State Dep’t terror alert: Watch your back if you’re traveling in Europe

Completely useless in practical terms but a sign of how seriously they’re taking the plot we’ve been blogging about for the past week. If you believe ABC, an attack could come at any moment:

Strong concerns that terrorist teams in Europe have selected their targets, completed their surveillance, eluded capture and are now ready to strike at airports and tourist attractions have prompted the State Department to ready a highly unusual travel advisory for Europe, multiple law enforcement and intelligence sources tell ABC News…

According to ABC News sources, the terror plotters have moved through the surveillance stage, checked back in with al Qaeda in Pakistan, and have received the go-ahead to strike…

Intensified drone strikes in Pakistan have been confirmed as in part aimed at paralyzing the attackers.

That’s from Saturday; the latest update says intel is worried about attacks in airport lobbies as well as the usual tourist destinations and cites the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. for evidence that “the plot’s leaders have been identified and targeted.” Maybe so, but that’s a cold comfort if the cell is already positioned in Europe and ready to go. In fact, after reading about this story for a week, I’m more confused than ever as to where the operatives are supposed to be hiding out right now. The Daily Mail reported last week that they were thought to be in North Waziristan, where one of the British suspects in the plot had already been killed in a drone strike. Obviously that’s not true, though, if there’s reason to believe that attacks on European targets are imminent. It sounds like the drone strikes are aimed at the masterminds who are coordinating things from Pakistan whereas the actual operatives are already long gone and in place in Britain, Germany, France, etc.

If so, a question: How did they manage to avoid being captured by counterterror agents? Western intel has reportedly known about this plot since early July, when they picked up a German jihadi and took him to Bagram for questioning. Allegedly he’s been feeding them new information about the plot on a daily basis — which is itself suspicious:

Sidiqi has been fully cooperating with American authorities, German intelligence sources say. Every day, they say, information emerges from Sidiqi that provides a “new piece to the puzzle.” German authorities expect to be given access to Sidiqi in the next few days, according to the sources, and until they do so will not be able to verify his claims.

Sidiqui’s from Hamburg, was recruited at the same since-shuttered jihadi mosque at which Mohammed Atta prayed, and traveled last year with a group of other German fundies to Afghanistan, where most of them joined the fight against U.S. troops. (Per the last link, CNN claims 45 or so jihadis operate openly in Hamburg recruiting warriors for the cause while several hundred Muslim fundamentalists who live in the city are thought to have “violent tendencies.”) If he’s been in custody for three months, though, how can it be that he’s still rolling out details of the plot that are current and useful? Wouldn’t the terror cell have altered its plans once he went missing, on the assumption that he was spilling his guts? And at the very least, wouldn’t he have divulged some of their names fairly early on? Assuming he did, it’s amazing that they’ve managed to avoid detection this long. Presumably there’s been a manhunt on inside Europe for weeks, and yet here we are being told that they’re ready to strike.

One possibility: What if Sidiqui’s just jerking them around, blowing smoke about a Mumbai-style mega-plot — replete with Osama Bin Laden’s blessing — to throw them off the trail of whatever’s really being planned? There’s corroborating evidence that something’s up (ABC notes the spike in terrorist “chatter” lately), but the fact that the chief countermeasure thus far appears to be bombing the hell out of terror hideouts in Waziristan suggests that they still might not be entirely sure who they’re looking for. In fact, here’s a little breaking news from Bill Roggio:

US Predators struck a mosque in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, killing eight Germans according, to reports from the region.

Unmanned US Predator strike aircraft, or the more deadly Reapers, fired two missiles at a mosque in Mir Ali, the second largest town in North Waziristan. Pakistani intelligence officials said that eight German nationals were killed in the airstrike, Reuters reported…

Eight Germans and two Britons were reported killed in the Sept. 8 Predator strike in Datta Khel. An Islamic Jihad Group commander known as Qureshi was also reported killed in the attack. Qureshi specialized in training Germans to conduct attacks in their home country.

So that’s 16 German jihadis liquidated in less than a month — and yet, per ABC, intelligence is still worried that some sort of German cell is in place in Europe and prepared to start shooting. Very curious. Also curious: European officials insist that an attack isn’t imminent and are “irritated” with the U.S. for leaking info about the plot before they could gather more intel about it. Ominous exit question: Are we sure everyone’s on the same page here?