‘Terrorists planned missile attack on planes in France’
PARIS: French Islamic extremists planned to attack passenger airliners in France with shoulder-launched missiles, and were possibly the reason British authorities issued a red alert for Heathrow airport in 2003, the newspaper Le Figaro reported Friday.
“Terrorists planned to attack aircraft in France” with two Russian-made surface-to-air SAM-18 missiles that have gone missing in Europe, the daily said.
Without giving sources for the report, the newspaper said French authorities learned of the plot from a “high-ranking jihadi (fighter following a holy cause) imprisoned in Amman, Jordan.”
The man, a Jordanian identified as Adnan Muhammad Sadik, alias Abu Atiya, was recently interviewed as part of a French inquiry led by anti-terror judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere looking into international recruiting networks for the rebellion in Chechnya, it said.
Sadik, the newspaper said, was “close to his compatriot (Abu Musab) Zarqawi, chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq.”
He reportedly inducted a group of Algerians and Frenchmen in 2001 who wanted to return to Europe to carry out attacks using “all means at their disposal: toxic products, and also missiles.”
The newspaper said two SAM-18 missiles were acquired on the black market “via the Chechen mafia” and were believed to have been sent to Europe via Georgia and Turkey. An amount of cyanide was also thought to have been brought in by the same route.
According to Le Figaro, once the consignments arrived, “the terrorists then prepared their plans, vacillating between symbolic targets (the Russian embassy, police stations) and bloody attacks (department stores, the Eiffel Tower...).”
But according to a source close to the investigation speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, “these missiles were meant for targets outside Europe and never came into Europe.” The source added that the existence of the weapons was known since 2001.
“In this matter, we can really say that the risk for France is zero,” one of the experts working on the case told AFP.
Le Figaro said that raids in 2002 by French police in the Paris area caught many members in France behind the plots, but it was not clear that the threat disappeared. In February 2003, it noted, Britain suddenly scrambled police, troops and tanks to protect London’s Heathrow airport from attack. “According to information gathered on the other side of the Channel, Islamic extremists had been preparing to fire on a plane as it was landing or taking off,” Le Figaro said. “And the ‘lead’ obtained by the famous British counter-espionage service MI5 spoke of portable ground-to-air missiles ‘from the Continent’.”
The newspaper said that SAM-18 missiles have a range of up to five kilometres (three miles) and can attain an altitude of 3,500 metres. Civilian aircraft have already been targeted by shoulder-launched missiles in recent years, elsewhere in the world.
In November 2002, two SAM-7 missiles - predecessors to the SAM-18s - were fired at a Boeing belonging to an Israeli airline as it took off from Mombasa, Kenya. The missiles barely missed the aircraft, and none of the 271 people on board was hurt. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.
A year later, in Iraq, a freight aircraft owned by the German courier service DHL was hit by a SAM-7 missile shortly after take-off from Baghdad airport. One engine was damaged, but the plane managed to circle back and land safely. afp