Assassinations Integral to al Qaeda’s Terror Agenda
Al Qaeda’s determined assassination attempts on Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf on December 14 and again on the 25th bring to mind an ominous sequence that preceded the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York and Washington. Two days earlier, on September 9, al Qaeda assassins murdered Ahmad Shah Massoud, semi-legendary leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant, Dr Ayman Zawahiri, sent a group of suicide bombers to pose as journalists and kill Massoud while pretending to interview him. A bomb hidden in either a belt or a television camera detonated and killed the opposition leader, famous for his role in the campaign to drive the Red Army out of the country in the late 1980s and with a good chance of ousting the Taliban-al Qaeda regime.
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The Afghan hero’s assassination turned out to have been a pre-emptive tactic of al Qaeda’s for wiping out America’s chief ally in Afghanistan and so undercutting the Bush administration’s retaliatory resources in advance of its horrendous airborne suicide strikes in the United States.
In December 2003, Osama bin Laden looked as though he was repeating his pre-9/11 ploy against President Musharraf – except that this time, he did not pull it off. Western nations under threat fortified themselves with preventive measures to fend off a major terror strike in the holiday season, while at the same time forearming the Pakistani president with the latest protective gadgetry. This episode has important applications also for Israel’s defenses against terror.
Sunday, December 28, Pakistani information minister, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, identified two of the suicide bombers who failed to murder Musharraf as belonging to Kashmiri and Afghan militant groups – the little known Kashmiri Al Jehad and Pakistan’s North Western Frontier Province which borders on Afghanistan.
debkafile‘s counter-terror experts doubt whether either has the sophistication or inside foothold for mounting the latest attempts on the Pakistani ruler.
The ever-present menace facing pro-American world leaders is exacerbated by the advances made by the Osama bin Laden’s international network in the penetration of certain countries’ security and intelligence services. Where does al Qaeda get its deep intelligence on the innermost security and secrets of its targets? This question has never been satisfactorily answered since 9/11. The capability stood out starkly in both attacks on the Pakistani ruler. The FBI has therefore seen fit to join the Musharraf investigation so as to draw lessons applicable for the protection of other world leaders, as well as establishing which of the newly developed high-tech gadgets worked best for saving the Pakistani leader’s life.
As reported in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 139 of Dec. 27, it is a realistic possibility that al Qaeda’s repeated targeting of Musharraf is part of a larger plan to eliminate pro-Western Arab and Muslim rulers. The Pakistani president was lucky till now, but King Muhammad VI of Morocco and Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia are also thought to be imminent targets as linchpins of America’s global war on terror. Al Qaeda appears to believe that by knocking over key US props within the Arab and Muslim world, it will undermine America’s strategic standing universally.
On December 14, Musharref was driving back to his residence at The Army House from a formal reception in honor of Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri after they had signed a pact to cooperate in the war against terror. The route taken by his motorcade was fixed moments before its departure and was known to no more than three to five trusted security officers. They would have relayed the route to the security forces protecting the president.
To guard against leaks to potential assassins, two or three motorcades routinely set off for the presidential residence along different routes. Two are decoys, one is real. Musharref himself picks the one that will carry him and his personal party home just before he steps into the presidential limousine.
So how did al Qaeda know which motorcade to target?
Their operatives planted two smart bombs, each packed with 275 kgs of explosives and fitted with both a remote control and a timing device to trigger it, under the very bridge crossed by the real motorcade and detonated it at the very moment it passed.
Although they had the right motorcade, the attempt failed.
Musharref himself reported in a Pakistani television-PTV interview after the failed attack that he had heard and felt the blast between 30 seconds and a minute after he crossed the bridge. His bodyguards described a 30-second pause between crossing and blast.
Minute variations in time span are significant, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources. The Pakistani president’s armor-plated limousine was fitted with high-tech jamming devices that stopped the timer for about a minute and also jammed the remote control. It was enough to let Musharraf cross the bridge safely.
Our sources report that the secret services of the United States, Russia and Israel have developed these devices to protect their leaders and for the use of special forces operating under cover or agents on special assignments.
The gadget in the Pakistani president’s car was supplied by the CIA. Like others of its kind it is not perfect. It cannot detect pulses sent by remote control mechanisms or bomb timers. But it worked perfectly in the first attack on Musharref and saved his life.
In the second attempt, al Qaeda demonstrated that its intelligence penetration of the Pakistani ruler’s inner circle and SIS intelligence was deeper than thought. They hit on a novel method of beating the jamming gear in his car. Instead of bombs and roadside devices, they used two pickup trucks packed with explosives and driven by two suicide killers with bomb-belts strapped to their bodies. To make absolutely sure of getting their victim, they parked the two trucks outside two gas stations fairly close together. The second was timed to detonate during the minute that the first was delayed. Al Qaeda therefore knew about the delaying device which aborted the first assassination attempt. The killers were also supplied with bomb belts. If the truck-bombs failed to explode, the drivers would ram them into the presidential motorcade while detonating their personal explosives at one of the gas stations, so creating a double fire ball from which the target had no hope of escaping alive.
However, realizing that al Qaeda was gunning for him and would try again, the Pakistani ruler was prepared. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that in addition to the American jamming equipment, the president provided himself with a second gadget designed in Israel especially for detonating explosive belts carried by suicidal terrorists. This gadget is still being developed for the American army in Iraq. Instead of stopping a timer to gain one minute for escape, this system detonates the bomb belt on the terrorist’s body.
Israel’s development of this device has been guided by three objectives:
1. To acquire the ability to pre-empt a suicide bomber by detonating his charge before he reaches target, thereby cutting down casualties.
2. Of late, Palestinian terror groups have taken to using advance parties to conceal a would-be suicide killer’s bomb belt at safe drops like mosques or caves, where he picks it up a short time before he sets out for attack. The new system once perfected can be used to detect a suspected terrorist’s hiding place and blow his belt up before he straps it on.
3. Israeli intelligence has received word of a new weapon developed by al Qaeda and the Lebanese Hizballah in partnership: an explosive that is not activated by the bomber but is preset to blow up at a given time regardless of whether he is caught before he strikes. It also acts as back-up for faulty mechanisms. The two terror groups started working on their pre-timed device after the partial miss of the two British bombers, Muhammed Hanif and Omar Sharif, in their attack on a Tel Aviv bar on April 30, 2003. Hanif blew himself up, while Sharif’s bomb-belt was faulty.
The Israeli device is still experimental. It will undergo further testing before it goes into service.