BAGHDAD – Iraqi authorities have obtained confessions from captured insurgents who claim Al Qaeda is planning suicide attacks in the United States and Europe during the Christmas season, two senior officials said Wednesday.
A senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed the threat as credible.
Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told The Associated Press that the botched bombing in central Stockholm last weekend was among the alleged plots the insurgents revealed. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, in a telephone interview from New York, called the claims "a critical threat."
Both al-Bolani and Zebari said Iraq has informed Interpol of the alleged plots, and alerted authorities in the U.S. and European countries of the possible danger. Neither official specified which country or countries in Europe are alleged targets.
There was no way to verify the insurgents' claims. But Western counterterrorism officials generally are on high alert during the holiday season, especially since last year's failed attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.
Al-Bolani said several insurgents claimed to be part of a cell that took its orders directly from Al Qaeda's central leadership. He said at least one of the captured suspects was a foreign fighter from Tunisia.
The confessions were the result of recent operations by Iraqi security forces that have netted at least 73 suspected operatives in the last two weeks, al-Bolani said.
An Iraqi intelligence official said threat information appeared to indicate that Denmark might be attacked, but refused to give details. Similarly, a senior U.S. intelligence official in Washington said authorities were closely watching two people in an unspecified European country suspected of being linked to the plot. The people did not appear to be so-called homegrown terrorists, according to the U.S. official who would not say where they were believed to be from.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the ongoing investigation, and both refused to elaborate when pressed for details.
Links between Al Qaeda's central leadership, which is believed to be hiding in Pakistan, and the terror organization's front group in Iraq are tenuous as the Iraqi branch in recent years has been run by local insurgents.
But al-Bolani said the claims — if true — show Al Qaeda remains a presence in Iraq.
"Several members of this terrorist group have direct links with the central leaders of the Al Qaeda organization," al-Bolani said. "Those captured represent the main structure of the Al Qaeda organization in Iraq."
Zebari, who is in New York for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, said he informed "the countries concerned." He mentioned the U.S, but would not specify which countries in Europe.
Al-Bolani said the suspects claimed that last Saturday's suicide bombing in Stockholm — carried out by an Iraqi-born Swede on Saturday — was among the plots. He said the suspects made the claim after the bombing happened.
Swedish prosecutor Agneta Hilding Qvarnstrom, who took over the Swedish investigation on Monday, said she had not been aware of any ties between the Stockholm suicide bomber Taimour Abdulwahab and Al Qaeda.
"This is the first time I've heard of that," Hilding Qvarnstrom said when The Associated Press told her about al-Bolani's comments Wednesday.
She said her briefing with police this morning had not resulted in any information confirming Abdulwahab's ties with any extremist groups and declined to comment on if they suspect he had any accomplices.
"We continue working with the investigation, focusing on the technical evidence," she said.