The grim, thankless war on global Islamic terror achieved its biggest breakthrough ever with the mass arrests of dozens of al Qaeda suspects in 11 countries in a roundup ongoing since November. The detainees have provided the biggest eyehole yet on the inner workings of this arcane organization.
Their most amazing revelation, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources intelligence and counter-terror sources, is that Osama bin Laden is again operating out of Afghanistan and filling new training camps there, less than four years after the US-led coalition threw his organization out of the country.
More than 50 senior operatives are known to have been detained so far and the circle is widening. Not all the arrests have been announced. The roundups, especially in the latter half of November, are believed to have broken the backs of seven networks and their regional headquarters, the most resounding blow ever inflicted on Osama bin Laden’s organization. Important al Qaeda operatives were picked up in Belgium – Brussels, Antwerp, Charleroi and Riemst; Morocco – Rabat, Casablanca and Agadir, and Spain – Alicante, Granada and Murcia, as well as France, Denmark, Holland and Turkey.
Detentions took place more quietly in the UK, Tunisia and Algeria and the Syrian end of the chain was laid bare.
Close collaboration among the anti-terrorist forces of Europe and NATO- in step with American agencies – lent the crackdown depth and scope.
The prize? Access for the first time to Qaeda’s most deeply buried secrets, its methods of operation – present and future – the organization of networks, hierarchy, logistical data and funding. In the space of two weeks, Western counter-terror agencies, after years of groping in the dark, are looking deep into the structure assumed by al Qaeda since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America and the Afghan war. More data is being garnered now than was ever unearthed about the Islamist terrorist group’s operational and logistical networks in the period leading up to 9/11 – or even since its founding in the late 1989.
Bin Laden still picks targets, commands Zarqawi’s Iraq campaign
And not only data; an array of senior network leaders is in the bag. They are exclusively named in a separates article in this issue by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terror sources, which also list the other most significant findings to emerge thus far from the investigations:
1. Osama bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan, where he first established and developed al Qaeda. He is not hiding on the Pakistan-Afghan border as believed by American intelligence hitherto. Instead, his new training camps are busy turning out new recruits. This discovery was confirmed by three reformed Saudi al Qaeda followers interviewed by Saudi TV Tuesday Nov. 29. They reported they had recently spent time in bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan where they met European tyro members.
2. Al Qaeda’s founder is far from being the iconic figurehead busy with theological doctrine and superseded by a younger generation of leaders – as depicted by many pundits in the West. Intelligence input hot off the hob of current interrogations explodes this myth and portrays him as vitally active and in supreme command of al Qaeda’s operations worldwide.
His is the deciding voice on operational policy and execution; he picks the targets for attacks, orchestrates the campaign against US forces in Iraq, orders the movements of units from place to play and allocates funding. Bin Laden is fully abreast of al Qaeda’s activities and the war waged on his organization.
New commanders have indeed emerged – and will be exposed for the first time in the next article in this issue – but they are bin Laden’s appointees and he keeps them on a tight rein by efficient methods of communication, which too DEBKA-Net-Weekly will examine.
3. Even Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, commander of the Iraq branch, is subordinate to bin Laden and acts under his orders.
4. Al Qaeda is a dynamically expanding organization, constantly building new regional commands for the dual purpose of manpower recruitment and the staging of terrorist attacks. The detainees have revealed that in the last year alone, three new commands were created according to bin Laden’s planning: al Qaeda of the Levant, al Qaeda-Palestine – which extends from the Sinai Peninsula to Palestinian-controlled areas, and al Qaeda-Arabian Maghreb (North Africa).
Radical Berbers and fundamentalist Chechens harnessed
5. They also reported that, as of the winter of 2005-2006, a new al Qaeda operational tactic was to have gone into effect to correct a weakness. When a lone bomb-vested suicide attacker is caught, the operation is forfeit; this problem is to be overcome by fielding a large band of suicide killers against a single target, some of whom have a chance of getting through to complete the assigned mission even if some are seized.
6. While arrests were made in Algeria’s towns, the desert bases of al Qaeda’s branch in Algeria, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, Algeria’s largest radical jihadist movement – known also by its combat name of Al Muktaliya – proved unreachable. This group is the most covert and inaccessible of all the networks, but its impact is widespread. The detained network commanders all attested to the fingerprint of this dangerous group on all their organizations.
7. Al Qaeda has finally reached into the heart of the Berber people of Morocco and set up clandestine terror cells among its radical groups – and not just among the almost 7 million-strong nation in Morocco (one-fifth of the population at large), but also in expatriate communities living in Antwerp and other parts of West Europe.
8. Operational links are now confirmed between Russia’s Chechen rebels and al Qaeda networks in Turkey. Russian president Vladimir Putin has long claimed this tie-in, but Washington and London were never convinced.