Al Qaeda shows signs of busying itself with advanced preparations to mark the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America, judging from the coded messages rushing around the organization’s internal Internet mailing system.
Does this mean Osama bin Laden‘s top masterminds are plotting more mega-attacks? And if so where?
One clear clue is provided by a series of messages posted on sites directly associated with bin Laden on Wednesday, August 24, the gist of which is this:
Osama bin Laden, referred to in some sites as Sheikh Abu Abdullah, was injured in his left leg while taking part in an attack on a Spanish military base in Afghanistan. Some call the attack “the al-Khulud expedition” which he is said to have led onto the battlefield. A video of the expedition is promised and the faithful are asked to pray for the Sheikh’s recovery.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s experts on al Qaeda offer these comments on the messages:
1. Osama bin Laden does not take part in military operations. He has never participated in a single al Qaeda armed assault since the organization was established in Peshawar in the late 1980s. Then his men murdered the original al Qaeda founder and his own mentor, Abdullah Azzam. Since he did not fight Spanish forces in Afghanistan, he could not have suffered a leg injury. The only engagement at which he is known to have been present was the November 2001Tora Bora battle in Afghanistan. But then too he broke out of the US-Afghan encirclement and made good his and his family’s escape on November 8-10.
So why did al Qaeda run this tale?
There are two optional explanations.
He can’t be less of a hero than Zarqawi
A. Bin Laden cannot show himself as less of a hero than his Iraq commander Abu Musab al Zarqawi who, after he was wounded in a US attack on al-Qaim region last June, continued to lead the faithful into battle against the Americans and is currently masterminding a terrorist offensive striking at points in Europe and the Middle East. To polish his image and dispel the impression that he is a fading force who has lost his grip on the terror movement, bin Laden is disseminating the tale of his injury in battle. This is intended to show al Qaeda’s leader in the same glorious light as Zarqawi whose popularity in al Qaeda’s ranks threatens to rival his own.
B. The other theory is more disquieting. Bin Laden may be using this method to inform his adherents that he has recovered from an injury sufficiently to launch a fresh round of jihad operations. In this case, the message would presage high-profile attacks personally commanded by the leader himself.
This second rationale would fit in with its timing for the third week of August, shortly before the Sept 11 anniversary date. The whole of September must therefore be deemed a high-risk month.
What most worries Western anti-terror agencies – even more than the spate of signals – is a disappearance. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, Musab al-Siri, 47, whose real name is Mustafa Sit Maryam, a bomb-making expert, thought to be behind the 2004 Madrid rail bombings and many other attacks in Europe, has gone to ground in Iraq and joined Zarqawi there. Sit Mayam was born to the big Maryam clan of the Syrian town of Aleppo. Close to bin Laden, our sources say he has been appointed Zarqawi’s lieutenant in charge of organizing terrorist operations outside Iraq. This is the man, Western intelligence believes, who has been assigned with setting up the 9/11 anniversary offensive.