Published June 17, 2011
Federal authorities are warning hotels in major U.S. cities to be vigilant after intelligence recently obtained in Somalia shows Al Qaeda was planning to launch a “Mumbai-style” attack on an upscale hotel in London, England, Fox News has learned exclusively.
The intelligence came from computer accessories and other materials gathered at the checkpoint in Mogadishu where Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the Al Qaeda operative who masterminded the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, was killed Saturday, according to sources.
Al Qaeda was working on what one senior U.S. intelligence official described as an “aspirational” – but possibly operational – plot to target the Ritz hotel in London. As part of the plot, operatives would stay in strategically chosen rooms on the first floor of the hotel, and then they would set their rooms ablaze in hopes of trapping guests on the floors above.
The senior intelligence official said authorities have a "duty to inform" the hotel industry and others about potential threats.
In November 2008, 10 gunmen launched a raid on hotels and cafes in Mumbai, India's financial capital. The attack spanned three days, killing 174 people and wounding more than 300 others.
On Thursday, federal authorities sent an email to hotel industry leaders to inform them of the latest intelligence from Somalia. It’s unclear if federal authorities were meeting with hotel representatives to discuss the matter further.
Counterterrorism experts, meanwhile, were skeptical that Al Qaeda could successfully launch an attack like the one the terror group was eyeing, especially since systems inside modern hotels and emergency responders would stop the spread of a fire.
An email seeking comment from authorities in London was not immediately returned.
Mohammed, born in the Comoros Islands, had been one of the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists. He was indicted in New York for allegedly masterminding the 1998 bombings at U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed a total of 224, including 12 Americans. The U.S. government had been offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
“He is very good with computers,” the FBI said of Mohammed. The latest intelligence was believed to have been found on a thumb drive at the scene of his death.
U.S. authorities have become increasingly concerned about threats posed by Al Qaeda and other extremists inside Somalia. The country has been engulfed in a bloody civil war ever since dictator Siad Barre was ousted from power in 1991. Some worry it could become another safe haven for Al Qaeda, as extremist groups, particularly Somalia-based Al Shabab, gain ground there.