A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives
30 November: The same al Qaeda commander that masterminded the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Daar es Salaam also planned the twin attacks last Thursday, November 28, on the Israeli-owned Mombassa Paradise hotel at Kikamabala, and the missile strike that missed an Arkia Boeing 757. His name is Abdullah Mohammed Fazul and he is still missing.
Fazul, the leader of al Qaeda’s East African cells since 1995, was assisted by his lieutenant, another Egyptian called Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah (aka Abu Mohammed al-Masri), who was indicted in absentia by an American court for the embassy bombings. Both are senior members of al Qaeda’s operational arm, the Egyptian Jihad Islami.
In 1995, the pair took part in a failed attempt to assassinate Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak by hurling RPG rockets and explosives at the presidential convoy on its way from the Addis Ababa airport to the venue of a summit of African leaders in the Ethiopian capital.
A year later, on November 23, 1996, Fazul masterminded the hijack of Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 between the Ethiopian capital and Nairobi. The airliner came down with empty fuel tanks 500 yards from Galawa Beach at the Indian Ocean Islamic Republic of the Comoros Islands.
Only 48 of the 127 passengers survived the attack. The victims included seven Israelis, five heads of Israel’s Aircraft Industries, and two others, one CIA officer and the head of Ukrainian intelligence.
None of the three governments concerned, American, Israeli and Ukrainian, have ever attributed the Ethiopian Airways hijack to al Qaeda. The Mombasa attacks were therefore not the first the fundamentalist terror network had mounted against Israeli targets. Fazul was never located, even though after though after the embassy bombings, an FBI team was hot on his trail. The American agents ran his hideout down to Morono, on the Comoran Islands, only to find he had skipped just ahead of them.
Four years later, earlier this month, US and Israeli intelligence was tipped off that Fazul and Abdullah had been spotted on the move in early October in the Jubbada Hoose and Gedo regions of West Somalia bordering on Kenya.
30 November: Some initial conclusions drawn by the combined US-Israeli-Kenyan investigation team working on the deadly al Qaeda twin assault on Israeli targets at the Kenyan resort town of Mombasa:
A. Backup teams were posted at both scenes of attack – the hotel and the airport – to take over if the first teams failed to carry the operation through. This is evident from the testimony of witnesses present at the Mombasa Paradise Hotel assault, in which 13 people were killed, three of them Israelis. They reported that, first, one of the bombers leapt out of the jeep to blow up the hotel lobby; next, the jeep itself crashed into a wall and exploded; then, a light plane flew overhead and dropped explosives on the buildings left standing.
This may have been al Qaeda’s first air raid.
Findings around the airport indicate two missile teams, one posted near one end of the runway and the second, some 5 km from the other end, to cover the eventuality of a change of wind altering the Arkia flight’s direction of takeoff. Altogether around 25-35 terrorists executed the two strikes, with another 100 accomplices on the fringes of the operation. This would make it one of the largest terror attacks al Qaeda has yet mounted.
B. The type of shoulder-launched missiles fired at the Israeli airliner has not been established as yet. Some Israeli sources diagnose a SA-7 Grail; others, a Strela, while some Western sources suggest American-made Stingers with alterations by al Qaeda. Intelligence reports have spoken in the past of such adaptations.
C. Somalia would be the natural escape destination for the Mombasa terrorists – whether by the same light aircraft that bombed the hotel or fast boat along the Indian Ocean shore..
D. Al Qaeda has been able to turn up the heat in the last two months, both in scale and intensity. On October 6, suicides crashed the Limburg tanker in the Gulf of Aden; on October 18, the terrorists brought off a massacre on the Indonesian island of Bali; the Moscow theater siege occurred on October 23; USAID administrator Laurence Foley was murdered outside his Amman home on October 28; terrorist gun and missile fire have been constant in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan throughout October and November. The Mombasa strikes appear to be part of an escalating series entailing the deployment of hundreds of terrorists and multi-million dollar funding.
