Nothing out of the ordinary appeared to mark the North African tour that took US secretary of state Colin Powell to Rabat, Tunis and Algiers. In Morocco, he had a talk with Muhammed VI, while members of his party were closeted with Moroccan prime minister Riss Jettou. The communique ending the visit noted blandly that the issues discussed related to the war on terror which Morocco has been waging since al Qaeda’s suicide attacks in Casablanca in May, mostly against Jewish and Israeli targets.
However, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources, the visit was dominated by the acute apprehension shared by Rabat and Washington and, most of all, Riyadh. American intelligence and counter-terror experts warned their Moroccan hosts that al Qaeda has planted operatives and agents so firmly and extensively in the palaces of Rabat and Riyadh that the extremist network is capable of unleashing sudden onslaughts simultaneously against both kingdoms, dangerous enough to threaten both monarchs, or at least shake their stability and authority to the core.
This prediction has been confirmed from interrogations of al Qaeda members apprehended in Saudi Arabia in recent weeks. A new three-point stage in the fundamentalist network’s campaign of terror is taking shape:
A. Almost all the terrorists captured in Saudi Arabia in recent weeks came from Morocco.
B. Hefty quantities of arms, SA-7 anti-air missiles, RPG launchers and RDX explosives, believed to have been stolen by al Qaeda adherents from Saudi National Guard stores, turn out to have come from Morocco – either by air freight or containers shipped to Egyptian or Saudi ports.
C. Orders to terrorists operating in Saudi Arabia come from controllers in Morocco.
American, Saudi and Moroccan terrorism experts note that Osama bin Laden’s top planners have homed in on the strong ties between the two royal houses as a choice target.
One senior investigator told DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “The Moroccan royal house is in a sense the Saudi monarchy’s second royal court. Every prominent Saudi prince owns a palace in Morocco which is fully maintained the year round ready for its owner to arrive at any moment. The palace belonging to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, for example, is larger, has thicker walls and tighter security than the one owned by the Moroccan king. There are daily flights between Riyadh, Jeddah and Rabat and whenever a royal airplane heads for Europe, it touches down first in Morocco.
Al Qaeda has commandeered this powerful connection and turned it round for its own ends.
According to our sources, bin Laden’s followers have for a year or more been taken on in jobs in the palaces of Saudi Arabia and Morocco as secretaries, maintenance workers, electricians, air conditioning and telephone mechanics. Some are employed as chefs, waiters, gardeners or suppliers of food or services. Others attach themselves to outside suppliers. The disguised terrorists employed at the palaces make sure fellow network members fill jobs that fall vacant.
Some of their number have found employment with Moroccan and Saudi firms connected by business; other make use of the daily flights between the two kingdoms to transfer fighting strength back and forth and smuggle large quantities of weapons and explosives. As members of the royal staff, they can mark these cargoes for special delivery to royal addresses.
“No airport or customs official in either country would dare check the contents of a cargo destined for Crown Prince Abdullah or Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan,” the senior source emphasized.
However, at the beginning of November, the Moroccan authorities smelled a rat. King Mohammed secretly approached the United States and certain Middle East intelligence services including that of Israel for help in screening the staffs attached to the Moroccan and Saudi palaces and the offices of high-flying Moroccan businessmen and financiers. This task, involving many thousands of subjects, still has a long way to go.
Powell found his Moroccan hosts deeply worried about security. Since most senior members of the royal establishment and government employ armies of household retainers and office staff, none of these VIPs feel safe anywhere, whether at home or in their places of work.
Intensive investigations have convinced Moroccan and Saudi counter-terror authorities that al Qaeda is on the verge of launching large-scale attacks on Western and American targets in both kingdoms. American experts agree. Our sources add that special security, laid on routinely at compounds favored by Western residents, has been extended to oil fields, pumping installations and terminals. Foreign oil workers and their families have been told to keep to their homes and not venture outside fortified areas at night.