A survey of 21 'serious' plots by Islamist militants against the West written by Paul Cruickshank for the New America Foundation has found that in just over half the cases the plotters either received direction from or trained with al-Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan.
The Militant Pipeline between the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and the West looks at plots including the UK fertilizer bombers, the UK airline plotters, the German 'Sauerland' group and others. Using interrogation reports, courtroom testimony, confessions and statements, the paper offers eyewitness accounts of the remote tribal borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan and outlines how al-Qaeda's effectiveness has been affected by drone strikes and how it runs its camps.
It quotes counter-terrorism officials who say that more than 100 Westerners have travelled to the North West Frontier Province in the last year for training. The report suggests that the most serious conspiracies in the West involved people who had travelled to Pakistan for training.
However, it is worth remembering that nine of the plots that this report examines had little input from Pakistan or from al-Qaeda, but were hatched without external help. And Cruickshank illustrates very clearly that for those who make it to Pakistan today, things are not so easy as they once were. Speaking of a Belgian-French group who travelled to Pakistan, he adds: "The accounts by the Westerners also indicate that al-Qaeda is increasingly dependent on whichever militants reach its safe haven in the tribal areas. But that has created headaches for both al-Qaeda and potential recruits. Both Vinas and the Belgian-French group were initially regarded as potential spies when they first entered the tribal region and tried to connect with al-Qaeda. Vinas, in particular, had to show great persistence in order to join. After flying to Lahore in September 2007 with just a few contacts in militant circles, he spent six months before connecting with al-Qaeda in the tribal areas. That included months in Peshawar trying to find the right contacts and several trips from there into the tribal areas until he was accepted into al-Qaeda’s ranks."