A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

23 November: Russian President Vladimir Putin took the US President to task over the way the global war on terror was being handled, asking some tough questions.

Where had Osama bin Laden taken refuge? he asked rhetorically, adding in a pointed dig at Saudi Arabia: “We should not forget about those who finance terrorism.”

Putin went on to question if Pakistani President Musharraf had done enough to stabilize the area, noting: “What can happen with armies, arms, weapons that exist in Pakistan, including weapons of mass destruction?”

What Putin was saying was that while America’s mind was on Iraq, the terrorists against whom they had solemnly declared war together after September 11, 2001,were getting away.

The allusion to the Saudis as financiers of al Qaeda was not lost on Bush; nor the suggestion that the Pakistan ruler is secretly promoting Islamic terrorist operations in Kashmir. Russian intelligence, like many other undercover agencies, including that of Israel, do not rule out the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, military strength and weapons falling into the hands of al Qaeda in certain circumstances.

In recent weeks, DEBKAfile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly have exposed certain developments in this regard:

1. No progress has been made in efforts to stem the flow of Saudi cash oiling al Qaeda wheels in the Middle East, the Balkans, Chechnya, Pakistan, Central Asia and the Far East.

2. Signs are proliferating of collaboration among the terror machines of Iraqi military intelligence, al Qaeda, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah and Palestinian Authority security bodies. Yasser Arafat’s key conduit to these groups runs primarily through the Gaza Strip “Preventive Security” organization headed by Muhamed Dahlan and his deputy, Rashid Abu Shbak.

DEBKAfile‘s military sources report that the surprise raid Israeli troops carried out on this organization’s command, training and manufacturing facility in Gaza City, on Sunday, November 16, yielded a major haul of documentary evidence exposing Palestinian operational relations with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and al Qaeda going back seven years. Dahlan was recently appointed Arafat’s “national security adviser” under the “reforms” executed in the Palestinian authority. The documents uncovered in Gaza attest to his longstanding personal ties with Islamic radical cells in Bosnia. In fact, he appears to have consigned Palestinian instructors to train Bosnians and Kosovars in terrorist tactics.

Overthrowing the Iraqi ruler and disarming his country will not break up the new military-terror menace taking shape in the region. Saddam Hussein with his back to the wall may well hand over unconventional weapons to these elements. By holding off determined military action against rampant terrorism outside Iraq, focusing on and growing in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon and Pakistan – so as not to detract from the anti-Saddam assault – the Bush administration is storing up fresh trouble for tomorrow, if not sooner.

By taking the US president to task on the shortcomings of the US anti-terror war, the Russian may have articulated a notion valid for Ariel Sharon too.

Spate of ominous Internet messages from al Qaeda followers

25 November: In the last few hours debkafile counter-terror sources report a heightened volume of traffic over the Arabic Internet forums frequented by al Qaeda and its partisans. Most of the last messages end: “The zero hour has come.”

One particular release was aired three times today, all posted by “ARAMCO boy”. The first one to reach our sources was issued at 12:28 EST, 19:28 IST.

“Today, at 6:20 hours, there will be a surprise program, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen over our Qatari channel. Anyone who knows what I mean must tell no one so as to keep the surprise whose content everyone will love. Only God knows what I mean. The program forced me to write these lines at great speed and I ask God to forgive me and reserve Paradise and not Hell for me. The zero hour has come.”

According to debkafile‘s sources, these messages may be red herrings designed to confuse and mislead outside monitors. However, the source who picked up the latest batch has correctly interpreted at least two such enigmatic messages in recent months as presaging the re-appearance of Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant Ayman Zuwahri after many months out of sight. They were followed by pre-recorded statements over al Jazeera satellite TV. The timing too is suggestive: Thursday, November 28, is Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

Also worth noting is that while messages over these forums usually draw responses, the one cited here went unanswered.

Three days after this was received, two simultaneous terrorist attacks targeted Israelis in Mombasa, Kenya at a hotel and aboard an airliner. Three Israelis, including two young girls, were killed in a bomb blast that wrecked the Mombasa Paradise hotel and 80 were injured. The Arkia Boeing 757 escaped harm from two missiles shot from a white minivan as it lifted off from Mombasa airport with 260 passengers.

debkafile counter-terror experts note: Al Qaeda activated a light plane over the hotel to strafe parts of the building not destroyed by the suicide bombers. This was the first time the network activated ground-air forces. The Kenya police reported three terrorist units deployed for each of the two attacks, both of Arab appearance. Finally, the Mombasa attacks like the Bali bombing targeted exotic tourist spots frequented by Western vacationers – focusing on Australians in the first and Israelis in the second.

25 November: A senior source in Israel’s northern command warned Sunday, November 24, that Syria is making a bad mistake by fostering the Hizballah and letting Iran strengthen its mastery over the extremist Shiite group.

This assertion left a question mark over the Israeli side of the equation – and for good reason. Israel’s passivity in contending with the Hizballah is part and parcel of its failure to come to grips with Yasser Arafat and his escalating campaign of terror.

Last Thursday, November 21, the day a suicide killer from Bethlehem murdered 11 Israeli women and schoolchildren on a Jerusalem bus in Kiryat Menahem, Hizballah secretary general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, delivered a Ramadan address in which he urged the aggressive dissemination of “the suicide culture” worldwide and congratulated himself on helping make life in Israel a living hell without exposing Lebanon to Israeli reprisals. In Gaza, the Jihad Islami leader, Abdallah Shami, stood up to deny any connection between his organization and al Qaeda..

DEBKAfile‘s counter-terror experts affirm that these veiled hints, unrelated denials and suggestive silences add up to a curtain that all the parties concerned have an interest in drawing over a single name: Iran. The ayatollahs in Tehran have called in their many ties in the murky world of terror – from Hizballah to al Qaeda, Yasser Arafat and his “security” organisms to the Jihad Islami and, indirectly, Syria, to unleash the latest round of deadly terrorist attacks against Israelis.

According to our experts, these attacks, culminating Friday in the explosives boat off the Gazan coast – blown up with its two suicide killers by an Israeli gunboat – are the work of Iranian Revolutionary Guards members based in Lebanon, Palestinian terrorists whom they trained and al Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan, 150 of whom went to ground in south Lebanon.

To heighten the secrecy, the Iranian agents hired local Jihad Islami networks as their operatives. They were picked from a list handed over at the organization’s Damascus headquarters by Jihad Islami leader, Ramadan Shelah, who was not averse to hiring out to Iranian intelligence as a surrogate terrorist group.

As a result, no one knows the identities of the Jihad Islami killers or their Iranian controllers.

These waters are too deep for Abdullah Shami at the group’s Gaza center, and even for Sheikh Nasrallah., who has not been told where in Lebanon the Revolutionary Guards unit based in the south Lebanese town of Sidon has hidden the Zelzal ground-ground missiles which are capable of reaching Tel Aviv and beyond. He and the men under his command have been denied access to additional Iranian weapons caches and the fighting units Iran has secretly deployed around Lebanon. One reason is his close friendship with Syrian president Bashar Assad, which is far in excess of the ties reigning in the day of Bashar’s father, president Hafez Assad. The Iranians disapprove of this alliance and the additional autonomy it affords their Lebanese minion.

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