Munich-bound flight takes off after bomb components found in Namibia
The Namibian police evacuated 300 passengers from the incoming Munich-bound Air Berlin flight after finding bomb components in a suitcase at Windhoek airport Wednesday, Nov. 17, the day after Germany was warned by US intelligence that Al Qaeda cells, numbering two-to-four terrorists were planning to land in Germany and the UK from India and Pakistan. Germany has tightened security at airports, railways and bus stations, while Scotland Yard alerted parliament to a possible Al Qaeda invasion, debkafile's counterterrorism sources report.
An X-ray of the luggage revealed batteries attached with wires to a detonator and a ticking clock, German authorities said in a statement. The plane took off Thursday after the passengers and their luggage were searched again. Berlin has sent a team of terror experts to Windhoek.
US intelligence reported the incoming terrorists were planning to time their attacks for the pre-Christmas peak shopping season. They were described as ready to go into action without recourse to local Al Qaeda controllers or planners. Weapons and explosives await them at prearranged hideouts. It was not clear from the American tipoff who had stashed them and whether some have been exposed.
This method of operation recalls the massive Mumbai attacks on Nov. 26, 2008 two years ago when gunmen stormed ten locations killing 166 people and injuring more than 500.
debkafile reports fears in Berlin and London that Al Qaeda may be intending to mark the Mumbai attacks' anniversary by repeating them – and, in particular, demonstrate after President Barack Obama paid tribute to their victims on his visit to the Indian city this month, that it was not a one-off and no Western city is any longer safe from Al Qaeda's jihadis.
In London, British parliament members and staff were warned of the possibility of an Al Qaeda commando raid on the Palace of Westminster, seat of the Houses of Commons and Lords. An email from Scotland Yard Tuesday, Nov. 16, instructed them in emergency procedures in the event of a terrorist invasion.
They were advised to exit the building fast rather than looking for places to hide:
"The latest police advice is that an effective contingency plan should concentrate on evacuating members, staff and visitors out of the estate and away from danger as quickly as possible. Locating, containing and neutralizing the threat will be a role for armed police officers."
In Germany, all major cities were put on elevated alert levels and special forces rushed to airports and railway stations throughout the country, accompanied by sappers and sniffer dogs.
On Wednesday afternoon, German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere informed a hastily-called press conference in Berlin: "According to information from a foreign partner which came to us after the Yemen incident, we suspect a planned attack is due to be put into action at the end of November."
De Maiziere warned citizens to remain vigilant while doing their Christmas shopping and said they would notice an unusual number of armed security officers out and about.
The German media disclosed Thursday, Nov. 18, that the US alert signal cited the high-profile Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, 46, as senior planner responsible for the coming attacks. He is known to have charted the February 24 attack on a German bakery in the Indian city of Pune, in which 17 people were killed. Kashmiri seeks out German targets because of German military participation in the war in Afghanistan.
debkafile's counterterrorism sources disclose that rising Al Qaeda star is thought to head the organization's most secret elite unit, known as Brigade 313, whose operatives are scattered through Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Kashmiri is also believed to be the author of the "Mumbai tactic," whereby mammoth attacks like the 9/11 assaults in the US are eschewed in favor of a number of smaller coordinated strikes by well-trained commandos in a single central location, such as London or Berlin.
Bruce Riedel, formerly of the CIA and a prominent expert on Al Qaeda, has designated Kashmiri "one of the most dangerous men in the world."