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No Holiday for al-Qaeda

2 minute read
Bruce Crumley

European investigators are worried that the year-end holiday season will bring another round of al-Qaeda terrorism. Several major year-end assaults have been averted over the past few years, including “millennium bomber” Ahmed Ressam’s foiled plot against the Los Angeles airport in 1999 and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid’s bungled effort to bring down a Paris-to-Miami jet last Dec. 22. “Al-Qaeda has attempted attacks during the holiday season since 1999,” says a French official, “and we have to assume it’ll be the same this year.” That concern was reflected in a series of sweeps last week in France.

Among those detained were eight Pakistani Islamists suspected of aiding Reid. Early reports indicated that the raids had bagged Reid’s partners. But French investigators tell TIME that though evidence and testimony suggest that the suspects knew Reid and let him bunk in the basement of a Pakistani restaurant, they probably did not know of his plot. One reason the investigators feel this way: none of the suspects’ palms match the prints found on the explosives packed in Reid’s shoe.

A far more important arrest may turn out to be that of Slimane Khalfaoui, 27, a French citizen of Algerian origin and a veteran of Bosnian and Afghan jihads. Material evidence has tied Khalfaoui to a Frankfurt cell busted in December 2000 as it allegedly prepared for an attack on the Strasbourg Cathedral. He has also been linked to Ressam’s failed millennium plot. Evidence and testimony indicate that both plots were overseen from London by al-Qaeda’s main European terrorism commander, Abu Doha, an Algerian Islamist arrested in February 2001. Khalfaoui has also been linked to Doha associate Rabah Kadre, arrested by police in London last month under Britain’s Terrorism Act amid reports that he and two confederates were planning a gas attack on the London Underground. The arrest of Khalfaoui and others with ties to Doha raises fears that Doha’s pan-European network is reassembling, just as Britain prepares a final decision on U.S. demands for Doha’s extradition. –By Bruce Crumley. With reporting by Helen Gibson/London

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