Saudis warn France about Al Qaeda-Yemen plan attack
What should France do? Is the attack coming from infiltrators or from people living in France? What is the demographic profile of attackers? It must be a very large net. What should France’s policy be regarding incoming and outgoing travel originating and concluding in terrorist destinations?
“French Report New Threat of Terrorist Attack in Europe
By SCOTT SAYARE and ERIC SCHMITT
Published: October 17, 2010
The minister, Brice Hortefeux, said in an interview broadcast on French radio and television that France had received the information “just a few days ago.”
Mr. Hortefeux described it as “a new message from the Saudi services telling us that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was without doubt active, or planned to be active” in Europe, “and notably, France.”
“The threat is real and our vigilance is total,” he said, noting that he met last week in Paris with the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
An official in Washington familiar with Mr. Hortefeux’s broadcast remarks confirmed on Sunday that Saudi intelligence officials had in the past few days sent information to Paris warning of possible attacks in France by Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.
Like other recent reports of plots to attack targets in Germany, France and Britain, many of which emanated from Pakistan and North Africa, the Saudi alert warned of threats that were credible but not specific.
It was not clear if the Saudi warning suggested an imminent attack.
The new warning came at roughly the same time that a former Saudi detainee at Guantánamo Bay who went through Saudi Arabia’s militant rehabilitation program and then joined Al Qaeda in Yemen turned himself in, the government said.
The former detainee, Jabir Jubran al Fayfi, contacted Saudi authorities from Yemen to express his regret and readiness to surrender, the Saudi Interior Ministry said in statement on Friday, The Associated Press reported.
Yemeni authorities arranged for his return. Mr. Fayfi joined Al Qaeda in Yemen sometime after his December 2006 release from Guantánamo and his participation in the rehabilitation program and rose to become one of the group’s top dozen leaders, the official in Washington said.
The official said it was unclear if the information provided to France came from Mr. Fayfi, communications intercepts and other intelligence sources, or some combination.
A United States counterterrorism official declined to comment specifically on the report, but said on Sunday that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remained a danger.
“They’ve made clear their intention to attack the United States and our allies,” the official said. “The terrorist threat to Europe unfortunately remains quite real.”
European officials did not discount the threat. “If this information is coming indeed from the Saudis, one can expect that it is serious and reliable,” said Raphael Perl, the head of antiterrorism for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
A European intelligence official called the warning “serious stuff’” and added that “it is easy to plan operations in France because it is easy for attackers to fit into the population.”
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as Yemen’s Qaeda cell is known, has caused growing alarm among American and Western intelligence services since the airliner bombing plot last December, for which Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took credit.
C.I.A. officials have privately said recently that the Yemeni cell posed an even more dangerous immediate threat to the United States than the Qaeda headquarters in Pakistan.
Scott Sayare reported from Paris, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Souad Mekhennet contributed reporting from Frankfurt, and Elisabeth Bumiller from Washington.”