US and European officials said Tuesday they have detected a plot to carry out a major, coordinated series of commando-style terror attacks in Britain, France, Germany and possibly the United States.
A senior US official said that while there is a "credible" threat, no specific time or place is known. President Obama has been briefed about the threat, say senior US officials.
Intelligence and law enforcement authorities in the US and Europe said the threat information is based on the interrogation of a suspected German terrorist allegedly captured on his way to Europe in late summer and now being held at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
US law enforcement officials say they have been told the terrorists were planning a series of "Mumbai-style" commando raids on what were termed "economic or soft" targets in the countries. Pakistani militants killed 173 people with guns and grenades during the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
In testimony before Congress last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, "We are all seeing increased activity by a more diverse set of groups and a more diverse set of threats."
Officials in France have put the country on high alert for a terror attack and authorities in Paris shut down the Eiffel Tower for the second time in two weeks today after what was termed a "false alarm."
No bomb was found but officials in France are taking no chances, given what they believe is a very real threat.
"We currently have reached a spike in the threat of an attack, which is unquestionable," said the head of the French National Police last week. He also said France was at particular risk from al Qaeda's North African affiliate.
The new threat to France, and to Germany and Britain and the U.S., is coming from Pakistan, according to intelligence officials. The captured German reportedly said several teams of attackers, all with European passports, had been trained and dispatched from training camps in Waziristan and Pakistan. Officials say the German claimed the attack plan had been approved by Osama Bin Laden.
US intelligence officials said they believed an attack on American soil was more likely to come from terrorists connected to the al Qaeda group in Yemen, known as AQAP, al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula.
But an official of the New York Police Department said while the most specific information was about Europe, NYPD intelligence officers were following the new information closely. "Nobody here is letting their guard down, the NYPD is watching," the official said.
In the last four years, dozens of German citizens have been recruited to train in al Qaeda-connected camps in Pakistan, according to US and German law enforcement officials. German language jihadi videos on the internet help to attract more trainees.
"Some are German converts, many are Turks, many are Arabs," said Guido Steinberg, a counter-terrorism analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "Right now we already have the first Afghans and even Iranians in these circles. It's a very mixed bunch of people -- quite international."
"The American authorities are extremely nervous about what is going on, the Germans are extremely nervous about what's going on," said Steinberg.