While General John Abizaid, US Middle East commander, was fingering Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi to a congressional committee in Washington as the al Qaeda operative who masterminded the attacks on the Shiite shrines of Karbala and Baghdad – and was responsible for more than 270 Shiite deaths – experts in Washington were winding up their examination of the “Zarqawi Letter.”
This document was intercepted on an al Qaeda courier in the Iraqi capital in January. It charted a plan for spectacular attacks on Shiites to foment a sectarian war and so derail American plans for Iraq.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources are exclusively informed of the Washington investigators conclusions. They have determined – as our experts did in DNW Issue 147 — that Zarqawi was not the author of the 17-page letter.
Before submitting their report to the White House, the experts showed the “Zarqawi letter” to several of his subordinates in European jails. They all agreed it wasn’t their boss’s handwriting or his style, and that the ideology was wrong.
So the question is: Who penned the letter? And, yet more intriguingly, who was capable of predicting the attacks staged in Karbala and Baghdad on Tuesday, which exactly fitted the writer’s recommendations?
For the moment, Iran is prepared to go along with al Qaeda – even at the price of killing Shiites, for two short-term objectives: To make the Americans too uncomfortable in Iraq to stay there and to demonstrate to Iraqi Shiites that US forces are incapable of protecting them.
Zarqawi and his team were therefore provided with the services of two of Tehran’s elite terrorist networks to slaughter the Shiites of Karbala and Baghdad: an undercover ring planted by Iranian intelligence and a highly-trained group set up in southern Iraq by Imad Mughniyeh, the Shiite-Iranian-Palestinian master-abductor, deputy leader of Lebanon’s Hizballah group.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly received information late Thursday, March 4, that terrorists captured red handed at the scene of the blasts confirmed that Iran and al Qaeda had worked together to set up the attacks on the Shiites, working to Zarqawi’s master-plan. They could not say which played the lead role – Iran or al Qaeda.
Last year, DEBKA-Net-Weekly and DEBKAfile revealed Mughniyeh’s arrival in southern Iraq to create a broad terrorist network for implementing Tehran’s plan to unleash a violent campaign in April 2004 to wreck President George W. Bush’s re-election chances. In late December, Mughniyeh abruptly disappeared from Iraq. He did not return to Lebanon, his base for the past several years, nor was he spotted in Iran. But his network remained in place and was placed at Zarqawi’s disposal by common Teheran-al Qaeda consent.
Some Washington experts on international terror judge Zarqawi to have risen to the top ranks of al Qaeda by turning himself into a major menace to American interests in Iraq and the Middle East.
On the run from Jordanian justice since 1999, when he failed to pull of a millennium plot against Amman hotels, Zarqawi’s real name is Ahmed Fadeel Nazal al-Khalayleh.
Since then, he has fine-tuned his methods of operation. The Jordanian-born terror master is credited by Amman with the murder of USAID chief Foley in October 2002, by Morocco with masterminding the 2003 Casablanca blasts that killed 45 people and by Ankara with the November 2003 Istanbul bombings that left 63 dead.
But, while acknowledging his operational skills and bio-chemical weapons and “dirty bomb” expertise, most American terrorist-watchers do not see him as a senior al Qaeda policy-maker or overall strategist for the organization’s worldwide terrorist labyrinth. Rather he is perceived as going into action when the necessary funds and mission approval come from middle-ranking al Qaeda operatives who first obtain the go-ahead from the top echelon, namely bin Laden and Zawahiri.
Several counter-terrorism officials in the Persian Gulf told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that two people were most likely co-opted to the brains trust that watched over the Zarqawi master-plan in action in Iraq: Sayef al-Adel, the Teheran-based Egyptian Islamic Jihad operative, and Mughniyeh, who could be in Iran as well as anywhere else in the region since he was pulled out of southern Iraq.