President Nicolas Sarkozy of France holds a bilateral meeting with United States President Barack Obama (not pictured) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on January 10, 2011
European security authorities are concerned about reports that al-Qaida and its North African affiliate, determined to strike the United States and its allies, are recruiting European operatives able to blend into Western societies and evade capture.
France's Le Figaro newspaper recently cited French intelligence sources as saying that 100 such recruits are undergoing training in camps along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The newspaper said French authorities were on alert for attacks and noted that 14 French citizens were among Europeans undergoing training by al-Qaida in late 2010.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared war on the jihadist group in North Africa, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, in July 2010 after it beheaded a 78-year-old French captive, Michel Germaneau.
He was killed after an abortive attempt by French Special Forces to rescue him in the Sahara Desert in Mali. Six AQIM fighters were shot dead in the attack.
AQIM has stepped up its attacks on French nationals in northwest African, kidnapping at least eight and killing three.
In January, Osama bin Laden threatened attacks on France, "on different fronts, inside and outside of France."
The last major successful terrorist attack in France was in 1995, when Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, from which AQIM emerged two years ago, carried out a bombing campaign against the transportation system and tourist sites.
The jihadists' most innovative, and potentially most lethal, operation in France was on Dec. 24, 1994, during the Algerian civil war.
Four GIA members in Algerian police uniforms hijacked a Paris-bound Air France Airbus 300 at Houari Boumedienne Airport in Algiers, killed three passengers and forced the pilot to fly the jetliner to Marseille.
There they ordered the aircraft loaded with fuel and planned to crash it into the Eiffel Tower in Paris -- a forerunner of al-Qaida's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The plot failed when French counter-terrorism police stormed the aircraft and killed all four hijackers.
In December 2010, police forces across Western Europe arrested dozens of suspects amid warnings of continent-wide terrorist attacks hatched in Pakistan. No major attack took place and there was speculation that authorities had been spooked by faulty intelligence.
But Western intelligence sources insist that al-Qaida is planning attacks in the West that go beyond the amateurish lone-wolf type of attacks that have occurred in recent months in the United States.
The report also supported the belief among Western intelligence services that the focal point of this threat is Pakistan, now the major battleground in the war against al-Qaida.
The increase in such activity observed in recent months has occurred at a time when al-Qaida has been re-energized by the gathering of a new field leadership comprising veteran commanders drawn from other regions, many with their eyes on hitting the West hard.
These include such notorious figures as Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, a 45-year-old Pakistani who fought India in Kashmir for years and now heads bin Laden's Lashkar-e Zil, or Shadow Army.
Kashmiri, who joined al-Qaida in 2005, is also closely connected to bin Laden's notorious Brigade 313, one of the key components of the Lashkar-e Zil. According to the CIA, "the footprints of Brigade 313 are now in Europe."
Al-Qaida's leadership cadre has also been reinforced by the return of veteran commanders such as Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian, and other seasoned jihadists from Iran, where they were reportedly held under varying degrees of restriction since late 2001.
Adel, a former Egyptian Special Forces colonel and considered one of bin Laden's most able lieutenants, is reported to be currently operating in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan and planning major strikes against the West.
Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online, who has access to jihadist circles in Pakistan and Afghanistan, reported in January that al-Qaida was planning to infiltrate white Westerners, all converts to Islam, into their home countries "to spread the flames of the South Asian war theater to the West."
The Westerners include a group of 12 Canadians said to be undergoing terrorist training in jihadist camps in North Waziristan. Others reportedly include Americans, Britons and Germans.
Taliban sources said the Canadian group is led by a 30-year-old known by his nom de guerre of Abu Shahid. He converted to Islam in 2007.