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US says bin Laden knew of Europe terror plot

The United States has told Germany that evidence pulled from Osama bin Laden's hideout shows the terror chief was linked to a plot to attack targets in Europe last year, a senior German official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The United States has told Germany that evidence pulled from Osama bin Laden's hideout shows the terror chief was linked to a plot to attack targets in Europe last year, a senior German official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Two U.S. officials also told the AP that bin Laden had advised Europe-based militants to attack in unspecified mainland European countries just before Christmas. The officials offered no details.

Separately, bin Laden encouraged multiple attacks on Danish targets because of disparaging references to the Muslim prophet Mohammed in Danish media, the U.S. officials said.

European security officials said earlier this month that they'd seen very little of the information from the May 2 raid on bin Laden's hideout, but the Americans have begun sharing more information with intelligence agencies in Europe.

The German official said U.S. officials had told their German counterparts that information retrieved from the Pakistani house where bin Laden was killed shows that senior al-Qaida member Sheikh Yunis al Mauritania was in contact with bin Laden about the Europe plot.

A 29-year-old Moroccan terror suspect was arrested last month in the German city of Duesseldorf with letters between him and al Mauritania about planned terror attacks in Europe, the official told the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

He and other European security officials said they have not seen evidence to suggest that bin Laden was involved in planning the attacks.

"We now know he was a lot more operational than previously thought — and there's some interesting information that has come out on this — but whether this means he was involved in the actual planning or advising remains unclear," said a European security official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive intelligence information.

In September, intelligence gleaned from a terror suspect detained in Afghanistan prompted heightened security in Britain, France and Germany.

Germany raised its security threat level in November after officials said they had received information from their own and foreign intelligence services, including in the U.S., that indicated a sleeper cell of some 20 to 25 people may have been planning an attack somewhere in Europe. Later, Germany also received information on possible separate attacks at Christmas or New Year's.

Germany eased the threat level this year.

The first link to bin Laden appears to have been uncovered with the April arrest of a Moroccan named Abdeladim El-Kebir. At the time he was taken into custody, German officials said el-Kebir and two or three other suspects were working on making a shrapnel-laden bomb in Germany to attack a crowded place such as a bus in spring or summer 2011.

The message exchange with al Mauritania found at his home also indicated that he belonged to the group that American security officials last year warned may be plotting attacks in Europe, the German official told the AP.

The German official suggested that the letter contained some indication that bin Laden had been kept abreast of the plot to attack Europe in fall 2010.

A recent U.S. security briefing on the bin Laden house evidence "basically confirmed to us what we had already found in the letter exchange between El-Kebir and (al Mauritania)," the official said.

On the day of El-Kebir's arrest, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich released a statement saying the suspects had been under surveillance since November, when Germany increased security. He added authorities had accumulated enough evidence to launch an official criminal investigation last month.

After his arrest, German intelligence officials said el-Kebir received the assignment to carry out a bombing from a high-ranking al-Qaida member early last year. At the time they did not identify the al-Qaida leader, and did not say he was also thought to be connected to earlier European plots.

El-Kebir left Germany in early 2010 and trained in an al-Qaida camp in Waziristan near the Afghan-Pakistan border, and returned last year to carry out the attack.

He had at one time resided in Germany on a student visa but later returned illegally after abandoning his studies.


Dozier reported from Washington. Contributing to this report were Paisley Dodds in London, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Al Clendenning in Madrid.