On Wednesday, Oct. 31, a large group of US intelligence and al Qaeda counterterrorism specialists, led by Central Intelligence Director David Petraeus, stepped off a special American flight in Cairo. The purpose of their visit was officially termed "two days of talks with Egyptian security officials on terror-related issues."
It was noted by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and counterterrorism sources that they arrived in Egypt 51 days after terrorists murdered US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomats at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 10.
Those sources put forward five reasons why Petraeus’s party arrived in Cairo 51 days too late:
1. US intelligence and counterterrorism agencies refused to heed the signs – before and after the Benghazi attack – that Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was responsible for ordering it to take place.
(debkafile's counterterrorism sources disclosed this shortly after the event.)
2. From Sept. 10 up until the second week of October, US investigators dedicated all their efforts to hunting down the killers. None have so far been traced or eliminated.
Vague rumors were floating around radical Islamic militia circles in Libya, Tunisia, Mali, the Sahel desert and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb-AQIM claiming that Egyptian Salafist extremists had taken part in the Benghazi attack. But this rumor did not make it under US intelligence radar.
3. No eyes in Washington turned to a different avenue of inquiry outside the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade, which was generally held responsible for the atrocity. Neither did they give much thought to al-Zawahiri, although he has taken charge of al Qaeda’s strategic decisions since Osama bin Laden’s death at American hands in Pakistan in May 2011.
Al-Zawahiri revamps al Qaeda
The new leader has in fact, according to our sources, overhauled the jihadist movement and fundamentally revamped its tactics, targeting and mode of operation, adapting them to contemporary conditions:
A new, independent Al Qaeda force:
Because US intelligence agencies were focusing all their attention on Al Qaeda and its primary franchises – AQIM, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-AQAP, and Al Qaeda in Syria – and their commanders do not fully defer to his authority, Zawahiri decided the best way forward was to go back to the movement’s roots.
Thirty years ago, al Qaeda was born of the operational partnership the Egyptian physician forged between his own radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Bin Laden’s Saudi-dominated jihadists.
This partnership quickly became the dynamic nucleus of the burgeoning jihadist terrorist movement.
The Arab Revolt as fertile soil for terror reawakening:
Any government thrown up by the Arab revolt which refuses to establish a regime based on Sharia and fight the US and Israel must henceforth to be deemed fertile soil and fair game for planting Islamist terror in its midst, the new al Qaeda determined.
This applied especially to Egypt, where a Muslim Brotherhood government is backed by the Obama administration and maintains clandestine military and intelligence ties with Israel.
A ready-made Egyptian terror infrastructure:
Zawahiri cashed in on tools and circumstances that were not available to Osama bin Laden or present when he launched his 9/11 attacks on the United States. New realities presented the new leader with new options.
For instance, his top Islamic Jihad men were now at liberty, freed in late 2011 from the prisons in which they had been rotting for 20 years. And in June 2012, a general election brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power.
The ease with which the attackers of the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Cairo on Sept. 9, 2011 escaped Egyptian security forces showed Zawahiri the depth of the chaos prevailing in the country and across the Middle East under the new regimes. From there, it was a short jump to concluding that nothing was easier than the unleashing of dramatic terror campaigns
Lawless Sinai, the perfect hub of operations:
The rise of an Islamic-Salafi terrorist stronghold in the Sinai Peninsula, against which Egyptian authorities proved helpless, was another boon for Zawahiri’s new campaign of terror. For him, the lawless peninsula, a traditional regional smuggling center, worked as a hub for surreptitiously moving terrorists from place to place and target to target.
Egypt and Israel powerless to curb rampant Sinai terror
4. While following mainstream Al Qaeda, US intelligence and counterterrorism agencies were not sufficiently attentive to the dangerous Egyptian branch and its pulsing Sinai hub. Both were too long treated as side shows of the terrorist scene, which could be left to local authorities in Israel and Egypt to handle.
The Americans neglected to take into account that Egyptian and Israeli security and military arms were mutually tied down by the restrictive provisions of their 1979 peace treaty, which assigned Sinai the status of a demilitarized buffer zone.
The Muslim Brotherhood would now prefer to ditch the treaty, but doesn’t dare, because Washington has threatened to cut off civilian and military assistance, if it does; while Israel fears any amendments that might give the Brotherhood strategic advantages.
In these circumstances, Zawahiri’s terrorist cells are free to operate from an ideal arena of operation in Sinai, while all three powers look on.
It should therefore not be surprising to discover that some of the Benghazi killers were able to reach their victims via Sinai and Cairo and slip back to the peninsula before scattering to other destinations like Turkey, Lebanon and Syria, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counterterrorism sources report.
Petraeus receives a lukewarm welcome in Cairo
5. The success of the Benghazi attack in early September, the excessive slowness of US counterterrorism agencies, and success of every single perpetrator to escape apprehension, encouraged the al Qaeda leader to plot a major wave of terror against US, Israeli and Egyptian targets from convenient strongholds in Egypt and Sinai. Those attacks were planned for the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice (that was celebrated from October 25-29).
However, this time, the Obama administration was fully alerted to the danger and pushed every button in Cairo to force the Muslim Brotherhood government into preventive action. After the embarrassments of Benghazi, the last thing Barack Obama needed at this time was another terrorist attack on an American Middle East embassy or interest.
This decision brought CIA chief David Petraeus and his US intelligence colleagues to Cairo on Wednesday, two days after Eid, to launch a major US operation against Zawahiri’s revamped al Qaeda.
Our sources report that his welcome from Egyptian officials could best be described as lukewarm, not exactly the most promising start for an important campaign against terror.