The 12 Al Qaeda terrorists, whose movements have put European security authorities on high New Year alert, set out from Ain Hilweh, Lebanon, and belong to three al Qaeda-linked Palestinian groups, the Syrian Jund al-Sham, the Lebanese Army of Islam (which also operates in the Gaza Strip) and Fatah al-Islam, debkafile's counter-terror sources disclose. All its members are richly experienced in urban terror in various Middle East arenas.
Al Qaeda has taken of late to using Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia as starting points for its terrorist plots to baffle the Western agencies keeping an eye on terrorist bases in Pakistan, North Africa and Yemen.
The last bombing attempt in Europe, which took place in Stockholm on December 11, was the work of an Iraqi Arab dispatched and later claimed by Iraqi Al Qaeda. Two other groups came from Somalia: the nine men charged at Westminster Court, London, Monday, Dec. 26, with conspiracy to carry out bombing attacks on the US embassy, the London Stock Exchange and political and religious figures (12 were rounded up at four locations on Dec. 20 and three released.) and the twelve men picked up in Rotterdam for plotting Christmas attacks in Holland.
It is now the turn of Lebanon. There, an elaborate smoke and mirrors exercise was staged to conceal the next Al Qaeda assault, as disclosed here by debkafile.
On Dec. 25, Christmas day, Ghandi Sahmarani, the leader of the Syrian Palestinian Jund Al Sham's Lebanese branch, was reported found dead in a back alley of the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain Hilweh in South Lebanon with the bullet wound in the back of his neck and his hands tied with barbed wire.
The dead man had never lived in this camp which is the fiefdom of the Fatah strongman, Mounir Al-Maqda. It was therefore assumed he had been dragged to Ain Hilweh by abductors and then put to death. Later that day, journalists were invited to the Sidon hospital morgue to view his body.
However, according to debkafile's intelligence and counter-terror sources, Sahmarani is still alive. The body exhibited was that of a man who resembled him. The real Sahmarani eluded his watchers last week on the very day that 12 Palestinian terrorists went missing from Ain Hilweh. It is now believed that he was put in command of the terrorist operations scheduled to take place in Europe and the Middle East on or around the New Year and that he and the group's members are already on their way to their targets.
European sources have traced the group travelling from Lebanon to Syria and thence to Turkey, where they have split up into small sub-groups of two to three men each. Part is heading for the Balkans to infiltrate Western Europe; part is still in Turkey and may stay there or make for another Middle East destination for a multi-casualty attack.
The three Palestinian groups involved often overlap operationally and are expert at laying false trails to conceal the movements of their leaders and operatives.
In 2007, during the four-month battle Fatah Al Islam and the Army of Islam waged against the Lebanese army for control of Nahr- Al-Bared, the big Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli in northern Lebanon, stories were put out about the death of their leader Shaker al-Abssi. Then, too, reporters were shown his remains. However Abssi has proved to have more than one life; although he was reported dead more than once, he is still alive and fully active from a base in Iraq.
After the charade at the Sidon morgue on Saturday, the Ain Hilweh chief Mounir Al Maqda confirmed that a "group of fighters" belonging to Jund a-Sham, the Army of Islam and Fatah al Islam, were no longer in the camp. Certain Middle East intelligence watchers, aware of Al-Maqda's close ties with the three Palestinian organizations and al Qaeda cells in Lebanon, don't exactly believe him. They suspect he was part of the conspiracy to conceal Sahmarani's departure on a mission of terror by faking his death.