Al Qaeda’s Dread Touch Falls on Moscow, Beslan, Beersheba…

On Friday, September 3, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 172 wrote:
It took White House spinmeisters less than a day to get President George W. Bush to modify the astonishing statement he made Monday, August 30, when he told NBC’s Today Show “I don’t think you can win” the war on terror but “you can you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world”.
Persuaded to reverse course by the flap his remark stirred during the Republican National Convention in New York, the president said in a speech in Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday, August 31 “We meet today at a time of war for our country, a war we did not start, yet one that we will win.”
No matter how he tries to sell it, Bush’s initial comments were right on the money, reflecting the intelligence briefings put before him day by day.
In “Al Qaeda Today, Centralized Strategic Decisions, Decentralized Operations”, (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 168, August 6), examination of the terrorist network’s operational deployment revealed that its supreme leadership was losing direct control over target selection or the modalities of attacks decided by local branches, beyond general directives. The brutal school siege in Beslan, North Osettia, this week, was on example of a regional operation run by semi-autonomous regional or local affiliates over which the overall leadership has little control.
The school siege was masterminded by the Saudi wing of al Qaeda in Chechnya. Al Qaeda cells based in Iran are prone to manipulation by Tehran for political and military ends that are foreign to the movement’s objectives. Al Qaeda is also found in league with Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah in attempting to grab footholds in South Lebanon and Gaza Strip.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi sometimes acts out his own agenda in Iraq.
The first cracks are marring the once rock-smooth relations of unity and obedience binding the fundamentalist terror network’s various operational branches to the directives handed down by the top leaders.
This fragmentation of al Qaeda into ungovernable entities allied with outside forces, embedded in civilian populations and targeting other civilians, seriously hampers the efforts of counter-terror force to catch – let alone prevail over – all its widely-diffused fighting elements – certainly not by conventional military means.
Bush was therefore right when he said the war against terror cannot be won outright. But much can be done nonetheless by deploying large forces, including American troops, in many regions of the world to make them less hospitable to terrorists. As these regions multiply, the terrorists will find their areas of operation and freedom of movement increasingly cramped.
The spiral of terrorist outrages overtaking Russia, Iraq and Israel in the last 10 days reflects the increasing volatility of the fundamentalists’ organizational structure.
On Wednesday, August 25, the “Islambouli Brigades,” named after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassin, orchestrated the blowing up two hijacked Russian Tupolev planes that took off from Moscow minutes apart. Eighty-nine passengers and crew were killed.
Six days later, the same group sent a female suicide bomber to blow herself up outside a Moscow subway station, killing 10 people. Our Russian intelligence sources report the bomber was the sister of Chechen terrorist Amanty Nigayeva, who brought down one of the two Russian planes, a Tupolev 134, on a flight from Moscow to Volgograd.
A second Chechen woman blew up the other plane, a Tupolev 154 en route to the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the Russian leader Vladimir Putin was on holiday.
Wednesday, September 1, an estimated 40 or 50 heavily armed terrorists, including women strapped in bomb belts, seized some 1,200 hostages – 700 children from 7 to 17 who were joined by their parents and teachers at Middle School No. 1, in the North Osettia town of Beslan, for a ceremony to open the Russian school year.
Friday, September 3, an unforeseen occurrence triggered an unplanned assault by Russian special troops on the school. They met fierce resistance from the hostage-takers. By Saturday, 430 dead hostages had been counted – 155 of them children – and the figure kept on rising. About 550 were injured, half children, some gravely. Twenty-seven hostage takers died, including 10 Arabs, three were taken alive and an unknown number escaped. Putin who visited Beslan and the hospital early Saturday, September 4, shut the borders of North Ossetia.
See Beslan School Siege Timeline in Special News Box under Headlines.
Shortly before Tuesday’s blast outside the Moscow station, Israel’s southern city of Beersheba suffered one of the deadliest suicide bombings seen since the Palestinian terror war was launched in September 2000. Two Hamas terrorists from Hebron detonated their bombs seconds apart on two buses packed with passengers returning home from the desert city’s main market, killing 16 people and wounding 102. Quick thinking by the driver of the second bus prevented an even worse disaster. When he saw the first bus explode, he pulled over to the verge and opened the doors for the passengers to tumble out, split seconds before the second suicide bomber pulled the wire.
No local investigators in either of these episodes made all the international connections. However, there were striking similarities between the methods of operation in two cases in the same time span: the two Beersheba bus blasts and the two Tupolev air crashes, both by suicide bombers.
On that same deadly Tuesday in August, an Iraqi terrorist group associated with Zarqawi, Ansar al-Sunna, murdered 12 Nepalese workers employed as cooks and cleaners by a Jordanian company. One victim was beheaded, the other 11 lined up and shot in the back.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources, local al Qaeda cells had a hand in each of these three terrorist episodes, apparently unbeknownst to the organization’s central leadership.
