A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

5 July: Hashem Mohamed Hadayat, 41, who gunned down Yakov Aminov, 46, and Vicky Hen, 25 on the 4th of July at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles airport and wounded 7 others, is revealed by DEBKAfile‘s intelligence and counter-terror sources as a secret operative of the Egyptian Jihad Islami. He maintained undercover links to the same Jihad cell in Brooklyn, New York, as the “blind sheikh” Abdul Rahim Rahman and Ramzi Yousef. Both are doing time for perpetrating the first attack on the New York World Trade Center in 1993.


Hadayat is also believed to have abetted a previous, contrived airline disaster: On October 31, 1991, an Egyptair Boeing 767 Flight 990, which also took off from Los Angeles airport, never reached its destination of Kennedy, New York. The plane plunged into the Atlantic off the Nantucket Island, Mass. coast, killing all 217 passengers and crew. In a special probe, the US National Transportation Safety Board found that the copilot Gameel el-Batouty was at the controls when the plane went into its dive. His voice was recorded shouting, “I put my faith in Allah!”


The report held back from referring more directly to the Egyptian copilot’s responsibility for the crash.


Our sources affirm that Hadayat, who lived in Irvine, California, 70 km south of Los Angeles, knew Batouty well, also a group of high Egyptian air force officers and helicopter pilots posted up to 1991 at Edwards Base north of Los Angeles to learn how to install command and control centers in Egypt’s air defense systems, operate anti-air missile batteries and fly Apache gunships. Most of those officers were on the doomed Egyptian airliner after completing their courses.


Two years ago, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak exerted all his influence on President Clinton to keep the federal inquiry board’s findings out of its published report and, above all, the fact that a group of Egyptian air force officers was on the plane.


Hadayat’s murderous attack on El Al flight 106 passengers points back to the Egyptair 990 disaster of 1991, reviving the many questions left open by that earlier, half stifled inquiry. It also raises the question of how many sleeper cells the Egyptian Jihad, al Qaeda’s primary operational arm, maintains in American cities.


6 July: Accelerated diplomatic momentum is in the air, along with the apparent slowdown of Palestinian suicidal terrorist action against Israel. Sharon has ordered relaxations of restrictions for the Palestinian population and sent foreign minister Shimon Peres to start a dialogue with the newly appointed Palestinian ministers of economy Salam Fayeed and interior Abdel Razak al-Yahya. However, the leaked litany from the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem alleges that Yasser Arafat’s government overhaul is not a genuine reform program but steps for tightening his grip on Palestinian government. He has issued no orders at all to hold back Palestinian terror against Israel. Sharon has therefore urged European Union leaders to withhold subsidies from the Palestinian Authority, as the funds go straight into the hands of groups preparing fresh terrorist campaigns.


DEBKAfile‘s political sources can confirm that the common thread running through Arafat’s new appointments is the removal of officials who pose a threat to his rule.


Jibril Rajoub’s dismissal as chief of the West Bank preventive security apparatus has been forced down his throat, but he still retains control of his 4,000-man militia and refuses to take up the Jenin Governorship vacated by his designated successor Zuhair Manasra.


Two other would-be challengers to Arafat’s authority, Muhamed Dahlan, Jibril’s opposite number in the Gaza Strip, and Mohamed Rashid, his personal financial adviser, have removed themselves and their families to London under the protection of British security. Abu Mazen, Arafat’s veteran deputy and official successor, has gone to ground in one of the Persian Gulf emirates. Hundreds of affluent Palestinians have taken advantage of the summer vacation to shut their villas and make tracks for European and American resorts after liquidating their assets in Israeli and Jordanian banks.


According to DEBKAfile‘s military and political sources in Washington and Jerusalem, the Israeli prime minister’s next move will be a large-scale military counter-terror offensive in the Gaza Strip. This territory was omitted from the broad military operations Israel has been conducting in the West Bank since April. Like the current military operation on the West Bank, so too will the Gaza campaign be open-ended, requiring additional call-ups of reserves. Israel’s prime objective now, with Washington’s tacit blessing, is to acquire strategic control of all Palestinian areas, so as to prevent a second Palestinian front from opening up to the rear of Israeli forces fighting in the coming military operations against Syria and the Hizballah in the north and, potentially, against Iraq in the east. Israel’s military presence will keep open the strategic routes linking the Mediterranean with the Jordan River and eventually the Tigris and Euphrates, as well clearing the way to the Hatzbani and Litani Rivers of Lebanon.


Yasser Arafat is trying to steady himself in anticipation of salvation from three directions:


1. A solidarity offensive by the Hizballah, in the form of a missile and rocket barrage the length of the Lebanese-Israel frontier targeting all of northern Israel and reaching into its central heartland. 2. US-Iraq hostilities that may well open up – not with an American strike – but with Iraqi pre-emptive action against the US forces poised inside Iraq and in neighboring Jordan for the American offensive against Baghdad.


