Several months ago, bin Laden sent a directive to al-Qaida affiliates and partners that he wanted a Mumbai-style attack on at least three European countries – Germany, Britain and France – National Public Radio in the US reported, citing intelligence officials and people familiar with the matter.
“We know that Osama bin Laden issued the directive,” an unnamed official familiar with intelligence surrounding the plot told NPR.
The news is a stark reminder that the world’s most wanted man, who has eluded capture for more than nine years since the September 11 attacks on the US, is still closely involved in the operations of the global terrorist network.
Intelligence officials told NPR some of the operatives who had been due to participate in the shootings were already in Europe.
Some officials worried that members of the commando-style teams could be travelling to the West using European passports, thus complicating any effort to find and stop them.
NPR said gunmen had planned to fire on crowds at busy European tourist sites and take over hotels in a plot that would mark a new style of attack for al-Qaida, although details of the plans remain unclear for now.
In 2008, 10 heavily armed gunmen killed 166 people and wounded more than 300 in three luxury hotels, a railway station and restaurants in the Indian city.
The latest plot is thought to have been inspired by al-Qaida’s fugitive leadership in Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions, where a recent surge of US drone attacks sought to eliminate the plotters – and did kill some of them.
The initial intelligence came from Ahmad Siddiqui, a German national currently held at the US-run Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Siddiqui is said to have known Mohamed Atta, one of the hijackers in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and to have worshipped at the same mosque in Germany.
The United States may also have been in bin Laden’s sights.
“If he issued the directive, we just don’t believe that the US wouldn’t be on his short list of strategic targets. It has to be,” the source told NPR.