A bitter war is raging in Saudi Arabia and Yemen as we write this. It consists of ruthless pursuits and do-or-die clashes between armed al Qaeda members and their pursuers, local units backed by American special forces and special CIA and FBI operatives.
Photo: Only scene published that shows royal palaces on the skyline behind the bombed the Muhaya compound.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that on Tuesday, November 25, one of those mixed American teams together with Saudi special forces intercepted two al Qaeda bombers on their way to blow up a car in the center of Riyadh. The two were driving a dark brown pick-truck painted with Saudi military insignia and packed with one tonne of explosives. When apprehended, Musaid Mohammed al-Subaie opened fire from the boot of the truck on the Saudi-US force which shot him dead. His partner, Abdul Mohsein Abdulaziz al Shebanat, blew himself up with a hand grenade.
This was Osama bin Laden’s network’s first attempt to attack downtown Riyadh – and not just a gated suburban compound.
Two more suspected bomb cars were chased that day but managed to get away.
The same day, American forces operating at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula supported a Yemeni special forces operation for the capture of Hamid al- Adhal, the al Qaeda mastermind of the October 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in which 17 US seamen died.
Our counter-terror sources have discovered that al-Adhal has more than one alias. He also calls himself Assam Al-Maki and uses the nom de guerre of Abu Assam al-Yamani, the selfsame signer of the latest al Qaeda warning published first by debkafile on Monday, November 24. What he wrote in that message was that the countdown had begun for the biggest strike ever carried out in the United States. He also reported that an al Qaeda death warrant had been issued against Abdul Rahman al-Rasheed, editor of the Saudi London-based paper Sharq al-Awsat for the crime of interviewing and having his photo taken with President George W. Bush during his state visit to London last week.
US investigators are anxious to extract from their captive information on what is meant by the threatened “biggest strike ever in America,” and who are the perpetrators assigned to carry out the attack.
The escalating warfare on the remote, craggy Yemen-Saudi front is claiming a rising death toll though drawing little outside attention. The day after the capture of Al-Adhal, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources discovered that three Americans were killed early Wednesday, November 26, by tribesmen known to be followers of the bin Laden clan. Because of the news blackout imposed by the American forces on this all-out offensive in Yemen, no further details are available on the identities of the victims or the circumstances of their murder.
At some undetermined post on the Yemen-Saudi frontier, our sources report a secret meeting in recent days between commanders of the two armies’ special forces to synchronize their anti-terror operations. They also discussed the handover of a senior al Qaeda operative of Yemeni descent who was captured last month in Mecca. His extradition was arranged by US special forces commanders in line with a promise to Yemeni president Abdullah Salah.
To the astonishment of the American go-betweens who witnessed the frontier encounter, the Yemeni officers checked the documents the Saudis presented, asked to see the captive and then refused to take him into custody.
Later, they were told that the captive had snatched a weapon from one of his Saudi captors and killed himself.
Aside from such mysteries, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that shoot-outs with al Qaeda gangs and supporters on both sides of the frontier have risen to between four and five a day, with the terrorists’ losses standing at four to six and combined Saudi-Yemeni losses from three to five per day.
We have not obtained the US casualty toll. Losses, there certainly are, but they are not disclosed. The data reaching us on the scale of combat indicates that al Qaeda still has available a large number of terrorist cells for wreaking death and destructions in the main cities of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, especially Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca, Sanaa and Aden.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources have received information that bin Laden and his top tacticians decided after pulling off the November 7 attack in Muhaya in the vicinity of Saudi royal palaces, to redouble their efforts to reach senior Saudi royals and high Yemeni officials. Assassinations of leaders and their interests are to be attempted if the terrorist killers can get close enough.
In both countries, therefore, security has been tightened around political and military leaders who have taken to sheltering for the most part behind the blast-proof walls of enclosed compounds. In a normal year, Persian Gulf rulers would habitually go out and greet their subjects in the city centers on the Eid al-Fitr festival ending Ramadan. This year, most abandoned that ritual. Not a prince was to be seen in the streets of Riyadh. A senior Saudi personality was seen in only one public place: the fortified military city of Tabuk near the Jordanian frontier, where he greeted the troops. But his identity was not disclosed. DEBKA-Net-Weekly has discovered he was defense minister Prince Sultan.
President Salah, fearing an al Qaeda assassin, rules his country from heavily secured buildings and is no longer seen in public.