The coded messages exchanged in the last two weeks by Abu Musab al Zarqawi‘s minions make frequent references to a plot finalized by al Qaeda’s Iraq wing to assassinate the US president George W. Bush.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources and al Qaeda monitors interpret the messages as intimating that the preparations are already in hand in anticipation of a surprise trip to Iraq they believe the US president is planning very soon to visit US troops and meet the new prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Al Qaeda means to assassinate the US president on that visit.
Bush has faced more than one death threat from Osama bin Laden‘s organization since he took office in January 2001. This one, however, appears to be fueled by a plethora of purportedly secret intelligence on the way security is handled for western visitors frequenting Baghdad and a line on the movements of US military commanders in Iraq, the Gulf and the Middle East.
Indeed, Zarqawi appears to have got hold of inside information on top-secret security in the Green Zone, the heavily-fortified inner sanctum of US diplomatic and military headquarters in Iraq and the seat of Iraqi government. His agents seem to have found an internal source that betrays key particulars about the officials supervising all security arrangements, with personal details on Iraqi cabinet members, their aides and their families.
Al Qaeda’s access to the Green Zone’s most confidential secrets was verified in the e-mails sent out on Tuesday, May 16, which revealed the impending arrival of the British premier Tony Blair to Baghdad. No notice of the visit appeared anywhere. All al Qaeda units in the Iraqi capital were placed on high alert.
Zarqawi knew enough to hit Blair
Friday and Saturday, May 19 and 20, the terrorists’ correspondence pinpointed the secret date of Blair’s arrival two days hence, the time of his landing in the Green Zone aboard a fleet of armed helicopters, and the hours of his scheduled meetings with al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.
Zarqawi’s men had clearly gathered sufficient intelligence in good time for a potential guerrilla or mortar attack on the British prime minister at any point of his itinerary in the Green Zone. But he did not give this command. He explicitly ordered them to hold their fire.
They were also told not to move about but just track the visitor and note down all the measures for guarding him and his party. One message explained why they should stay put as much as possible: The American “crusaders,” they were warned, were waiting for al Qaeda members to shift position in order to mark them down as targets.
The watch-and-wait tenor of al Qaeda’s exchange of messages strongly suggests that Zarqawi’s people had been instructed to confine themselves to casing the security surrounding the Blair trip and treat it as a dry run for their plan to assassinate the US president. The Americans too appear to have used the British visit as a dress rehearsal for maximizing security in advance of a visit by their president.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s monitors traced al Qaeda’s electronic correspondence to two sources, Samarra north of Baghdad and al Qaim in the west, near the Syrian border.
The abundance of intelligence the fundamentalist terrorists obtained on the security measures guarding the world’s foremost leaders of the wars in Iraq and on global terror once again raises the disturbing question bedeviling western intelligence agencies since September 2001: How does the jihadist world organization come by such sensitive intelligence?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources presume that some of the secrets leaked from Iraqi military and undercover departments, some of which are known to be heavily penetrated by al Qaeda. At the same time, certain details of the security and secrecy blanketing the brief Blair stopover – and, by the same token, any future visit to Baghdad by President Bush – were not shared with Iraqi officials.