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Al-Qaida Plots Intensify Overseas

June 12, 2002

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BERLIN (AP) _ Germany on Wednesday said it had received intelligence of a possible al-Qaida threat to shoot down civilian airliners, while officials in India claimed they had evidence of an imminent al-Qaida attack on financial institutions in Bombay.

The warnings came as French authorities detained five people accused of helping the alleged shoe bomber in his scheme to bring down a passenger plane in December 2001.

The German warning was triggered after a civilian intercepted radio traffic in the Middle East, in which a private person was overheard talking about the possibility of attacks on airliners in Germany, said Udo Buehler, spokesman for the Hesse state criminal investigation agency.

The intercept was passed on to Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, and security officials then developed scenarios for possible terrorist attacks of this kind.

Rainer Lingenthal, a spokesman for the German Interior Ministry, said there was no evidence that a specific plot was in the planning stages, but added: ``Of course we take this information seriously.″

An internal report by the Hesse state criminal investigation agency outlined how al-Qaida members might bring down an airliner in Germany, the mass-circulation newspaper Bild reported Wednesday.

The report said terrorists could use heat-seeking ground-to-air missiles or an unmanned drone aircraft carrying explosives to down a jetliner during takeoff or landing, according to Bild. Frankfurt airport, continental Europe’s largest, is in Hesse state.

The report cited in Bild was compiled several weeks ago, Lingenthal said.

``The fact remains that there are no specific indications for any kind of an attack in Germany,″ he said, when asked by reporters why authorities had not publicized the warning.

In India, police and banking officials said Wednesday that authorities had evidence al-Qaida planned to attack financial institutions in Bombay in the next eight to 10 days.

``This is the first time we have received a specific threat of a plan to target financial institutions. The warnings we usually get are general ones,″ said O.P. Bali, a police director-general. ``Basically, it is a threat from the al-Qaida.″

India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, issued a warning Monday to all banks and financial institutions, emphasizing the need for heightened security measures.

The warnings in India and Germany came just two days after U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the May arrest of an American, Jose Padilla, on suspicion of plotting to set off a radiological ``dirty″ bomb in the United States. Padilla, 31, also known as Abdullah al Muhajir was taken into custody at Chicago’s O’Hare airport as he returned from Pakistan.

On Wednesday, Pakistani officials said an alleged accomplice of Padilla was in custody. A senior Pakistani intelligence official identified the suspect as Benjamin Ahmed Mohammed, and said he had been questioned by FBI agents.

A U.S. official in Washington confirmed that at least one associate of Padilla has been taken into custody and is being questioned in a foreign country, but that he was unaware of a ``Benjamin Ahmed Mohammed″ being interrogated.

Meanwhile, French anti-terrorist police rounded up five people accused of helping alleged shoe bomber Richard C. Reid in raids Wednesday in the Paris suburbs. The suspects, two Pakistanis and three North Africans, all were believed to have sympathies with radical Islam, police said. Authorities found three guns, one of them with a scope.

In April, police and security agents arrested seven people suspected of providing Reid with logistical help. The seven Pakistanis, six of whom have since been released, pointed police to the new suspects, Le Monde newspaper reported.

Reid allegedly tried to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes on a Paris-Miami flight.

Also Wednesday, Dutch authorities arrested an Algerian man accused of belonging to an Islamic extremist group linked to al-Qaida, the fifth from the Algerian-based group to be caught in the Netherlands.

Police detained the 19-year old man in the northern city of Groningen on suspicion of belonging to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC, which is dedicated to the overthrow of the Algerian government and has allegedly been involved in deadly terrorist attacks in Algeria and elsewhere.