The high level of preparedness for terrorist attack - "reinforced red" - maintained in France since Sept. 16 was quietly expanded this week to most of the big international air hubs of Europe, including London's Heathrow, Amsterdam's Schiphol andairports in Moscow, Berlin and Rome. Security measures were also redoubled at the important railways and subway stations of Europe.
The commander of French police and security services Frederic Pechenard went on the air Wednesday Sept 22 with a statement for the public: "I'm not here to frighten people," he said, "but we have serious evidence coming in from reliable intelligence sources telling us that there is a risk of a major attack." He declined to say whether the alert level had been raised from "reinforced red" to "reinforced scarlet." He said the danger could come in the form of "the assassination of an important figure or an attempted mass casualty attack on a crowded public area like a metro train or department store."
debkafile Ltd. S counter-terror sources report that the reliable sources Pechenard referred to were aside from French intelligence, also , the Algerian intelligence DGDS, Algerian military intelligence, the Moroccan DST and the United States AFRICOM which coordinates the war on Al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa and the Sahara.
They reported that Al Qaeda in North Africa, AQIM, had assigned to Europe and France in particular a number of Algerian jihadist women trained to carry out suicide bombings on trains, at railway stations and at major rail junctions.
A single bomber aboard one of the Eurorail multi-country links could wreak havoc along the entire line.
This is why on Wednesday, September 22, it was announced in Paris that one of the main prospective targets for the planned suicide bombings is Gare du Nord, the station from which trains depart for London, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.
Our counterterrorism sources say security measures have also been massively stepped up at St. Pancras International Train Station in central London, the hub of four mainline services, the East Midlands trains, the First Capital Connect, the Southeastern and the Eurostar connecting London to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and major cities in Germany.
Western terrorism experts find two reasons why the AQIM is raring to go into action at this time:
1. A Qaeda has in recent weeks gained an infusion of Arab fighters who decided to pull out of Afghanistan and Pakistan in light of the rumors about secret negotiations between the US and the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan and make separate arrangements for Al Qaeda. They want no part of such arrangements and, even more, of being stranded in Afghanistan or Pakistan for a long period at the service of Taliban with no exit route.
Upon arrival in North Africa, these jihadists were keen on going into operation against Western targets without delay to prove that no one can stop al Qaeda.
2. France and AQIM have ramped up their secret war in such countries as Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and the Sahara regions bordering them. It entails al Qaeda's abduction of Westerners, many of them French but also Britons and Spaniards, in exchange for million-dollar ransoms, countered by French raids.
On July 22, at least seven terrorists were killed in a combined French-Mauritanian raid by special forces in northern Mali to free the 78-year-old French hostage Michel Germaneau.
Al Qaeda exacted its revenge by executing the hostage. This week, they kidnapped seven nuclear technicians, including five French nationals, who had been working in the uranium mines of Niger.
The French defense minister responded by dispatching air units to Niger composed of surveillance and combat jets and a unit of special forces with orders to find the hostages and rescue them.
debkafile's counterterrorism sources point to the difficulty of differentiating between abductions conducting in the service of Islamist terror and kidnaps for raising cash to keep those networks afloat and operating.
Many of the network leaders are smugglers or criminals preying on the countries bordering the Sahara who do not belong to al Qaeda but bow to the authority of AQIM leaders 2,000 miles away in Algeria's mountainous regions.
All the same, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb is affected sufficiently by its conflict with France and fresh influx of jihadists to mount ambitious operations on French soil and target the rest of western Europe.