4. Princes Upstairs, Terrorists Below Stairs
On December 5, 2003, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 136 exposed al Qaeda’s successful project to plant operatives on the palace staffs of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and the Saudi royal family. In the wake of last month’s devastating train bombings in Madrid and al Qaeda’s recent attacks in Saudi Arabia, a brief recap is in order.
More than four months ago, secretary of state Colin Powell‘s North African tour was dominated by US concern over al Qaeda’s inroads in the region. US intelligence and counter-terrorism experts warned their Moroccan hosts that Osama bin Laden’s group had planted operatives and agents so firmly and extensively in the palaces of Rabat and Riyadh that the extremist network was 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.
Our experts found that 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, turned out to have come from Morocco. We also reported that terrorists operating in Saudi Arabia had received their orders from controllers in Morocco.
US, Saudi and Moroccan terrorism experts noted that bin Laden’s top planners have homed in on the strong ties between the two royal houses as a choice target.
Every prominent member of the Saudi royal family, including Crown Prince Abdullah, owns a palace in Morocco that is fully maintained and staffed all year round.
According to our sources, bin Laden’s followers had taken on jobs in the palaces of Saudi Arabia and Morocco as secretaries, maintenance workers, electricians, air conditioning and telephone mechanics. Some were employed as chefs, waiters, gardeners or suppliers of food or services. Others attached themselves to outside suppliers. The disguised terrorists employed at the palaces made sure fellow network members fill jobs that fall vacant.
On December 12, 2003, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 137, named al Qaeda’s chief recruiter in Morocco as Karim al-Majati, also known by his nom de guerre, “Abu Elias”.
His mother, a Frenchwoman, runs a cosmetics business in Saudi Arabia, a convenient front for his “business trips” between the kingdom and Morocco. It was Majati who planted al Qaeda operatives in the Saudi palaces. Between 1997 and 2000, he recruited Moroccan volunteers for training in the terrorist group’s camps in Afghanistan. He persuaded the men to re-enlist in 2002 and 2003 for al Qaeda’s revived operations in Morocco.
Our sources reported in December that Majati was the mastermind of the five synchronized suicide attacks on Jewish and Spanish targets in Casablanca on May 16, which left 44, including 11 bombers, dead and more than 100 injured. He was also behind the Riyadh bombings four days earlier that killed 35 people, including nine assailants, in three housing compounds for foreigners in the Saudi capital.
Palace servants finally interrogated
The details DEBKA-Net-Weekly disclosed in December were brought numerous times to the attention of the relevant governmental authorities and intelligence services. But as far as we know, no remedial action was taken. Even after the Madrid train blasts – and proof of the role al Qaeda’s Moroccan cells played in the attacks – the Saudis did not lift a finger. Even worse, several intelligence reports suggest that a number of Moroccans who either work for Saudi princes or have other links with the House of Saud helped the planners and executors of the Madrid explosions to escape. With the exception of two or three suspects still under arrest in Spain, most of the senior people involved in the attacks fled the country.
It was only recently, after Saudi and Jordanian intelligence services discovered how the joint terror networks set up by al Qaeda and Iraqi guerrillas operate, that perhaps the most important inroad was made in battling the threat.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources, the Saudis and Jordanians have finally uncovered the terrorists’ key communications network – and it should come as no surprise to our readers that it is based on those Moroccan “servants” working for the Saudi royal family.
Our information shows that Saudi authorities have for the first time arrested palace staff and begun to interrogate them. Searches of the “servants'” living quarters in Saudi Arabia and their family homes back in Morocco have turned up the following:
Lists of operations-ready terrorists at the disposal of Moroccan cells on home ground, in Saudi Arabia and in other Gulf countries. The rosters are divided into two parts:
Young Saudis who worked for the Moroccan networks. Their familial and social backgrounds came as a surprise to Saudi security officials; most of the young men came from well-established families – middle-class and above – in the kingdom’s main cities.
Names of youngsters no older than 16. Some of the names were listed along with weapons in the teenagers’ possession.
A sophisticated passport-forging system. Investigators found thousands of fake Saudi passports along with hundreds of documents stolen from their owners and never reported missing.
Fatwas, or religious edicts, purportedly issued by Saudi sheikhs and clerics permitting the faithful to aid and abet terrorists working against the royal family. A fast scrutiny showed no such sheikhs or clerics exist, leading security authorities to surmise that either the fatwas were fake or their signatures forged.
A list of people who took part in unpublicized terrorist attacks in Riyadh and Jeddah on February 15 and 19 this year aimed at killing senior Saudi police officers. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources, 10 members of these groups of assassins were arrested in Saudi Arabia at the weekend.
Uncomfortably aware that Saudi security services have been unable to cope with the fast pace of terrorist events in the kingdom, the House of Saud secretly asked Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his security minister, General Omar Suleiman, for help, especially in the investigations that still need to be conducted in Morocco and in several Gulf emirates. Our sources, however, believe Saudi Arabia never truly intended for Egypt to get involved, but hoped its appeal to Mubarak would head off any request from Washington to bring US investigators into the investigation of the Moroccan connection.
The secret method of concealment practiced by the Moroccan networks was discovered and explains why no counter-intelligence service – Israeli, American or British – had tumbled to their existence: Moroccans couriers employed by Saudi princes hand-carried all the network’s funds, explosives, weapons and chemical material. Nothing was transmitted electronically or put in writing.
And the investigation has only just begun.