A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending May 26, 2005:
Al-Yemeni Indeed Killed on Pakistan Soil
May 18, 2005: debkafile‘s intelligence sources have cleared up the confusion over the targeted killing of senior al Qaeda operative Haitham al-Yemeni last week. Pakistan denied the CIA claim that a Predator drone had struck the terrorist leader in Pakistan territory.
Our sources confirm al-Yemeni lost his life on the night of May 8, near Mir Ali in the lawless North Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan bordering on Afghanistan. His car was targeted by a CIA drone over Pakistan. The Pakistani Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad, while not questioning the targeted killing took place, denied that Yemeni was killed inside Pakistani territory and suggested it might have taken place in Afghanistan.
According to our Pakistan sources, the hit destroyed a wide-bodied car near Kushali, a village on the Khaisoor Road south of Mir Ali town. Two people were killed. One was identified as Imam Din, the son of Naeem Khan of Khushali village, who was a religious student or a Talib.
The second victim could not be identified at first as no one came forward to claim his body. It then transpired that he was an Arab national belonging to al Qaeda. Four days later, US intelligence identified him as Haitham al-Yemeni, known as a skilled bomb-maker. He was killed shortly after Pakistan captured al Qaeda’s national commander, Abu Faraj al-Libby.
One Step before All-out War
20 May: Palestinian missile, mortar, rocket and shooting attacks on Israeli targets on both sides of the Gaza Strip border went into their third day Friday, May 20, placing the already leaky partial truce in terminal jeopardy. Palestinian security forces are sitting on their hands. Their police officers watch the violations from afar, ignoring complaints by Israeli officers on the spot. No dialogue with the Palestinians is possible. Ramallah has emptied out. Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas is junketing in the Far East and making sure the Israeli prime minister’s office cannot reach him. He has taken with him his entire team of close aides. To avoid what the US state department spokesman this week called “escalatory action,” Sharon declared the IDF will continue to uphold the tattered ceasefire. And so Israel’s single significant military action failed to act as deterrent to further Palestinian attacks.
Early Wednesday, May 18, a Hamas operative was killed in anti-Israel action when a explosive device detonated in his hands. The Palestinians fought back with a heavy mortar and missile barrage across the Gaza Strip. As the shooting escalated, Israel finally reacted with its first aerial strike in many months, using an armed drone to shoot a Hamas Qassam missile crew. One Palestinian crewman was critically injured.
debkafile‘s military sources note that Israel revealed for the first time an unmanned aerial drone equipped not just for surveillance but as a precision weapon capable of knocking out stationary and moving targets with minimal collateral damage. Similar armed drones, Predators, are known to have been fired three times before by the Americans in Afghanistan, Yemen and, on May 8, to kill the wanted al Qaeda operative Haitham al-Yemeni in near the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali.
Friday morning, May 20, a band of Hamas, Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Popular Committees gunmen perched on an UNWRA school building in Deir al Balah in the Gaza Strip and opened up on Kfar Darom and the attached military camp with mortars, shells and anti-tank weapons. Their plan was to emulate Iraqi al Qaeda terror tactics and follow up with an invasion of the village for a bloodbath. Miraculously, no one was hurt although village buildings were damaged. The IDF made do with firing a single tank shell to stop the attack, killing one cell member and injuring a second.
The cell’s composition most tellingly refuted Mofaz’s assertion that the Hamas is engineering the attacks. The claim is motivated by predicament: less than three months before the scheduled withdrawals, Israeli leaders know that any firm military counter-action to Palestinian violence will be frowned on in Washington – or worse. Yet they see those withdrawals being sucked into a maelstrom they cannot control.
Even worse, Abbas takes every chance to stress the importance of bringing the radical Islamists into Palestinian mainstream politics. Abu Mazen’s statements might be convincing were it not for a small fact that he is at pains to conceal. Israeli military intelligence – AMAN, and the Shin Beit have solid evidence that armed Palestinian groups are in a hectic race to prepare a fresh terror offensive against Israel, eager to apply the guerilla tactics they are studying in Iraq. They showed their paces and intent in Friday’s attempted raid of Kfar Darom.
Widening Cracks in Walls of Secrecy Enclosing US Terrorist Detention Centers
23 May: In a major policy turnabout, the Bush administration is easing up on some of the jailed ex-Baathists who formed Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. This is in line with a fresh US offensive to tempt influential Sunni Muslim leaders to join the new government.
The Bush administration’s new policy is to pin the evils of the Saddam regime on one man, the ex-dictator in person, while letting some of his lesser Baathist cronies off. The object of this tactic is to win Sunni Muslim decision-makers round to calling off their insurgency.
Therefore, the leak of intimate photos of an unguarded Saddam Hussein in a top secret US jail facility in Iraq to the British tabloid The Sun may not have been fortuitous.
Their emergence synchronously with a swelling flow of disclosures from US prison installations in Afghanistan and Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay poses some questions.
Some of the leaks may be the work of copycat whistleblowers; others motivated by the lure of cold cash.