3. A mega-terror strike against the United States or Israel – with conventional, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons – that would attain such calamitous proportions as to undo America’s military and political position for the Middle East.


Whatever the surface appearances, therefore, the immediate horizon seems to hold greater promise of conflict than of diplomacy.


7 July: Hesham Mohamed Hadayat was no stranger to El Al’s Los Angeles airport office.


According to DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources, the man who murdered two Israelis on the El Al ticket line at Los Angeles airport on July 4th worked for a local ground service company from 1993 (one year after he arrived in the US) until 1998, when he left to set up his own limousine service for air passengers. Our sources reveal that during his employment, he aroused the suspicions of El Al security personnel who warned airport security. When no action was taken, they put him under surveillance. El Al asked the ground services firm to rearrange Hadayat’s shifts for periods when none of its planes were scheduled.


Sunday, July 7, the influential Arabic London-based Al Hayat followed the original DEBKAfile disclosure of July 5 – that Hadayat was a member of the Egyptian Jihad Islami – and took it a step further. According to the Arabic paper, the Egyptian gunman met Dr. Ayman Zuwahri, the Jihad Islami chief who is Osama bin Laden’s deputy, twice in California – once in 1995 and again in 1998. According to DEBKAfile‘s sources, it was at that second encounter that Hadayat was told to leave his job and given capital to set up his small limousine firm, so as to take advantage of his access to airport facilities and airline personnel contacts, while at the same time shaking off any watchers.


The Al Hayat report places Dr. Zuwahri in California unobserved less than three years before the 9/11 hijacking attacks in America and a year and a half before the Egyptair disaster (see first DEBKAfile story). From all the foregoing, our counter-terror experts cite Hesham Hadayat as a classical a Qaeda plant. He was positioned at Los Angeles airport in the early 1990s to bide his time for the right moment to carry out a terrorist attack against an El Al flight. When Hayat’s handlers saw he was under observation, they made him lower profile. His assignment was revised to fit his role as a limousine driver familiar to the Tom Bradley terminal staff and free to move around – namely to shoot down a line of passengers waiting to board an El Al flight.


Although from 1994 or 1995 at the latest, Hadayat was brought to the notice of American security, was under the eye of El Al security, and the Egyptian authorities must have known about him, he was never investigated – even after 9/11. The FBI has admitted he figured on no watch list for terrorists. This left him perfectly free to carry out his mission on behalf of the extremist Islamic organization – all of which raises some hard questions about the way in which the war against terror is carried out in the United States.


9 July: Three former Israeli army medical officers and public health experts added their voices Monday, July 8, to the rising chorus calling for mass anti-smallpox vaccinations without delay.


In the United States, the federal government is preparing to vaccinate 500,000 health care and emergency workers, as well as laying plans to immunize the whole population. Last year, the US government ordered millions of doses of smallpox vaccine – enough for “every man, woman and child.”


Public vaccination against smallpox stopped all over the world in the 1970s when the World Health Organization declared the fatal disease eradicated. According to the British magazine New Scientist, no one today can be sure of immunity. The smallpox scar on your arm from before that date can no longer be counted on to protect you from infection.


Yet in Jerusalem, the health ministry sees “no need” to immunize the public “at this time”, refuses to publish concrete plans to vaccinate against smallpox or even reveal how many doses it has in stock.


For some months, DEBKAfile has been following the potential for mega-terror attacks and nuclear, chemical or biological strikes in Israel posed by Palestinians terrorists and other hostile parties. Intelligence WMD experts see three possible sources of this menace:


1. Palestinians controlled by Yasser Arafat’s machine of terror, specifically his Fatah group’s al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, as well as the Islamist Hamas. Both are capable of unconventional terrorism at a primitive level, such as stuffing explosive devices and bomb belts with toxic or bacterial substances or carrying the infection in their own bodies. The blast would instantaneously flood a crowded area or large building with the poison.


2. Palestinian terrorists serving the Iraqi military intelligence cells planted in the West Bank. Intelligence estimates speak of suicide killers secreting smallpox, anthrax, botulism, as well as nerve gases in public places. All it would take is a lone terrorist smashing a test tube in a public convenience, elevator or busy foyer.


3. Hizballah and al Qaeda infiltrators from Lebanon, Syria, by air or by sea.


Israeli officials explain their inaction by the fear of sowing general panic. However, Israelis have been living at an abnormally high state of perturbation since September 2000. The last thing they need to boost national morale is uncertainty about the ability of their health authorities to speedily and effectively protect them against WMD.

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