Danger of Chem-Bio Terror Attacks Peaks This Week

The closing days of June bring closer than ever before the danger of Iraqi Baathist guerrillas and al Qaeda letting loose with chemical and biological weapons which most authoritative sources believe they secretly possess. The menace is not limited to Iraq’s borders.
A spate of terrorist strikes in Ankara, Antalya, Istanbul and its international airport augurs ill for the 44 world leaders planning to hold their annual NATO summit in Istanbul Monday and Tuesday, June 28-29. The attacks were small in scale and strenuously played down by the Turkish authorities. Nonetheless they marked out the extended reach of the two dangerous organizations and were anxiously watched across the entire Middle East.
The Istanbul summit’s agenda is dominated by three items of business: 1) Washington’s request for troops and military instructors to train and equip the close to quarter of a million recruits the US administration has enlisted to the new Iraqi army, police and the security forces. 2) A decision on the flag under which the instructors’ corps will operate – UN or NATO. 3) The Bush Middle East Initiative for democratic and economic reform.
Jittery Turkish forces will start breathing only after the flock of world leaders heads for home Tuesday and the security limelight switches back to Baghdad where, a few hours later, the US formally transfers national sovereignty, though not military control, to the interim Iraqi government.
Saturday morning, June 26, a suicide bomber’s explosive charge blew up prematurely, killing the killer and injuring three at the entrance of the small Hatipoglu hotel in the Antalyan town of Alanya. Local Turkish officials described the incident as a gas explosion in the hotel’s air-conditioning system that killed a Turkish woman tourist. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources affirm it was a terrorist’s “work accident.”
Friday night, June 25, Turkish police discovered a bomb operated by remote control under a jeep in Istanbul international airport’s parking section and blew it up by controlled explosion before any harm was caused. The airport authorities denied the incident from first to last.
Thursday, June 24, a bomb exploded not far from the Ankara Hilton where President George W. Bush is due to stay from Saturday night, injuring three and pointing to a chink in the security shield thrown around the US president and other world leaders in Turkey. Bush arrived ahead of the NATO summit for weekend talks with Turkish leaders. Also Thursday, four Turks were killed in a bus blast in Istanbul hastily attributed by Turkish officials to a far left fringe group.
The Ankara Hilton and Istanbul bus bombs were drowned out by the ferocious terrorist attacks against Iraqi police and US targets across five Iraqi cities that claimed more than 100 Iraqi lives, three of them US soldiers, and injured 320 on that same Thursday. The blasts of ten exploding cars were accompanied by the clatter of mortar shells, recoilless grenades, hand grenades and automatic weapons wielded by bands of men in black, the uniform of the dreaded Saddam’s Fedayeen.
debkafile‘s counter-terror experts comment that the planners who scheduled the NATO summit and Iraq’s transition in such close proximity, albeit 1,613 km apart, were governed by political objectives rather security judgment.
Turkish police are taking extreme security precautions across the country, but Turkey’s barn door is wide open.
Baghdad and Istanbul are connected by a comfortable modern road system; northern Iraq has good rail and aviation links with Turkey; if the money is right, sophisticated smuggling networks will whisk men, weapons and explosives clandestinely across the border with no questions asked. The border region is seething with a violent admixture of Iraqi guerrillas, Arab fighters from around the Middle East, al Qaeda cells, Turkish Kurdish guerrillas pledged to wage a terror war against Ankara and Turkish extremist groups working with al Qaeda in Iraq, Iran and the Hizballah in Lebanon. This motley assortment of anti-Western elements dominates the lawless border region. For them, slipping back and forth past American and Turkish forces is a cake walk. There is not much to bar them from mounting synchronized terrorist actions in Baghdad and Istanbul – or for that matter anywhere else in the Middle East where a partner in the Bush democracy vision, for instance Jordan, Kuwait or Israel, may be targeted.
It would not be the first time Iraqi guerrillas carried out extraterritorial operations in Qaeda’s service. In mid-April, a band was apprehended preparing a large chemical attack on behalf of their fundamentalist allies in Amman. Then, on April 21, Iraqi guerrillas were contracted to execute the double bomb car assault on Saudi General Intelligence headquarters in Riyadh which is charge of fighting terrorism, killing nine Saudi intelligence officers – some very senior – and injuring 125. The Iraqis crossed in to the kingdom via Kuwait.
Five weeks later, on May 29, al Qaeda again drew on its Iraqi partners-in-terror for aid in its hostage-taking shooting operation in the eastern Saudi town of Khobar that ended in the slaughter of nine foreign oil workers taken hostage and another 13 deaths. Iraqis drove the cars into Saudi Arabia via Kuwait bringing with them weapons and explosives.
debkafile quotes senior counter-terror official as saying: “In the current situation, no security authority in any Middle East country or even Europe can take it for granted that his sector is not targeted by an Iraqi or al Qaeda terrorist cell. Turkish towns come immediately to mind, but so too do Moscow, Berlin, Paris, Rome and London.”
US and Turkish security planners hope they can ward off a long-range mortar or improvised rocket barrage on the Ankara Hilton or the Istanbul hotel hosting the US President, on the lines of the Iraqi insurgents’ blast against Baghdad’s Rashid Hotel during visits by US officials. They also fear hijacked airliners crashing into one of the hotels hosting the US president like the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
The unspoken menace hanging over every scenario is provided by the unmarked 155-mm artillery shell containing sarin nerve gas that a US convoy encountered on May 15 on the road to Baghdad airport. Washington and the US military command in Iraq do not doubt, according to our military and intelligence sources, that the Baath guerrillas, the al Qaeda terrorists swarming in Fallujah and around the Sunni Triangle and the Shiite rebel Moqtada Sadr have access to Saddam’s leftover caches of sarin and mustard gas and know how to pack the toxic substances into explosive charges.
The prevailing intelligence assumption today, according to our sources, is that the terrorists will bring these banned weapons out around the date of the transition – the last week of June or early July – and use them in Iraq or outside the country.
This danger was directly addressed by Charles Duelfer, head of the US Iraqi Survey team assigned with the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, in an interview with Fox TV on Thursday, June 24. He revealed the discovery by his group of at least ten or twelve artillery shells filled with sarin and mustard, adding that they are finding new WMD evidence “almost every day.” Even if the shells had degraded over time, he stressed, they were still capable of killing dozens of people. He warned both soldiers and civilians in Iraq to carry gas masks and have access to chem-bio suits. Instructions to this effect have been issued to American troops in Iraq.

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