Washington: Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is involved in an unfolding plot to launch attacks on European cities and may have even targeted the United States, a radio report said.
Several months ago, bin Laden sent a directive to al Qaeda affiliates and partners that he wanted a Mumbai-style attack on at least three European countries -- the United Kingdom, Germany and France -- National Public Radio said, citing intelligence officials and people familiar with the matter.
In 2008, 10 heavily armed gunmen killed 166 people and wounded more than 300 in three luxury hotels, a railway station and restaurants in the Indian city.
NPR said gunmen had planned to fire on crowds at busy European tourist sites and take over hotels in a plot that would mark a new style of attack for al Qaeda, although details of the plans remain unclear for now.
The United States may also have been in bin Laden`s sights.
"We know that Osama bin Laden issued the directive," an unnamed official familiar with intelligence surrounding the plot told NPR.
"And if he issued the directive, we just don`t believe that the US wouldn`t be on his short list of strategic targets. It has to be."
The public radio station said initial intelligence came from Ahmad Siddiqui, a German national currently held at the US-run Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Siddiqui is said to have known Mohamed Atta, one of the alleged hijackers in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and to have worshipped at the same mosque in Germany.
The plot is thought to have been inspired by al Qaeda`s fugitive leadership in Pakistan`s lawless tribal regions, where a recent surge of US drone attacks sought to eliminate the plotters -- and did kill some of them.
Intelligence officials told NPR some of the operatives who had been due to participate in the shootings were already in Europe.
Some officials worried that members of the commando-style teams could be travelling to the West using European passports, thus complicating any effort to find and stop them.