An intelligence snapshot of al Qaeda’s situation in 2006 reflects momentum on seven of its eleven active fronts. The fundamentalists are stalled or in retreat on only three sectors.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s al Qaeda experts do not expect the death Wednesday, June 7, of Abu Musab al Zarqawi in a safe house north of Baquba, Iraq, to halt the momentum of these campaigns of terror, although they might take a different direction.
Zarqawi was the most extreme and bloodthirsty of any al Qaeda commander in all its thirteen years. This does not mean that al Qaeda, without the Butcher of Baghdad, will be averse to repeating attacks on the 9/11 scale, or flinch from the use of chemical, biological or radioactive weapons. But there will be less slaughter of hostages according to the ancient Muslim rites of beheading and the cutting of throats and less interest in inflaming sectarian and civil war at the cost of tens of thousands of innocent deaths.
Al Qaeda now appears to be intent mostly on territorial expansion and diverting its terrorist weapons to achieving strategic objectives, such as crippling national economies and destabilizing the West.
Our al Qaeda experts examine four cases that expose the unsuspected dimensions of al Qaeda’s current offensive:
THE AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN FRONT
A Taliban-led offensive is in full swing in Afghanistan with almost daily attacks launched by the former ruling Taliban, which has resorted to suicide bombings to inflict maximum damage upon the US-led Allied Forces, thus killing more than 250 people, including 22 American soldiers, since January 2006.
According to American intelligence agents stationed in Pakistan, the Taliban have lined up more than 100 suicide squads for the summer assault, with precise targets all over Afghanistan. They tell DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Pakistan sources that the Taliban believe they are better organized this year than ever before in the five years since they were booted out of power in Kabul in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. They have capitalized on links forged with Iraqi insurgents, who have provided hundreds of Taliban with hands-on training in that country, as well as logistical and tactical support.
By seizing control of virtually all of Pakistan's North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal areas on the Pak-Afghan border, the Taliban have gained an important base from which to wage war against US-led forces in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders sheltering in the Pakistani tribal belt are in fact calling the shots in the Miranshah, Mir Ali, Wana, Tank, Jandola, Makin, and Razmak areas of North and South Waziristan, overriding the local chieftains in these semi-autonomous lands.
Three leading tribes of North Waziristan have granted the Taliban their primary stronghold: the Wazirs, the Mehsuds and the Dawar.
British soldiers used to call the Wazirs wolves and the Mehsuds mountain panthers, while the Dawar were traditionally lovers of peace, preferring trade to guns, and urban living to mountains.
The Mehsud and Wazir tribes were centuries-long archenemies.
The leader of Taliban raids into Afghanistan is an Afghan from the border province of Khost called Maulana Sangeen. Haji Omar, a Waziri, heads the South Waziristan resistance movement against Pakistani forces, while Abdullah Mehsud, chieftain of the Mehsud tribe, runs the Waziristan end of the Afghan revolt.
For centuries, it was unthinkable for Mehsuds and Wazirs to fight side by side, and even more fantastic for them to subject themselves to the command of Dawars.
Since the Pak-Afghan border is unmarked, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters sheltering with the Wazirs, Mehsuds and Dawars in the Pakistani tribal belt can comfortably cross into Afghanistan for attacks and melt back, using the mountainous terrain to strategic advantage. Therefore, the al Qaeda-backed Taliban rebels go from strength to strength in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which offers them both sanctuary and natural strategic depth.
THE IRAQI FRONT
Three separate articles in this special issue set out the picture on this front.
SOMALIA – THE HORN AND EAST AFRICA
The victory gained in the last three weeks by Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed over the US-backed secular coalition of warlords presents the United States with one of its most painful setbacks in the three-year war on global terror.
The warlords, driven out of the capital after a decade of rule, were backed by American funds, arms, ammunition, and a stream of intelligence data on the movements of the Islamic Union and its al Qaeda allies. Nonetheless, the Islamic Courts conquered most of the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the south
The Americans judged badly in placing their trust in the boldest and smartest of the warlords, Muhammed Kanair Efroah. As the warlords’ campaign advanced, it became clear that the American investment had gone down the drain and the Islamic force allied with al Qaeda was regaining domination of the strategic Indian Ocean shores of East Africa.
Once al Qaeda sets up a logistic, terror and intelligence base in Mogadishu and avails itself of the city’s international airport and harbor facilities, Osama bin Laden will be in a position to pose a direct threat to American control of the Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf, a menace that reaches across to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan, as well as Kenya and the rest of East Africa.
EGYPT AND SINAI
The threat to the Suez Canal is no longer a hypothesis in the minds of Egyptian counter-terror agencies in Cairo. It has become very real since the battle fought Wednesday, May 31, by Egyptian special forces with an al Qaeda band, using the same Egyptian police uniforms and weapons as the cell that infiltrated Israel last Saturday, June 2.
That team was originally bound for the Multinational Force based at al Gorah near el Arish in northern Sinai, for a shooting, bombing and grenade assault on the peacekeepers, most of whom are American or Canadian. But they were intercepted by an Egyptian force which captured several of the terrorists. Under interrogation, they revealed that a second al Qaeda band was on its way across the Sinai Peninsula to Ismailia on the Suez Canal to connect up with a third band based in the sweet water lakes around the canal port. They were to meet up for an operation to sabotage Suez Canal installations with a view to blocking the international waterway and much of the world’s commercial and oil shipping.
This was the second al Qaeda attempt in a month to disable the Suez Canal and the terrorists can be expected to keep on trying.
ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS
The graphic with this item is the official emblem of Al Qaeda-Palestine. Its design is based on the insignia adopted by the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi‘s group in order to highlight the fact that al Qaeda-Palestine is one of his operational branches.
Sunday, June 4, Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin informed Israel’s parliamentary foreign affairs and security committee that al Qaeda has planted terror cells in the Gaza Strip and an ideological infrastructure in the West Bank and the Israeli capital, Jerusalem, as foundations for more of these cells.
What he did not tell the lawmakers was that al Qaeda’s cells in Jerusalem were scouting for members outside the Palestinian mainstream. They were focusing on the semi-clandestine HIzb al-Tahrir (Liberation Party). This little-known, compartmentalized organization numbers millions of members across the Muslim world. They are religious extremists who do not engage in ongoing terrorism, but aspire to overthrow infidel regimes in single devastating coups. Most Muslim governments in the Middle East, the Far East and Central Asia view Hizba al-Tahrir with trepidation. Often it is outlawed and its members jailed and tortured to extract the secrets of their arcane networks.
Al Qaeda has chosen Jerusalem, most of whose Palestinian inhabitants are Israeli residents, of all places to find a way into this sinister movement, because there its activities are not likely to attract much attention in the West or be noticed by Muslim governments. This stealthy step is indicative of al Qaeda’s capacity for patient, long-term strategic planning.