BERLIN – An American missile strike killed five German militants Monday in the rugged Pakistan border area where a cell of Germans and Britons at the heart of the U.S. terror alert for Europe – a plot U.S. officials link to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden – were believed in hiding.
The attack, part of a recent spike in American drone strikes on Pakistan, came as Germany said it has “concrete evidence” that at least 70 Germans have undergone paramilitary training in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and about a third have returned to Germany.
Authorities across Europe have heightened security at airports and other travel hubs as well as at main tourist attractions following the U.S. warning of an al-Qaida-linked terror plot targeting London, Paris, Berlin and other European capitals.
More countries issue warnings
Washington warned Americans over the weekend to use caution when traveling in Europe and imposed a curfew on some U.S. troops based in Germany. On Monday, Britain, Japan and Sweden issued warnings of their own, advising their citizens traveling in Europe to be on alert for possible terrorist attack by al-Qaida or other groups.
Police officers with sniffer dogs patrolled subways in Britain on Monday, while soldiers and mounted police were dispatched to two major churches in Paris – Notre Dame in the heart of the city and Sacre Coeur on the Right Bank. Paramilitary troops were also seen patrolling the area around the Eiffel Tower – twice evacuated in recent weeks for unspecified threats.
The U.S. missile strike in Pakistan killed five German militants taking shelter in a house in the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, a known hub for foreign militants with links to al-Qaida, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The terror cell said to be behind the Europe plot – eight Germans and a Briton – was believed to have been in hiding in the region.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday that his office was checking the report of the latest killings.
However, the German police agency responsible for terrorism investigations, the Federal Criminal Police Office, said as many as 220 people have traveled from Germany to Pakistan and Afghanistan for paramilitary training, and at least 70 have received it. A Pakistani intelligence official last week said there are believed to be around 60 Germans in North Waziristan now.
‘No reason to be alarmist’
Despite the growing evidence of a terror plot, France, Britain and Germany – the nations believed to be the targets of the scheme – have not changed their terror threat levels. On Monday, the German government played down the fears by declaring there is “no reason to be alarmist.”
The threat is being viewed differently by Washington and European capitals, and some analysts said it was a matter of approach.
British intelligence prefers to keep targets under surveillance as they plan attacks, often waiting until the final stages to intervene – hoping to gather evidence and to gain information about contacts in Britain and overseas.
“That cuts significantly too close to the bone for the United States. They are not happy to let plots run for too long,” said Tobias Feakin, director of national security and resilience at London’s Royal United Services Institute, a military think tank.