Al-Qa'ida planned to take hostages in Mumbai-style attacks on Britain, France and Germany to demand the release of the mastermind of the September 11 atrocities, according to a former associate of Osama bin Laden.
Noman Benotman said that Osama bin Laden wanted to force the Americans to release Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is awaiting trial for his part in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre.
Mr Benotman, a Libyan and former Afghanistan terrorist camp trainer, said that he was present at several discussions about the plot and believed it had now been reactivated.
He said: "I have information that I consider to be reliable, according to which al-Qa'ida in North Waziristan is training how to carry out multiple-parallel hostage takings in order to enforce the release of a prisoner."
Mr Bentoman's claims in 'Spiegel' magazine are backed by separate developments in al-Qa'ida's command structure, which suggest it is preparing for a major operation.
Muhammad Ibrahim Makkawi, who is counted among al-Qa'ida's most sophisticated terror planners, has rejoined al-Qa'ida after he was released in return for Iranian diplomats kidnapped by the organisation.
Adnan al-Shukri Juma, an al-Qa'ida operative, has been given a senior operational role.
Muhammad Illyas Kashmiri, a top Pakistani jihadist close to al-Qa'ida, is thought to have been made responsible for training teams for attacks on Western targets.
Counter-terrorism experts say Mr Benotman's claims deserve attention.
Berlin-based Guido Steinberg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said: "In the past all of his information proved to be right."
Now based in London, Mr Benotman is a consultant with the Quilliam Foundation, which monitors the activities of violent Islamist groups.
He was a ranking member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an al-Qa'ida affiliate founded in 1995 by Libyan jihadists who had fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
In 2001 though, Mr Benotman broke with al-Qa'ida after bin Laden rejected the LIFG's calls for an end to strikes outside Afghanistan.
Intelligence suggested an al-Qa'ida commander boasted that he had sent terrorists to Britain and Germany as part of a Mumbai-style plot, sparking an alert across Europe last month, although no evidence of attack planning has been uncovered.
Ahmed Siddiqi, a German national, was arrested in Afghanistan in July and informed US interrogators of the plot. (© Daily Telegraph, London)