Al Qaeda has never given up the quest for a friendly home base to replace the one it lost in Afghanistan after its 9/11 attacks in America. Its latest thrust combines this objective with another prime goal, the overthrow of the “heretical” Muslim Arab rulers who do business with the United States. Al Qaeda cells in Kuwait, Oman and Jordan have therefore been directed to launch offensives up to and including assassinating the rulers and their families, according to information reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources this week.
This plan represents a dramatic “target upgrade” by Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
The first wave of attacks began on January 10 and persists into February. (See HOT POINTS: Oil-Rich Gulf States Placed on Al Qaeda’s Front Burner.) The dozens of terrorists captured revealed under interrogation that Osama bin Laden’s organization had targeted the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Sabah, and his family for dynastic extinction. Among the captives was a group of Kuwaiti soldiers who admitted they were under orders to wipe out the heads of the army and a row of prominent national figures. The bloodbath would have left the emirate without an heir to the throne.
Oman has been ordained the same fate. There, the Islamist terror group’s penetration is much deeper and better organized, having established underground cells in the army, security services and the clerical elite of religious sages, theology professors at the University of Oman and lecturers at the supreme Ibadiya theological institution in the capital, Muscat.
Al Qaeda operatives were able to reach inside the sultanate across the bridge provided by tribes in the wild Yemeni province of Hadhramauth, Oman’s neighbor and bin Laden’s ancestral home.
These tribes belong to the same strictly Koranic Ibadiya branch of Islam as the majority of Oman’s 2.9 million residents. Several thousand sect members are scattered around the world and maintain ties with the Hadhramauth tribes, but recognize Oman as the world Ibadiya center. One of the sect’s tenets states that in the event of a ruler being slain or dying without an heir, his successor will be chosen by majority vote among tribal and religious elders.
Fundamentalist theocracy plotted for Oman
Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos has never married or designated an heir. He is therefore a prime target for assassination by conspirators who command a ready-made stooge body of Islamic sages. They will have no qualms about designating a new ruler who can be trusted to establish an Ibadiya theocracy in the Gulf sultanate.
The plot was uncovered by chance, when a truck, laden with explosives, was involved in a traffic accident that drew police attention.
Qaboos has not been seen in public for four weeks, avoiding even functions at which he is supposed to officiate as spiritual leader of the country. He stays confined to his palace under heavy guard.
Jordan is in a high state of emergency under which King Abdullah and the royal family were moved out of the capital last week to a secluded place of safety, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources. The measure was prompted by information reaching Jordan’s JID intelligence service that an al Qaeda unit, The Fallujah Returnees – which fought against the Americans in the Iraqi city – had infiltrated the kingdom.
The group is led by Mohammed Shalabi, a Jordanian who is close to his compatriot, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda’s top gun in Iraq. Intelligence officials believe the group is hiding in southern Jordan somewhere between the city of Karak, on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, and the Saudi border.
Across the border, our sources note that Saudi Arabia too has declared a state of emergency in the north following intelligence data showing that a group of terrorists, possibly the same one, had slipped across the Jordan-Saudi frontier and reached the Saudi military city of Tabuk.
Al Qaeda tacticians have calculated, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism experts, that the overthrow of even a single Arab throne and eradication of a royal regime would act as a major psychological shock to the West and the Arab world and its impact on global financial and oil markets would be incalculable. The seismic effect worldwide of the murder of the emir of Kuwait, the sultan of Oman or the king of Jordan would be nearly as powerful as the 9/11 attacks on America.
The fall of any Gulf emirate would moreover bring the Al Qaeda menace closer than ever to Saudi Arabia. Installed in Muscat, the terrorists would not only acquire a strategic territorial base, but also control over the Straits of Hormuz with the power to block this vital sea route to Iranian, Iraqi and Gulf oil shipping.
Sinai Bedouin join up with al Qaeda
Eluding Egyptian security forces’ pursuit since staging a triple attack on Sinai’s holiday resorts last October, Al Qaeda has also begun to establish itself in the central hills of the peninsula, at points within striking distance of the strategic Suez and Red Sea waterways.
This week, Egyptian security forces fought a gun battle with suspects of those bombings at their hill hideouts west of the Gulf of Suez coastal town of Ras Sudr. Five people were killed in the clash, three of them Egyptian security men. A fourth was identified as Rahman Badawi, one of the two terrorists who attacked the Badia beach resort in Nueiba. The fifth was a local.
The rest of the band of wanted terrorists once again slipped through the net.
A day later, on Wednesday, February 2, Egyptian security forces surrounded a group of more than 100 gunmen near Wadi Faran further south, at the foot of St. Catherine’s monastic center. The Egyptians described the men as Bedouins who provided assistance to the terrorists responsible for last October’s Sinai strikes. In reality, it was the largest group of al Qaeda fighters ever put under siege in the Middle East.
The Egyptians adamantly refuse to acknowledge they are dealing with locals who have joined al Qaeda or that some have been promoted to command positions in the Sinai cell.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources, Egyptian security forces have been unable to lay hands on dozens, or perhaps more, of the al Qaeda men at large in the Sinai desert. The wanted terrorists, local Bedouins, Palestinians, Egyptians, Saudis and Yemenis, grow bolder day by day. They have appropriated caves and disused mines in the hills and mountains of central and southern Sinai, where they roam free and open fire whenever Egyptian security men close in on them. This is what happened Monday.
Last month, our sources reported that ground fire from al Qaeda fighters brought down an Egyptian helicopter carrying an Egyptian special forces unit combing Wadi Faran for the elusive terrorists.