3 alleged al-Qaeda members arrested in bomb plot

By Adam Goldman and Ian MacDougall
Friday, July 9, 2010

OSLO -- Three suspected al-Qaeda members were arrested Thursday in connection with what Norwegian and U.S. officials said was a terrorist plot linked to similar plans to bomb New York's subway and blow up a shopping mall in Britain.

Officials said they think the men were planning attacks with portable but powerful bombs like the ones at the heart of last year's foiled suicide attack in the New York City subway. On Wednesday, U.S. prosecutors revealed the existence of a related plot in Manchester, England.

Officials did not say what country or site was the target of the latest threat or even whether they thought the men had selected a target.

The plots underscore al-Qaeda's interest in lower-level attacks that do not require the intricate planning and coordination of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They also conform with a trend in which the terrorist network has used operatives already in potential target countries, rather than trying to sneak people across increasingly secure borders.

The three men, whose names were not released, had been under surveillance for more than a year. Two were arrested in Norway. A third was captured in Germany, where he was vacationing, the Frankfurt general prosecutor's office said.

Those arrested in Norway were a 39-year-old Norwegian of Uighur origin who has lived in the country since 1999 and a 31-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan who had a permanent Norwegian residency permit, said Janne Kristiansen, head of Norway's Police Security Service.

The man arrested in Germany is a 37-year-old Iraqi with a Norwegian residency permit, Kristiansen said. German authorities were preparing to extradite him to Norway in coming weeks.

Norwegian and U.S. officials said the plan was organized by Saleh al-Somali, al-Qaeda's former chief of external operations, who was in charge of plotting attacks worldwide. Al-Qaeda usually keeps its planning compartmentalized, and officials said they do not think the suspects in Norway knew about the other plots.

Somali, who was killed in a CIA drone airstrike last year, has been identified in U.S. court documents as one of the top organizers of the New York subway plot. Two men have pleaded guilty in that case, admitting they planned to detonate explosives during rush hour. A third man awaits trial.

Officials said the men detained Thursday were trying to make peroxide bombs, which prosecutors say were the same weapon the New York and British suspects planned to use. They said that it was unclear whether the men ever perfected the recipe and that investigators had contained the plot.

"According to our evaluation, the public has never been at risk," Kristiansen said.

-- Associated Press

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