control, which left them open to new ideas and strategies. Such strategies included becoming operational in Europe as their options in Lebanon dwindle.
“It's safe to assume that many of them are prepared to undertake 'martyrdom' operations… [and]…they would benefit from guidance in terms of targets and logistical support in Europe," the Observer quoted Tankel as saying.
Meanwhile, the twelve Somali men detained Friday in Rotterdam in suspicion of terrorist-related activities remained in detention. Dutch police refused to release any information on their alleged intended target.
A few days earlier, 12 men were arrested in Britain in the largest counter-
terrorism raid in nearly two years. The men allegedly scouted possible targets for attacks, including the House of Parliament in London and shopping areas around the U.K., a security official said.
In France, the government has ordered plain-clothes police patrols in key tourist sites for the festive season, including an extra 6,000 more police for New Year's Eve.
While the 12 men arrested in Britain a few days earlier -- in the largest counter-terrorism raid in nearly two years – also remained in detention. Police have up to 28 days to either charge the men or release them. Possible targets that were scouted include the Houses of Parliament and shopping areas around the UK, according to a security official.
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