This month too, debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reveal, a secret meeting, first of its kind, took place in Bahrain between a group of American lawyers and several Saudis and Gulf nationals whose fathers or sons are held in secret US detention facilities for terrorists. The venue of the rendezvous is suggestive: Bahrain is site of the US Fifth Fleet command in the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia maintains a heavy intelligence presence there.
Of all the published sources on the detention camps by far the richest are the 17 al Qaeda Internet sites which also double as a postbox for inmates to receive messages from their relatives and supporters.
Each prisoner is awarded his own Web page detailing the circumstances of his capture, his injuries, the hospital that cared for him, his captors, whether Americans, Pakistani, Syrian, Sudanese, Saudi or the Afghan tribes who live off US bounty for the handover of captured al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.
The most striking example of a terrorist awarded his own Web page is the high-value Saudi captive in American hands called Abdullah Metrafi, head of the Wafa (Aid) group, an important al Qaeda recruiting arm. Metrafi was caught by US special forces in 2002 shortly after the Taliban’s fall in Kabul and lifted straight to one of the secret US detention centers. Before that he was reported to be director of operations at al Qaeda’s Abu Khabab camp outside Jalalabad, where three laboratories for the production of banned WMD substances were found. The al Qaeda Web sites also offer information on the conditions in which the inmates are held at Guantanamo Bay and other secret facilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Much of the content of these al Qaeda sites may be fabricated or skewed to serve as a psychological weapon against the US commanders and troops staffing the detention centers. But some of it appears to come from authentic sources.
Pentagon Analyst Franklin Faces Second Grave Charge
May 25, 2005: A Pentagon analyst, Larry Franklin, previously charged with leaking classified information to the pro-Israel American Israeli Public Affairs Committee -AIPAC, faced a second charge Tuesday, May 24: taking classified and top secret documents, including 3 on al Qaeda and one on Osama bin Laden out of the Washington area to his West Virginia home.
US Attorney Thomas E. Johnston issued the charge along with an arrest warrant, as Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was addressing AIPAC’s annual convention in Washington.
Franklin, a specialist in Iranian and Middle Eastern affairs, was charged May 3 with providing classified information about potential attacks on US forces in Iraq to two AIPAC executives, who were subsequently dismissed from the Committee. Then, he posted $100,000 bail and surrendered his passport.
Franklin faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of the second charge. The first also carries a prison sentence.
debkafile‘s intelligence sources add: US federal authorities view the unauthorized removal of classified government documents outside restricted areas per se with extreme gravity. In 1996, Central Intelligence Director John Deutsch, had to resign when he was accused of taking secret materials home from his office on his laptop. Working at home on such materials was said to have exposed national secrets to hostile forces able to hack into his unprotected computer. Only a pardon by President Bill Clinton saved him from a jail sentence.
Efforts by AIPAC heads and Israel to play down the Franklin affair contrasts with its high profile in Washington DC. The accused Pentagon analyst himself has hired an extremely prominent lawyer for his defense. Plato Cacheris defended senior US intelligence officers caught spying against their country, including the most notorious of them all, the top CIA officer Aldrich Ames who is serving a life sentence for spying for Moscow. Cacheris also acted as counsel for Monica Lewinsky.
Washington Sees Gaza Withdrawal as Stage One of Rapid Israeli Rollback
26 May: In an exclusive report from Washington, DEBKAfile's sources reveal that US officials, including national security adviser Stephen Hadley, made a point of seeing Sharon during his visits to New York and Washington in the first part of the week to inform him that the forces assigned to execute the pullout from Gaza must be assigned directly to their next task: the dismantling of each and every “illegal settlement-outpost” in the West Bank. The evacuations would not end there either. Sharon was also told that further steps would be demanded, to be discussed at a later date.
As to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his White House talks Thursday, May 26, the US officials assured Sharon that President Bush, after forcing Sharon to remove the disputed West Bank outposts without delay, would insist on Palestinian reciprocity by cooperating with Sharon across the disengagement board – starting from the evacuation of Gush Katif and northern Samaria and continuing through further Israeli withdrawals from large tracts of the West Bank.
According to debkafile‘s Washington sources, the US president was also prepared to warn Abu Mazen to stop trying to jump to the last stage of the roadmap for final status talks. He will be told to stop attempting to put the horse before the cart. Either drop the roadmap or follow through on all its performance-related clauses including uprooting terrorism and reforms. In short, the Palestinians cannot hope to achieve a permanent state with permanent borders in one leap. The US, the Palestinians and Israel, in the Bush administration’s view, share an interest in achieving a provisional Palestinian state with temporary borders before the end of Bush’s term in office.
As for the Palestinian elections on July 17, debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report that Abu Mazen can now afford to stick to the date without delay and present this as a concession to the US president. In fact, the delay could be abandoned after Hamas reached a strategic decision not to challenge Abbas’ Fatah for the dominant role in the Palestinian government. Its leaders decided that they had more leverage for manipulating Abu Mazen from outside government while letting him face the music from Washington and Jerusalem. As for Sharon, the administration purposely left Sharon no maneuvering room or a chance to explain the new move to the Israeli public. As one senior US source put it, “We did not want to give Sharon leeway for delaying action in the West Bank.”