The three attacks in Russia this month may be only the beginning, with more horrors to come. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reveal that they were plotted and executed under the direction of the new chiefs of al Qaeda’s Saudi contingent commanding the Chechen rebel force who succeeded the late Abu al-Walid. Known only by their noms de guerre of “Abu Hafes” and “Abu Hajar”, they were ably assisted by two senior Iran-based operatives, Sayef al-Adel and Zarqawi.
Al-Adel is credited with setting up the large-scale terror attacks against Westerners’ housing compounds in Riyadh in May 2003. Zarqawi, in addition to his projects in Iraq, flits between Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Chechnya.
The Islambouli Brigades, the group responsible for the suicide bombings aboard the Russian airliners, is the catchall of the Iranian-al Qaeda-Saudi-Chechen connection.
Mohammed Islambouli, the brother of Anwar Sadat’s killer, is a key al Qaeda player. He and Zarqawi asked the Saudi command in Chechnya to publicly dedicate an attack to the memory of the Egyptian president’s assassin. Every al Qaeda man dreams that one day, a “glorious operation” will bear his name or be dedicated to a family member.
The execution of the 12 Nepalese by Zarqawi’s men in Iraq was puzzling on the face of it. After all, Nepal has not sent troops to fight in Iraq. Why should its nationals be targeted by Islamic terrorists? Al Qaeda adherents who viewed the hideous atrocity on Al Jazeera television understood at once why they were slaughtered. One object was to disrupt the operation of the Jordanian firm employing them as carrier of the key supply line from the Red Sea port of Aqaba to US forces in Baghdad via Amman. Zarqawi’s detestation of his own country of birth, Jordan, was another motive.
But for al Qaeda, the Beersheba bus bombings were more important by far.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report this operation fitted into the drive by a local al Qaeda cell in league with a Lebanon-based Iranian Revolutionary Guards detachment and the Hizballah, to carve out two interlinked terrorist enclaves on the Mediterranean shores of southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip that will squeeze Israel from the north and south and provide all three with seaports for launching attacks elsewhere in the region.
Israeli officials have never admitted to the presence of al Qaeda cells in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, although in December 2001, two and a half months after al Qaeda struck New York and Washington, shoe bomber Richard Reid spent time in the Palestinian Jebalya camp as guest of Hamas leader Nabil Aqal. This is why the Hebron Kawasme cell held responsible for the two Beersheba bus blasts has presented merely as a local Hamas cell.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources recall that exactly the same cell blew up a Haifa bus in March 2003. It then turned out to be linked to both Hizballah and al Qaeda.
debkafile reported on March 6, 2003:
Fifteen Israelis – mostly high school pupils and Haifa university students – were murdered in a powerful blast generated by a Palestinian homicidal suicide while riding on a Haifa bus on Wednesday, March 5. The killer, a Palestinian aged 20 from the West Bank town of Hebron, was identified as Mahmoud Hamdan Selim Kawasme, member of a big Hebron clan and kinsman of a former mayor.
A note found on his body praised to heaven the al Qaeda perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities in New York, in which more than 3000 people died.
Initially he was described as a member of the Islamic extremist Hamas. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources say the young killer was in fact a disciple of Fawzi Ayoub, the high-ranking Lebanese Hizballah officer who infiltrated Israel as a Canadian tourist at the end of 2001and went to ground in Palestinian-controlled territory. Last July, he was picked up hiding in the rubble of the big Palestinian police headquarters building in Hebron, after it had been torn apart by the IDF, room by room, when the terrorists sheltering there refused to surrender.
Ayoub was one of a group of Hizballah instructors, expert in terrorist techniques, who were imported by Yasser Arafat under a secret pact he forged with Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah before launching his Intifada in September 2000. On orders from Arafat, the Palestinian West Bank Security head, Jibril Rajoub, made arrangements for keeping the group hidden. Ayoub trained dozens of young Palestinians as Hizballah, not Hamas, cadres in Hebron.
The high combat skills he imparted to these Palestinian terrorists were evident in the ambush on Worshippers’ Lane on the way to Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs carried out on November 16, 2002, in which 12 Israeli army and security officers and men lost their lives. debkafile reported at the time that, although the assailants were identified as Jihad Islami, the attack bore the imprint of Fawzi Ayoub.
The note found on the body of Mahmoud Kawasme, protege of a Hizballah officer, epitomizes the murky operational collaboration that debkafile first exposed two years ago between Arafat’s Palestinian movement, the Lebanese Hizballah and al Qaeda.
End of article.
The Sharon government has an interest in keeping these dark connections shadowed for as long as possible. For if Israel is menaced not merely by Palestinian terror but by the immensely dangerous Hizballah and al Qaeda which are already burrowing underground to establish a stranglehold on the Gaza Strip, what point is there in going forward with any disengagement plans, much less the removal of the Israeli military presence from that increasingly strategic region? Israel’s peril from evacuated Palestinian territory may be extrapolated from Chechnya’s atrocity against the people of Beslan.

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