E. US and allied intelligence services, including that of Israel, have still not overcome their inability to predict al Qaeda’s moves, a shortcoming glaringly exposed on September 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden’s reappearance in Saudi Arabia underscores this lack of intelligence tools. From time to time, the capture of yet another high-ranking terrorist is announced. debkafile‘s intelligence and counter-terror experts are certain that the intelligence value of these captures is extremely limited because all the information they seem to have relates to past al Qaeda activities – not its future plans.
2 December: Monday, December 2, five days after the event, Al Qaeda took formal responsibility for the two attacks against Israeli targets at Kenya’s Indian Ocean resort of Mombasa last Thursday, November 28. Shortly before the al Qaeda admission, three Israeli security kingpins suddenly found their voices on the dangers posed by al Qaeda and the grave implications as regards Israel’s abilities to fight back.
As DEBKAfile reported last April, the brutal murder of 21 celebrants at the Park Hotel Passover feast in Netanya on March 27, 2002, provided cover for the first contingent of 15-20 heavily armed al Qaeda men to land on Netanya beach from the sea. The week before, a group of Osama bin Laden’s men poured across the Syrian-Israeli frontier and headed for prepared hideouts in Ramallah and the Nablus district.
Monday, December 2, under the impact of the attacks in Kenya, defense minister Shaul Mofaz finally confirmed that the al Qaeda network had sent “octopus arms not only into countries on the other side of the ocean but also to our region.”
Chief of staff Lt. General Moshe Yaalon was a little more specific. He told reporters that al Qaeda operatives had landed in this country and planned terror attacks employing Palestinians that were foiled.
DEBKAfile‘s experts on terror assert that al Qaeda terrorists are in this country at the invitation of Yasser Arafat and with logistical support approved by him in person. He imported the Hizballah first, then Osama bin Laden’s Islamic fighters, to advance his single, never-changing goal, to fight Israel until it is destroyed, turning Israel and Palestinian areas in the last six months into an international center for the most dangerous professional terrorists alive: Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hizballah, JIbril’s Popular Front – General Command, Iraqi military intelligence, the pro-Iraqi Arab Liberation Front and al Qaeda, all have established a presence within Israel’s borders in four, unfolding waves:
1. Raising arms and personnel: From January to March, the Palestinian Authority raised a vast supply of terror weapons and explosives, most smuggled in from Iran. The terrorists followed via secret routes through Jordan, the Golan, North Sinai and Israel’s shores, to be picked up and hosted by Arafat’s men. They came with heavy weapons, various types of portable missiles.
2. First operations: They came raring for action and have since been discovered to have executed in March and April some of the deadliest attacks Israel ever suffered. They targeted hotels in Netanya, wedding halls and restaurants in Haifa, Ashdod and Tel Aviv and West Bank roadblocks at Wadi Kharmieh and Adora.
3. Summer inertia: From May to November, the foreign cells were quiescent, quietly improving their communications skills and gathering intelligence.
4. Back in action: In November, orders for the cells to return to action issued from al Qaeda’s senior command posts in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Lebanon and from Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah. DEBKAfile‘s military and counter-terror sources report that the first attack in this cycle was the ambush laid in Hebron on Friday night, November 15, in which 12 Israeli officers, troops and security men were gunned down, and the Mombasa strikes on November 28. . Later that day, A Likud polling station in the northern Israeli town of Beit Sheana was struck with a hail of gunfire and grenades, killing six Israelis just as prime minister Ariel Sharon beat his rival Binyamin Netanyahu in the party leadership contest.
That night, a mega-terror strike was rumored to have been thwarted in Jerusalem, although a court gag order prevented its publication.
This penultimate stage for the year 2002 is viewed by our experts as the prelude to a mega-terror offensive already in the works to culminate an ascending cycle of “ordinary” terrorist attacks.
