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Ex-French intelligence official: Europe travel warnings point to real terror threat

Louis Caprioli, the former head of France’s domestic intelligence agency, says the raft of travel warnings suggests that 'something real is afoot.'

By Danna HarmanCorrespondent / October 6, 2010

French soldiers patrol under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Oct. 3. The French government issued a travel warning Wednesday, in advising its citizens to be wary of the heightened risk of a terrorist attack in Europe.

Laurent Cipriani/AP

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Paris

The French government issued a travel warning Wednesday, joining the United States, Britain, Japan, Australia, and Sweden in advising its citizens to be wary of the heightened risk of a terrorist attack in Europe.

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A message posted on the French Foreign Ministry website focused specifically on Britain, saying that it believed the risk of an attack there was “very likely.”

The fact that so many travel warnings about Europe have been published in recent days is an “exceptional and unique” situation, says Louis Caprioli, the former head of France’s domestic intelligence agency. He stressed that it points clearly to real information about a major terror plot.

Mr. Caprioli, who spent his career in counterterrorism, including seven years (1998-2004) as head of the top agency here, says that there has been a misplaced sense of calm in France – created, he says, by comments made in recent weeks by some opposition politicians who said that the terror scare was being used for political reasons by an unpopular government trying to shore up support.

Also, except for some extra police and soldiers on the street, there was still no real sign of increased security – something that seemed to be adding to the complacency.

“But, the truth is, something real is afoot, and as you have seen in recent days, with arrests in Italy and now, here in France, some of the pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together,” he says. “There is a terror project in the works."

Caprioli says there's a great deal of intelligence work going on behind the scenes. “The security services are working overtime,” he says, adding that they were coordinating their work with a whole slew of other countries' security services.

On Tuesday, nine men were detained in the southern cities of Marseilles and Avignon on suspicion of trafficking firearms and explosives. And, in a second raid, three others were arrested – two in Marseilles and the third in the southwestern city of Bordeaux – after their phone numbers were found in the mobile phone of Ryad Hannouni – the Frenchman of Algerian descent who was arrested recently in Naples, Italy.

It is becoming clear, argues Caprioli, that the three men netted in the second raid Tuesday were logistic operatives, buying materials, making false documents and the like for fellow jihadists. With them in hand, together with Mr. Hannouni, who was expected to be extradited back to France this month - more information was sure to follow, Caprioli says.

The root of the threats, he says, seem to be narrowing down to two different sources: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) based in North Africa and young French radicals who have gone to Pakistan to train with radical jihadists.

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