ISIS plotting in Britain, Germany and Italy:US official

Intelligence chief says secret terror cells operating in these countries

WASHINGTON • Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is operating clandestine terrorist cells in Britain, Germany and Italy, similar to the groups that carried out the attacks in Paris and Brussels, according to a top United States intelligence official.

"We continue to see evidence of plotting on the part of ISIL in the countries you named," Mr James R. Clapper Jr, director of national intelligence, said on Monday. ISIL is another name for ISIS.

Spurred by the Paris attacks in November last year and the assaults in Brussels last month, the US has rushed to provide allies with intelligence from a variety of sources, as well as to offer fixes to the Europeans' failure to share intelligence effectively and to tighten porous borders.

Many European nations still refuse to share basic intelligence, even within a government, leading to blind spots across the continent that make it easier for terrorist groups to strike. Brussels has more than a dozen police forces, and French intelligence, police and judicial officials do not routinely share terrorism information, US officials said.

Counter-terrorism officials in Europe also say they have indications that Britain, Germany and Italy, and perhaps others, are in the sights of ISIS' European networks. The information comes from the terror group itself, which often signals its intentions, as well as from information gleaned from questioning suspects in plots that have been carried out or stopped, and from intercepts of telephone and cyber communications.

But ISIS has also proved capable of covering its virtual tracks, according to European investigators.

Mr Claude Moniquet, a former French intelligence officer, said the British and Germans were especially concerned about the possibility of a strike. And French and Belgian intelligence services believe both countries could be hit again.

One of the figures involved in both Brussels and Paris, Mohammed Abrini, was reported to have told investigators that ISIS was considering attacks during the European Championship football tournament in June, which will be played in 10 stadiums throughout France.

And Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the on-the-ground leader of the Paris attacks, told a relative that he had brought 90 fighters back from Syria to fight on European soil. While that may be an exaggeration, at least 19 people played significant roles in Paris or Brussels, and most had fought in Syria.

Italy's appearance on the list of potential ISIS targets is harder to explain since it has fewer fighters in the Middle East, but "it is very often mentioned as a potential target", said Ms Nathalie Goulet, a member of the French Senate. She said that Italy might be a target because it is the home of the Pope, the most visible Christian leader.

However, the potential threat to Britain is mentioned most often. Mr Moniquet said he had found statements on the Internet the same day as the Brussels attacks by Al Wafaa Foundation, a media organisation close to ISIS.

"Soon, the soldiers of the caliphate will besiege England," the Al Wafaa writer said, adding "even before America".

Meanwhile, Turkey has struck a deal with the US to deploy American light multiple rocket launchers on its border with Syria to combat ISIS, said the Foreign Ministry.

Turkey, a member of the US-led coalition against ISIS, has increased its strikes in Syria after a series of deadly attacks on its soil blamed on the militants. Ankara also allows US jets to use its airbase in southern Turkey for air bombardments on the extremist group.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline 'ISIS plotting in Britain, Germany and Italy:US official'. Print Edition | Subscribe