A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending October 15, 2004:

Sinai Massacre – an Iranian-Hizballah-al Qaeda Co-production


8 October: Friday, October 8, on the morning after a Sinai terrorist bombing rampage at three idyllic Sinai desert resorts – with two dozen known dead and scores still missing – the first clues have been found to the identities of the hands behind the massacre and their targets. Intelligence of suggestive Hizballah movements prompted the counter-terror center at the prime minister’s office to warn Israeli travelers on the eve of the Jewish New Year to miss out on their favorite holiday sites in Sinai.

(The Hizballah’s Sinai cell is part of the Palestinian international weapons smuggling network that has grown out of the Sinai-Gaz tunnel system and which now branches out to East Africa, Arabia, the Persian Gulf, Syria, Turkey and Chechnya.)

One Egyptian intelligence premise is that the bomb cars were kept hidden in caves and wadis around the Sinai desert in waiting for between 4 and 6 bombers to pick them up. They would have come one or two days earlier either from Sudan or from Saudi Arabia via Sudan and landed at the Egyptian Red Sea port of Ghardaqah and taken a regular ferry to Sharm el-Sheikh. Disembarking passengers are only lightly searched as Egypt has no wish to hurt its tourist trade. The other possibility is that the bombers crossed the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia to the Sharm el-Sheikh marina aboard a Saudi yacht, knowing the Egyptians would never search it.

The triple terrorist attack in Sinai Thursday night, October 7, was aimed against Israelis and Egyptians. Its central targets were:

1. The Taba Hilton which was crowded with Israelis.

2. The Nueiba resort, where a group of 40 high-powered Egyptian officials were vacationing.

That the terrorists had advance knowledge of this group’s traveling plans is a measure of their efficient and well-placed intelligence, not only in Sinai, but in Cairo too.

3. Ras al-Satan between Taba and Nueiba, which boasts a cluster of straw-thatched restaurants, popular with Israelis and Egyptians alike.

Once the Egyptian authorities grasped the mega-scale of the assault, they tightened security at border stations and ports including the Taba terminal on the Israeli border, causing great distress to injured Israelis who were desperate to get out, also holding up the life-saving efforts of Israeli aid teams, fire engines and manned ambulances, which piled up at the terminal until early morning while the Taba Hilton burned and caved in.

The Egyptians insisted that this was the first al Qaeda crisis on Egyptian soil and it was up to them to assert full control. For the same reason, Cairo turned down offers by the Sinai Multinational Force Organization, the MFO, of a helicopter squadron to evacuate casualties and of aid by the US 82 Airborne Division based in Sharm el-Sheikh. The Egyptians only agreed to let US army medics examine their injured VIPs.

Egypt has approached Israel with a request to renegotiate provisions of their 12-year old peace accords which bar Egyptian military forces from Sinai. The Cairo government intends deploying military units to drive out al Qaeda, Hizballah and other terrorist and lawless elements which have made strategic peninsula their stamping ground.


Egyptian Investigators Look at Israeli Arrivals


9 October: A state of emergency was declared in Cairo Saturday, October 9, two days after al Qaeda suicide car bombers killed at least 33 tourists, most of them Israelis, in three Sinai resorts and demolished the Taba Hilton. Roadblocks were thrown up on the Egyptian capital’s thoroughfares and access to the big hotels blocked – both as precautions against further attacks and to facilitate the hunt for suspects.

Acting on the assumption that the peril was not over, the Israeli prime minister’s adviser on terrorism, Danny Arditi, issued a fresh warning to Israeli travelers in Sinai who survived the first round of suicide bombings to return home without delay. The United States also advised nationals to stay out of northeastern Sinai for the next three months.

Friday night, the senior Egyptian intelligence officer Habib Adli, put in charge of the inquiry, ordered a check to be run on all the vehicles and passengers that entered Sinai through the Taba from Israel. Saturday, October 9, Shin Beit Director Avi Dichter conferred with Egyptian intelligence officials at Taba to coordinate the operation which, according to debkafile‘s counter-terror sources, raises uncomfortable questions that Israeli counter-terror officials have not wished to address until now, the possibility of an al Qaeda cell being present in the country, operating either in conjunction with Palestinian terrorist groups or as a sleeper in an Israeli Arab community. Fearing an Egyptian attempt to shift the blame for the Sinai massacre from their own intelligence services to Israeli agencies, Israeli officials argue against the logic of al Qaeda bombers already organized in the country taking the chance of crossing into Sinai, when the Israeli resort town of Eilat was easily accessible.


Sinai Probe: Al Qaeda, Palestinians – or Both?


11 October: Egyptian investigators have only just begun peeling off the layers of an extremely complex and sensitive search for the hands behind the bomb blasts that hit three holiday resorts in Sinai last Thursday, October 7. One of the targeted sites, Nuweiba on the Red Sea, was discovered Monday, October 11, not to have been struck by suicide bombers but by two booby-trapped cars detonated by remote control. Indeed, the Egyptians are puzzled by the discovery that none of the exploding cars bears the presence of a suicide bomber. They have therefore begun testing the theory that the Ras al-Satan and Nuweiba attacks were carried out by 6 to 8 terrorists who were not suicide killers.

A Palestinian connection to the Sinai attacks was discussed exhaustively Saturday, October 9, in a conference at Taba between Shin Beit director Avi Dichter and the head of the Egyptian inquiry Habib Adli. Like the Egyptians, Israel is also looking into the possibility that the suicide bombers arrived from Jordan or another part of Sinai, most likely by sea.

The route of entry is important as it provides a clue to the hand behind the attacks. One suggestion under examination is that they were orchestrated by al Qaeda’s Jordanian operations chief in Iraq, Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, who still keeps his Jordanian terrorist rings active and is also closely allied with Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist elements in the Hashemite kingdom. Another theory points to al Qaeda sleeper cells in Egypt, the Gaza Strip or Israel. They too may have activated Hamas, which could never have organized a mega-terror attack on the Sinai scale unaided and has until now shunned operations on foreign soil.

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