On December 2, former Mossad chief and current national security adviser, Efraim Halevy, spoke of a mega-terror menace hanging over Israel as essentially one of “genocide” with the aim of destroying Israel to its very foundations. “To meet a threat on this scale,” he said, “Israel possesses a broad and diverse array of capabilities, some of them not yet revealed.” Inherent in Israel’s national security balance, he explained, is the ability to countervail menaces of this kind. Should the danger come to pass, that ability will take the conflict to a new plane which, Halevy was sure, would be understood and accepted by world opinion.
DEBKAfile‘s military and counter-terror sources have no doubt that the Israeli prime minister’s chief emissary for delicate foreign assignments was hinting darkly both at an unconventional threat to Israel, that could take the form of a large-scale massacre, and at the Jewish state’s forceful retaliation by means of weapons and war tactics never yet brought into use. Such a counter-strike could well be pre-emptive. Hebron, and even more so Mombasa, were Israel’s watershed.
2 December: Every few weeks, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak tells Israel it must resume negotiations with the Palestinians that will lead them to a state. But on Sunday, December 1, he went a lot further. Addressing a Muslim clerical group in Cairo in an occasion marking the final prayer of the Ramadan holy month, he declared that international terror is not religious; nor is it the fault of Muslims or Arabs, but their reaction to political injustices meted out by the “international community”.
The Egyptian leader thus became the first Arab leader to say out loud what every Arab and Muslim ruler believes – that Islamic terror, including suicide homicides, is a justified means of venting their sense of injustice towards the non-Muslim world.
5 December: Israeli prime minister and Likud leader Ariel Sharon delivered his first major campaign speech Wednesday December 4, declaring that after the January 28 general election he will ask his new government to endorse the Bush peace outline and the creation of a Palestinian state with Yasser Arafat as its “symbolic” head.
Sharon offered thereby to honor a terrorist chief with a nominal title – hardly the way to beat terror or uphold his pledge of security to Israeli citizens.
As politicians at home blasted his speech, DEBKAfile‘s Washington sources disclose that National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice also reacted with anger and impatience, saying that the domestic politics of Sharon and his bureau staff would not be allowed to govern American Middle East policies. Interestingly, not a single member of his own Likud was prepared to comment on the speech.
He endorsed the peace plan put forward by President George W. Bush on June 24, while taking issue with the published versions of the “road map”, which call for a provisional Palestinian state to be established in 2003 and a final-status agreement by 2005. Instead of a timetable, Sharon called for progress determined on the basis of performance. “There will be no political concessions until there is proven calm and the Palestinian leadership is replaced by one which is able and willing to achieve peace with Israel,” he declared.
But then he said enigmatically that past concessions to the Palestinians are “irreversible”. In the second stage of the process, Sharon explained, a Palestinian state would be established with provisional borders approximating areas A and B currently held by the Palestinians – “except for essential security zones”. This state would be completely demilitarized but allowed to maintain a “lightly armed police and internal force to ensure civil order.”
Israel will continue to control all the new state’s passage points, command its airspace and not permit alliances with Israel’s enemies.
The last stage will be final-status negotiations to fix permanent borders.
DEBKAfile‘s analysts discover the key to the prime minister’s timing and judgment in accepting the two-state formula in his assertion that, after the January 28, he will strive for form another broad administration. This was a beckoning finger to the opposition Labor party’s new dovish leader, Amram Mitzna, asking him to join.
Sharon feels he is on a winning streak and takes it for granted that the voter will accept a version of the American “road map” for a Palestinian state as the guideline for his partnership plan with Labor leaders.
Sharon may find his speech was not only unpopular in Washington, but also counter-productive as a campaign tool. From one end of the political spectrum to the other, everyone is up in arms. Right-wing opinion slams it as granting a reward for Palestinian terror; the left, whom he is courting, accuse him of poaching votes in its preserves. The average Israeli voter still clings to Sharon as a sort of sheet anchor in a dangerous sea, but Arafat is anathema and he has yet to absorb the shock of being exposed to Osama bin Laden and his works. Most Israelis don’t want to hear about the Palestinian’s future, but how their leaders cope with the expanding terror threat and how their prime minister proposes to restore the equilibrium of the security system that is still reeling from the shocks of Mombasa.