Bear that in mind as you discover that Reuters reported yesterday (Hat tip: Watch) that on Monday Milanese police detained a group of alleged Islamist militants — one personally linked to the Madrid bombings — who the police say were preparing to attack the Paris metro in a similar manner (trains, cellphones; one is left to wonder if they also have that missing amonium nitrate...). Acting on information from the Italian police, Belgian authorities then arrested 15 suspected accomplices, four of whom they are currently holding "on suspicion" and of whom another four are being deported while the remaining seven have been released due to lack of evidence. The Milanese police also say they have passed all relevant information on to French authorities. Reuters learned from Belgian judicial sources that the Brussels group planned to use the city as a base of operations for attacks in other cities, as well.
Reuters claim to have been shown a 27-page arrest warrant that named former Egyptian explosives expert Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed (aka "Mohammed the Egpytian") whom police suspect, according to Reuters, of having played "a lead role" in the Madrid bombings. Rabei was arrested along with another unnamed person, allegedly a coconspirator.
In transcripts of telephone intercepts included in the arrest warrant, one alleged conspirator can be heard talking to Rabei: "He is ready to go to (Paris). The plan is going well but controls are tight." In May, the same person says: "Mohammed is ready for martyrdom."
The Associated Press also reported yesterday that the transcripts make mention of a woman supposedly prepared to carry out chemical a attack in the US. Other attacks mentioned in the transcripts concern Iraq. An Italian prosecutor says he has trasmitted all relevant info to US authorities (one hopes they're aware of this...)
In February, Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash wrote a provocative column purporting to be a future analysis of a nuclear attack supposedly to occur in Paris on 8/17/09:
The supremely cultured heart of one of the most beautiful cities in the world was reduced to smouldering ruins. None of us will ever forget the photograph of Rodin's statue of Balzac, looming as if in tortured grief above the half-dismembered but recognisable corpses of a young couple on the Boulevard Raspail.
The inquiry of the Annan commission must be rigorous, impartial and international. It must have the full cooperation of all the intelligence services involved, especially since their own earlier failure to cooperate with each other seems to have been one reason the attack was not prevented. President Hillary Clinton of the United States and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France were right to say, in their joint statement, that history will not forgive us if we leave any stone unturned.
Of course we must await the findings of the Annan commission, but now is the time to suggest places it should look. The former UN secretary general and his colleagues should not confine themselves to recent developments. They will surely find that the roots of the catastrophe of 2009 are in mistakes made in the years 2002 to 2004.
Predictably enough, the familiar, balding figure of Sir Tony Blair, the former prime minister, rose from his regular place in the House of Commons to say, in effect, "I told you so". Well, he would say that wouldn't he? The task of the Annan commission is now to determine, rigorously and impartially, how far he was right.