EUROPEAN intelligence and security chiefs are said to be on “tenterhooks” over the “extremely high” threat of a Christmas terror attack by Islamic militants.
A senior French counter- terrorism official has said that “all of the warning lights are red”, even though they had yet to uncover any specific plan.
“The threat is at its highest level,” said the official, who spoke anonymously.
“All [security] services are on tenterhooks, and it’s not just us [in France]. Work is under way everywhere, but nothing concrete is emerging.” Those fears were echoed in Britain, already on edge after the alleged failed plot to bring down airliners over the Atlantic in August.
Home Secretary John Reid said last weekend it was “highly likely” terrorists would attempt to mount an attack over the holiday period.
Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, has said her agents are tracking almost 30 terrorist plots involving 1,600 suspects, and that at least five major plots had been thwarted since the 2005 bomb attacks in London.
In Washington, US intelligence and law enforcement officials said there was no specific, credible information pointing to a holiday threat.
The FBI recently sent a bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies, urging them to be on the lookout for suspicious activity around Christmas.
But the intelligence officials say authorities are more concerned about an attack in Europe than the United States at present.
French prime minister Dominique de Villepin announced this month that he had called in reinforcements for beefed-up military patrols of public transportation, railway stations and airports.
Villepin also promised that a 1,000-man reserve force would also be available in case of emergency. France’s terror alert level remains at red, the second-highest rank out of four.
It was not immediately clear what measures, if any, other European nations were planning as Christmas approaches.
In Spain, police said they would increase security at airports only if they received word of a specific threat.
In Italy, officials said security was always put on high alert during the festive season, especially around the Vatican and other sites that attracted pilgrims and tourists.