EU holds anti-terrorist exercise amid reports of al-Qaeda plot
By Matej Hruska
The EU has tested its crisis co-ordination capabilities in a simulated bio-terrorist attack on a European football championship. The exercise comes amid reports of a real al-Qaeda plot targeting Britain, France and Germany and Norway's arrest of three men planning attacks in Oslo and Copenhagen.
The fifth EU-wide exercise of its kind, conducted between 27 and 29 September 2010, was aimed at testing the co-ordination of crisis responses in the areas of health, transport, border control, public order and civil protection in a hypothetical bio-terrorist attack during the European football championship to be held in Poland and Ukraine in 2012.
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The EU said the tests were "conducted successfully" and that "the lessons learned in particular with regard to information sharing and communication will allow for further improving the crisis coordination arrangements."
News of the exercise came out one day after US and European intelligence agencies on Tuesday (28 September) indicated that Pakistani-based militants with links to al-Qaeda had planned to carry out terrorist strikes in the UK, France and Germany.
The strikes were to be modeled on the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, where a large group of gunmen landed in boats and opened fire on passers-by in several locations at the same time, killing 166 people.
According to the Wall Street Journal, US and European counterterrorism officials have been looking into the plot since August and are currently focusing on a man of unknown age said to be from North Africa and known as "Mauritani." Some operatives are believed to have travelled from Pakistan's tribal warlord-controlled regions via Turkey and Iran to Europe, a former counterterrorism official familiar with the case told the US newspaper.
Asked about the case at a joint press briefing with the EU's Catherine Ashton in Washington on Wednesday, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said only: "We know that al-Qaida and its network of terrorists wishes to attack both European and US targets."
"This plot was in its embryonic stages," an unnamed British government official told the Associated Press.
The British and German authorities have said that available intelligence does not merit officially raising the terrorist alert level in either country. Pakistan has also played down the reports, saying they are designed to put pressure on Kabul to fight Islamist extremists in its lawless North Waziristan province.
In separate developments in Denmark and Norway, Norwegian police said on Tuesday that two men have confessed to planning attacks on the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten and on the Chinese embassy in Oslo.
The two men are Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak, a 37-year-old Iraqi Kurd with Norwegian residency, and Mikael Davud, a 39-year-old Norwegian citizen of Chinese-Uighur-minority-origin. A third man, an Uzbek with Norwegian residency has also been charged in connection with the plots.
Jyllands Posten became a target for Islamist anger after publishing satiric cartoons of the prophet Mohammed five years ago. A Chinese crackdown on the Uighur minority in its Xinjiang province ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 increased tensions in the region and outraged the Uighur diaspora.