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France unusually rattled as reports of Europe terror plots emerge

Reports of a possible Al Qaeda terror plot in Europe that would involve Mumbai-style strikes in Britain, France, and Germany come as France is on alert for unrelated threats.

By Anita ElashContributor / September 29, 2010

French police officers patrol under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on Sept. 20, as part of the city's security reinforcement. France has stepped up its vigilance against terror threats, a top official announced Monday amid reports of various new threats

Francois Mori/AP

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Paris

In what is being described as a "commando-style" attack akin to the 2008 Mumbai massacre, Al Qaeda militants reportedly had planned to carry out spectacular strikes on cities in Britain, France, and Germany, according to European security officials.

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Unnamed intelligence sources told Britain's SkyNews that militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan were orchestrating the attacks, but that the plot was disrupted after a combined operation between US, British, French, and German intelligence services.

News of the potential Al Qaeda attack follows warnings in France that an attack on the public transit system by a female suicide bomber was imminent. What's more, police evacuated the Eiffel Tower in Paris Tuesday night for the second time in 15 days after receiving bomb threats. The Gare St. Lazare train station, which connects five Metro lines and dozens of regional and national train lines, was cleared on Monday afternoon.

The terror warnings have put Europe on alert and caused France, which prides itself in taking something of a phlegmatic view of the threat of terrorism, to increase its terror alert to “red plus” – the second-highest level. France's uncharacteristic cautiousness could signal the seriousness of recent threats, say security analysts, and suggests a new attitude emerging in France toward security.

Substantial increase

Experts say the threat against France has increased substantially since July, when French commandos attacked Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Al Qaeda affiliate, in a failed attempt to rescue a French aid worker who had been taken hostage. The group kidnapped five French nationals in Niger earlier this month and issues regular communiques threatening France.

Mathieu Guidère, a terrorism expert at the University of Geneva, says France is following the American example by raising the threat level in order to prepare the French population for the slim possibility of an attack.

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