A Hidden Palestinian Authority Link to Zarqawi Comes to Light

One of the most closely kept secrets in Washington and the Middle East is the discovery last month that the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas – Abu Mazen – has established a relationship with al Qaeda’s Iraq commander Abu Musab al Zarqawi.


The clandestine link was chanced upon by Jordanian intelligence in the first week of August. The news was referred to King Abdullah who hastened to brief Washington. Jerusalem too was clued in on the secret. All were bound to silence for obvious reasons: the disclosure that the head of the Palestinian Authority is in contact with the Jordanian super-terrorist would embarrass them all, to say the least.


It could even scupper the Bush administration’s entire Palestinian policy and its huge investment in Abbas. How would the US president George W. Bush sustain his tireless demand for his Palestinian linchpin to crack down on terrorism? In what light would it present Ariel Sharon’s voluntary evacuation of Gaza, which has become a centerpiece of the Bush government’s Arab world and Middle East strategy?


Like many momentous discoveries in the world of intelligence and terror, this one too happened by chance.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s exclusive counter-terror sources reveal how it unfolded.


In mid-July, Abbas called on the Arab governments hosting Palestinian refugees to issue passports to enable them to travel abroad. He made it clear that the passports in no way detracted from their “right of return” to their homes in pre-1948 Palestine.


 


Abu Mazen’s fence-mending envoy did more harm than good


 


The initiative made King Abdullah and his advisers extremely nervous. Jordan has never issued its Palestinians with travel documents or even citizenship. They interpreted Abbas’ call as a ruse to start shipping hundreds of thousands of refugees – 350,000 of whom originate in the Gaza Strip – armed with Jordanian passports to Gaza after Israel’s troops are withdrawn on September 15. If that was not bad enough, the king would have some hard explaining to do to Israel.


The Jordanian king’s suspicions made for tense relations with Abu Mazen. The Palestinian decided to send his personal emissary Abbas Zaki, member of the Fatah central committee, on a special fence-mending mission to Amman.


Zaki arrived in the first week of August with a proposition for the Jordanians. He offered to set up a new Fatah executive committee branch in Amman, whose members’ names he would first submit to Jordan’s intelligence services for approval. That body would handle all future contacts between the Jordanian court and the Palestinian Authority relating to the refugee population in Jordan.


The Jordanians agreed and waited for the list of candidates. After consulting with Fatah leaders in Jordan, Zaki tendered 30 names of the new Fatah leadership in Jordan to the head of Jordanian intelligence General Hassan Asfoura, as agreed


But Zaki waited in vain for an official response.


According to our intelligence and counter-terror sources, General Asfoura showed the names to the king who immediately passed it on to Washington.


One specific name made them all jump. It was that of Marwan Shehadeh, a Fatah veteran from the Wahdath camp, the largest in the Jordanian capital, who, according to our sources, dropped out of sight 18 months ago. Since then he is intensively sought by Jordanian security as well as American al Qaeda hunters in the Middle East and other agencies.


This is because Marwan Shehadeh is the senior liaison agent for al Qaeda’s Iraq commander Abu Musab al Zarqawi and his terrorist networks in the Hashemite kingdom.


 


Palestinian leader in the soup


 


The Americans immediately turned their attention to Abu Mazen. They wanted to know –


1. How come you know the whereabouts of a man we have been hunting for months and are familiar enough with his address to obtain his signed consent to serve on a Fatah body? If you know where he is, please share your information with us and the Jordanians.


2. You must have known he was one of Zarqawi’s top men. How then could you appoint him to a Fatah executive position?


Driven into a corner, Abu Mazen could only fumble for a reply. He first tried saying there must be some mistake; his appointee was a different Marwan Shehadeh from the man they were hunting. When this excuse did not wash, he claimed the name of the man sought by the Americans and Jordanians had a similar ring to that of his appointee but was a different individual.


Neither excuse satisfied his inquisitors. Behind the cloak of secrecy, Washington, Amman and Jerusalem are pushing hard to get the stammering Abbas and his cronies to spill the beans on Shehadeh and plumb the extent of relations between the Palestinian Authority’s heads and Zarqawi’s organization.

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