22nd Oct 2020

Saudi intelligence issues EU terror alert

  • French policeman. 'If this information is coming indeed from the Saudis, one can expect that it is serious and reliable' a European counter-terrorism expert said (Photo: Johnathan Nightingale)

Saudi Arabian intelligence has issued a fresh alert about an Al-Qaeda plot in Europe, hot on the heels of a similar warning from the US last month.

Speaking in an interview with French radio station RTL on Sunday (17 October), French interior minister Brice Hortefeux said: "I can tell you - and it's not information that's been made public yet - that even a few hours, a few days ago, there was a new message, from the Saudi services, indicating to us that Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula was certainly active, or expecting to be active, in Europe, especially France."

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The minister noted that the French national security alert level is to stay at "reinforced red," one step below the maximum "scarlet" level.

He added: "This is not about overestimating the threat or underestimating it ... I am indicating, based on all these elements, that the threat is real."

Mr Hortefeux put the Saudi warning in the context of earlier alerts in September from Interpol and from Algerian intelligence. The Algeria alert on 16 September spoke of a female suicide attack against a French target.

He explained that France currently has 61 people in prison on terrorism charges and that it is monitoring jihadist websites and "a certain number of people who study at extremist Koranic institutes" and who are planning to return to France from the Maghreb.

He also said that Basque separatist group ETA and Corsican separatist groups remain active in France but have been "considerably" weakened by French police initiatives.

Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is an Al-Qaeda offshoot believed to have been formed in 2009 in Yemen which claimed responsibility for a failed Christmas-Day airline bombing in Detroit, in the US, last December.

The US on 3 October published a blanket terror alert for US citizens in the EU, also citing al-Qaeda. US intelligence officials later leaked information that tourist sites such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Alexanderplatz in Berlin were potential targets.

The UK followed the US with its own warning, naming France and Germany. Sweden had one day before the US also published an alert.

EU interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg with the US deputy secretary for homeland security, Jane Holl Lute, agreed on measures to better co-ordinate security information in future. The ministers said they would in pre-notify the EU's Brussels-based intelligence-sharing bureau, the Joint Situation Centre, prior to raising national threat levels.

Belgian interior minister Annemie Turtelboom at the time suggested the US alert may have been an over-reaction.

Referring to the latest Hortefeux statement, Raphael Perl, the head of antiterrorism for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, told the New York Times: "If this information is coming indeed from the Saudis, one can expect that it is serious and reliable."

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