Some American intelligence experts estimate that the sight of the US inexorably inching ever closer to crushing his regime is driving Saddam Hussein to desperation. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror and intelligence sources confirm that in the last two weeks he did in fact hire terrorists for mass-casualty terrorist attacks on American and Israeli military targets. He demanded operations on a scale that would lead to Washington calling off its assault on Iraq.
The assignments were awarded to Ramadan Shalah, the Jihad Islami leader who is based in Damascus, and Muhammed Abu al Abbas, the Palestinian chief of the Baghdad-based Arab Liberation Front. They were summoned to his underground quarters in Tikrit and each was offered between 10 and 15 million dollars to execute a mega-terror attack against an American target in the Middle East and Persian Gulf or inside Israel. They were required to cause a shocking hundreds – if not thousands – of deaths and injuries.
Saddam promised the necessary intelligence and logistic backing for the operations from his own military intelligence, whose overseas networks he has ordered to stand ready to render assistance to either or both terror organizations.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that, to Abu al-Abbas, Saddam complained bitterly that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians had let him down. Their output of anti-Israeli terror operations had dropped off at the very moment that time was running out for the Arab nation.
Al Abbas explained that, with the Israeli military posted in battle array in every Palestinian town and village on the West Bank, it is practically impossible for terrorist operations to take off. Shalah, speaking for his Jihad Islami, reported the Israelis have sewn up the Gaza Strip, where his group is strongest, as tight as a drum. There is no way, he said, to get enough weapons, explosives or bombers through to Israeli towns. As things stood now, only imported foreign terrorists had any chance of executing strikes in Israeli cities.
Saddam handed the two terror chieftains a down payment of $150,000 each. He promised more cash when his intelligence officers reported that the preparations for mega-terror attacks were sufficiently well advanced.
The leaking of this sensitive data from top-secret conferences between the Iraqi ruler and two terrorists raises questions in the minds of US intelligence agencies in the Gulf. However, the two terrorists are not top caliber or capable of operating outside the region. What US intelligence is really after is to plumb the workings of the operational collaboration set up by Iraqi military intelligence and al Qaeda. A senior intelligence officer confided to DEBKA-Net-Weekly that this had nothing to do with any legitimacy the Bush administration might require for its offensive against Iraq. “The US government,” said the source, “has all the damning evidence it needs on the Iraqi military intelligence’s role in al Qaeda’s preparations for the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11.”
What is of concern is the damage this deadly partnership can wreak in the present. It enables Saddam to vicariously hit US Gulf forces, including warships and carriers and strike at US targets outside the region, as well as giving him the power to manipulate oil prices by sabotaging oil installations and routes, using al Qaeda as his proxy.
This new threat was embodied in two recent occurrences.
One was the explosion and fire that gutted the French oil tanker the Limburg near Yemeni shores on October 6. While al Qaeda suicide operatives carried out the attack, our high-placed intelligence source is certain the speedboat which struck the tanker and the explosives aboard were purchased by agents hired in Yemen by Iraqi intelligence officers. The Abyan Aden Islamic Army, which claimed responsibility for the attack, is no more than a shell army – more sinister in some ways than a genuine organization in that it serves as a central clearing house for clandestine dealings among Yemeni military officers close to President Abdullah Saleh, Iraqi military intelligence officers and al Qaeda operatives.
The Yemeni officers have only one interest, to keep their hand in the international arms smuggling trade, of which Yemen is a regional center.
The working assumption for the counter-terror investigators is that two or three of these groups combined to carry out the Limburg operation, timing it to coincide with Bin Laden’s advent on the scene.
The second occurrence took place some 750 miles distant from Yemen in northern Iraq.
In early September, the Pentagon released a video film captured in one of al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan that showed the organization’s operatives carrying out experiments in toxic chemical substances. The attached text described the experiments as being part of an Iraqi training course held in the summer of 2000 at two Kurdish towns in northern Iraq, Bayara and Tawalla.
In the last two weeks, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that the al Qaeda are back in northern Iraqi in force, some 150-180 fighting men assembling in the same two Kurdish towns no more than 200 miles from the advancing US-Turkish special forces vanguard in the north. No sooner had they landed than they were joined by a large group of Iraqi military intelligence officers. Together they set up a new pro-Saddam enclave of al Qaeda, Iraqi intelligence and Kurdish Islamic extremists in northern Iraq to act as a thorn in the side of the American campaign.
Our intelligence source comments: If Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda are so successful an item, there is nothing to stop them expanding their joint operation to other places, even the United States itself.”