In the last three days, the governments of eleven countries have scrambled to elevate their preparedness levels for Islamist terror, or enforced extraordinarily stringent security measures. Another six governments have pursued these steps without fanfare.
Friday and Saturday, Jan. 22-23, India placed its airlines and airports and those of all of South East Asia -Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – on alert for a possible airplane hijacking by al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taibem. The UK elevated its terror threat level from "substantial" to "severe" – one below top and suspended direct British airline flights to and from Yemen.
Last week, five Britons were apprehended at Islamabad airport attempting to pass their boarding passes to five others. Yemen itself stopped issuing entry visas at Sanaa airport. The British appear to fear a fresh spate of terrorism inside the country.
Saturday, US airport authorities were warned that at least two female suicide bombers of "non-Arab appearance" and bearing Western passports may have been sent to America by al Qaeda-Yemen – either to blow up US-bound flights or commit suicide attacks inside the country.
Although the Obama administration has not formally raised the current terror alert level, vigilance and screening at American and foreign airports have been radically heightened since a Nigerian terrorist tried to blow up the Northwest airliner on Christmas day. Since Jan. 4, the airlines and passengers from 14 listed countries have faced body screening before boarding flights to the United States.
Last week, six people on the newly-expanded no-fly list were not allowed to board US-bound flights – an Egyptian and Saudi Arabian at Heathrow, London, a man in Nairobi, another at Saint Maarten in the Caribbean and two more at home airports in Minneapolis and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Referring to the failed airline bombing, former White House counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke told ABC: "There are others who are still out there who have been trained and who are clean skins – that means people who we do not have a record of, who may not look like al Qaeda terrorists, who may not be Arabs, and may not be men."
On Dec. 26, the day after the Northwest incident, debkafile's counter-terror sources reported that since early October, President Obama and top US security officials have been aware of the new network or cluster of cells taking shape in Europe. First detected by the German BND, it appears to be structurally similar to the Hamburg cell, which planned and executed the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. The German agency also tipped off Israel to its forecast of a new wave of Islamist terror threatening the US and other parts of the world.
<bThe new network has recruited new faces not on Western anti-terror services books with no known links to al Qaeda members or members of their families.b>
On Dec. 11,<bDEBKA-Net-Weekly 425b> disclosed: "Al Qaeda is believed to have taken to employing in their European networks typical Westerners of Caucasian appearance, quite different from the stereotypical Muslim."
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates have taken their own precautions. Jordan's security services are fully mobilized since the attempt to blow up an Israeli embassy convoy on Jan. 15. Israel routinely receives terrorist advisories from Western intelligence agencies and maintains its own security regimen at home.
The Turkish media report that more than 120 people were arrested in 16 cities Friday, Jan. 22, including suspected heads of al Qaeda's local branch. According to <iZaman,i> some of the detainees had been planning an attack on the regional NATO command center in the Afghan capital of Kabul as well as inside Turkey.
debkafile's counter-terror experts note the increasing transnational nature of al Qaeda operational planning.