Little credence was given to Saudi al Qaeda’s unusual denial this week of any hand in the April 21 bombing attack that destroyed Saudi General Intelligence headquarters in Riyadh. The denial came from Abu Hajar Abdul Aziz al-Makkren (also spelled al-Muqrin), the network’s relatively new Saudi commander. Another part of his audio statement taped in the fundamentalist group’s production studio gained more attention: he vowed fiercer than ever attacks would be conducted this year against “the Jews, Americans and Crusaders.” The tape which appeared on an Islamist website on April 27 warned that the Saudi royal house was no longer able to protect American interests.
Al-Makkren’s denial rang true to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism sources. According to our information, Al Qaeda-Saudi Arabia was not in fact responsible for the Riyadh attack, which was planned and funded either by the organization’s central command in Iran or its sub-headquarters in Chechnya or Iraq.
Although their seven-floor building was flattened and their secret files lost, Saudi intelligence and counter-terrorism services carried on operating from alternative sites. Their first discovery was an astonishing one: the blast was executed by Iraqi guerrillas.
A day after the explosions, a 48-hour-long gun battle erupted in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port city, Jeddah, between security forces and what they described as “wanted militants”. When the smoke cleared, five of the besieged fighters were dead.
The battle was savage and protracted for several reasons. The Saudis faced an enemy of between 12 and 16 fighters thoroughly trained in urban guerilla combat. They had come from a hard school. Like the Riyadh bombers, they were former members of Saddam Hussein’s elite Special Republican Guard units.
Across the border in Amman, Jordanian special forces were likewise shocked on Monday, April 20, to find themselves up against a band of professionally trained Iraqi terrorists holed up in the Upper Hashami upscale neighborhood of the Jordanian capital. (Their origin was first revealed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 154, April 23).
Separate investigations have led both the Saudi and the Jordanian counter-terror authorities to the same startling conclusion: the enemy within their gates poses a far greater and more far-reaching menace than would a mere ad hoc partnership between al Qaeda and Saddam’s old Baathist police.
Under the noses of Jordanian authorities, adherents of Osama bin Laden and Saddam loyalists have secretly planted a clandestine chain of shared logistical and operational centers in Amman and other Jordanian cities whose functions are clearly defined.
Al Qaeda designates the targets, draws up plans of operation and provides the terrorists with logistical support – weapons, explosives, vehicles, fake documents, safe houses and means of travel from one point to another.
The Iraqi Baath underground puts up the assailants, including suicide killers.
Compartmentalization is the key; the two partners-in-terror have structured their rings in modular mode. The teams flushed out in Upper Hashami and Jeddah were seen to be autonomous, receiving their orders from separate commands rather than a central authority. This structure obstructs attempts by US, Saudi and Jordanian intelligence to count the number of rings in operation, plumb the depth of their penetration in the country or uncover them.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism experts, the Jordanians have been forced to absorb some painful facts. Having liquidated Musab Zarqawi’s old cells, they believed the kingdom had been cleansed of resident terrorists. They assumed, as did most Western and Israeli intelligence agencies, that Jordan and its main cities had been reduced to transit points for al Qaeda fighters heading to or from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. That supposition belongs to the past. In the last two months, Jordan has mushroomed into a regional hub and central headquarters of the sprawling al Qaeda network with all its trappings.
Jordanian security has woken up to the fact that the car bombs which are the fundamentalists’ primary weapon are no longer smuggled through Jordan to Saudi Arabia after being rigged in Syria or Lebanon. They are being fabricated inside the kingdom, some even loaded with chemical materials, before being sent on to Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Furthermore, al Qaeda-Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda-Iraq are rarely given advance notice of the coming of outside terrorists or of vehicles rigged for death.
These fresh, unpublished discoveries give a wholly new shape to the chemical mega-terror attack Jordanian security foiled earlier this month.
The three trucks loaded with explosives and toxic chemicals that were picked up by the Jordanians after entering from Syria turn out to be decoys. They were planted to throw Jordanian and Western intelligence agents off the track of the real source of the chemical car bombs and their destinations.
While Jordanian police were caught up in a desperate wild goose chase up and down the country to catch the decoy trucks, the Iraqi terrorists were quietly preparing al Qaeda’s biggest chemical strike in the comfort of their Upper Hashami villa in the Jordanian capital. (The Jordan authorities are convinced that 80,000 people would have perished and 150,000 been maimed in and around Amman had the attack not been foiled). The real chemical weapons (see photo) were not smuggled in from Syria, as claimed, but hidden in the villa basement.
In Saudi Arabia, at around the same time, Iraqi infiltrators were free to quietly prepare for terrorist action inside the kingdom, while the royal security forces had their hands full hunting local Al Qaeda bands and mounting operations such as the siege of al-Makkren suspected hideout in al-Hassayeh, some 50 km (30 miles) north of Riyadh.
One senior officer in a Middle East counter-terrorism organization told DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “The situation in Jordan is even worse than in Saudi Arabia. As far as international terrorism is concerned, Amman has turned into what Beirut once was in the 1960s and 1970s – a world depot for terrorists and their tools, weapons and explosives. Once terrorists trained in Libya and flocked to Beirut to pick up phony documents before heading off to their targets. Today, they go to Amman.”
They are followed by a flow of cash. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that funds to underwrite terrorist activity flowed uninterrupted from Fallujah to Amman during the three weeks that the Sunni Triangle was under US Marine siege from the first week of April.
One key junction-point between al Qaeda and the Iraq insurgency movement was turned up by Jordanian authorities in the person of a former top Saddam aide, Abdul Latif Ahmim. Plying the underground paths linking Baghdad, Qatar, Sanaa, Jeddah, Amman and Damascus, Ahmim has been made director of financing for the joint terrorist networks run by al Qaeda and Iraqi guerrillas.
He is well qualified for the task. For Saddam, Ahmim was chief liaison officer with international Muslim organizations, including the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference. During his frequent trips around the Gulf, Asia and Europe, he is believed to have opened dozens or perhaps hundreds of bank accounts and purchased a number of lucrative business enterprises. The former Baathist’s activities came to light by pure chance several weeks ago after Saddam’s two daughters and grandchildren traveled to Qatar from their place of exile in Amman.
On arrival in the emirate, they immediately made contact with Ahmim for money to pay for their father’s legal defense.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal that Washington decided to place all of Saddam’s close family in one place in preparation for his trial.