4. Jordan’s king threatens Saudis with reprisal for Ma’an riots

In the last two weeks, hundreds of suspects have been detained by Jordanian security forces in the on-and-off disturbances in the southern Jordanian town of Ma’an. These forces went in to winkle out the killers of Laurence Foley, USAID executive officer in Jordan, who was shot dead outside his Amman home on October 28, and to break the stranglehold fundamentalist groups have clamped down on southern Jordan.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the Gulf report that Jordan’s King Abdullah was in for a shock when his military intelligence officers laid before him the documents and transcripts yielded by their investigation. He had not appreciated to what extent southern Jordan centering on Ma’an had become a Muslim terrorist enclave.

Although some 4,000 Jordanian special forces and security police were deployed in the raids, they did not nab Foley’s killers, who found shelter with local tribal chiefs who are less than sympathetic to Jordan’s Hashemite rulers. However, while scouring the town and Bedouin caves and encampments in its vicinity, Jordanian security forces dug up some telling evidence of a pernicious Islamic radical underground fed by outside groups.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and counter-terrorism sources, the forces detained several dozen Egyptian fundamentalists linked to the Jamaah al-Islam terrorist group that was the precursor of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (al Qaeda’s senior operational partner). The Jamaah plotted and executed the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in October 1981.

As is often the case in the Middle East, current events in the fields of terror and religious extremism have deep roots in the past. Hence the name of the suspected Jemaa activist, Sheikh Yussef Quaradawi, who preaches fundamentalism over al Jazeera Television, has popped up in connection with the current unrest in Jordan and the terror enclave forming around Ma’an.

Since Sadat’s assassination in 1981, the sheikh never tied to return to his home in Cairo, knowing he would be arrested on the spot, even though his weekly televised sermons have made him a household name in the Arab world.

In addition to his Egyptian followers, Jordanian forces also rounded up several dozen Palestinians, some of whom infiltrated Ma’an from Lebanon, the West Bank and Iraq. Among them, the Jordanians suspect, are members of the pro-Iraqi Palestinian Arab Liberation Front, led by Abul al-Abbas. Resident in Baghdad, Abul al-Abbas’s group is supervised and funded by Iraqi military intelligence. It is closely allied with the suicide arm of Yasser Arafat’s terror movement on the West Bank, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, whose commander is the pro-Baghdad Colonel Tawfiq Tirawi.

But what put the fat in the fire was the discovery of some 110 Saudis from the Rashid tribe, whose lands are situated east of the Saudi capital Riyadh, among the detainees at Ma’an.

Most told their Jordanian interrogators they were Wahhabi nomadic fighters who traditionally roam central and northern Saudi Arabia and southern Jordan. However, the Jordanians suspected that many of these innocent nomads had in fact fought with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and with Chechen rebels against the Russians.

Indeed, they turned up documentary evidence that the Saudis in custody had fought in the ranks of Shamil Baseyev, the Chechen warlord who humiliated Russian forces in the 1994-96 war. They also found suitcases stuffed with cash — mainly US dollars and Jordanian dinars – buried in camouflaged holes in the ground near the Saudi fighters’ living quarters and hideouts.

The suitcases matched similar ones found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya and such Central Asian countries as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Saudi al Qaeda operatives habitually move around with suitcases full of cash.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources report that the Jordanian monarch went to Riyadh to complain to Saudi crown prince Abdullah, marching in to their meeting with one of the suitcases in hand. Their conversation has been described as “very loud”.

Jordan’s Abdullah accused the Saudi prince of not lifting a finger to stop the infiltration of Wahhabi militants into his country. He asked how they could pass through the Saudi-Jordanian frontier when at least two Saudi armored brigades and surface-to-surface missiles were deployed there with their crews.

The sources said King Abdullah hinted fairly broadly to the de facto Saudi ruler that Jordan’s royal family was closely connected through the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood to the militant Muslims commanding the Hijaz region of the western Saudi coast. The threat implied was that if the Saudis did not call off their militants in southern Jordan, the Hashemite king might well reciprocate in kind. In any case, he proposed to uproot the Muslim enclave taking form in his kingdom.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf and Moscow sources reveal that Jordan’s findings reached the desk of Russian president Vladimir Putin. He asked Amman for fuller details ahead of the visit to St. Petersburg last weekend of US President George W. Bush. The Jordanians complied. This was evident from the tone taken by Putin in that conversation. He emphasized repeatedly that

in order to combat terror, the United States and Russia dare not ignore its sources of funding – a transparent reference to the Saudis.

Following the Bush-Putin encounter, on Tuesday, November 26, King Abdullah paid an unannounced visit to Moscow, bringing with him at his host’s requests a dossier crammed full of the data gleaned from interrogations of the Saudi prisoners and the money-filled suitcases found in Ma’an.


US forces discard Aqaba supply center


The turbulence in Ma’an had its effect on US logistics in preparing for the Iraq War. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that when the riots erupted two weeks ago, the Americans decided that Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba had become too vulnerable to use as a supply and logistical center as planned for US forces presently deployed inside the kingdom, along its border with Iraq or in western Iraq. American commanders pointed out that US convoys moving north from Aqaba might well have run into attack by tribal gunmen on the run from Jordanian troops.

Instead, US forces have started using the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, some 35 miles south of Tel Aviv, as their substitute for Aqaba, as well as a point of entry for extra equipment for the Jordanian forces operating in the Ma’an region.

The crisis of Jordan’s Muslim terrorist enclave in the south appears to have no quick solution, although when it first erupted, Jordanian military chiefs and US commanders in Jordan estimated that 10 days would do to quell the violence. Jordanian security forces are caught in the same predicament as the Israeli army, which has been going in and out of Palestinian cities for weeks, without eradicating the Palestinian terrorist networks. If the troubles persist, Washington will have to revise its plans for a thrust into Iraq from the west and its estimates of the available numbers and capabilities of Jordanian troops slated to fight alongside US forces.

The Ma’an terror pocket, like the Gaza Strip enclave is fraught with troubling ramifications for the global war against terrorism. These enclaves tend to link up and spread. Just as a chain of terrorist bases is being laid down from northern Sinai to central Lebanon, the Ma’an enclaves threatens to run down the Saudi Red Sea coast to the Saudi Assir province abutting on Rub al-Khali — where Osama bin Laden and his fighters are already deployed.

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