The primary mission Jordanian military intelligence has undertaken is to keep track of every hiccup by al Qaeda’s Iraqi chief, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and, as its highest priority, to keep his networks out of the Hashemite Kingdom.
This week, the undercover agency leaked a sensational piece of news through two channels. One, Huthaifa Azzam, whose father Abdullah Azzam was Osama bin Laden’s mentor, announced:
“The Jordanian al-Qaeda militant has been forced to step down as leader of a coalition of Iraqi militants,” he claimed. “Zarqawi was replaced by an Iraqi two weeks ago. The new political leader of the coalition of insurgent groups – of which Zarqawi is part – is Abdullah al-Baqhdadi.”
According to Azzam, the move was prompted in part by “embarrassment over Zarqawi’s attacks on other countries, such as last year’s hotel bombings in Jordan.”
The second channel, reported by debkafile Tuesday, April 4, is Al Hayat, the Arabic newspaper published in London, which cited the Jordanian intelligence warning to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas that al Qaeda had planted cells in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and was preparing a spectacular terrorist operation in the Gaza Strip.
The paper also claimed that Osama bin Laden had appointed a new commander for al Qaeda operations west of Iraq – in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. All Al Hayat could say about the new commander was that he was called “Said.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources and al Qaeda experts refute these reports. They say the new command was set up by Zarqawi himself under the name of Bilad a-Shem – Land of the East – and its new head, a Syrian whose name is known, is a Zarqawi appointment.
Our sources also report exclusively that the new command is part of a broad shakeup Zarqawi himself has carried out in his Iraq networks.
1. He has replaced most of his fighting force estimated at 3,000 mostly Saudi, Egyptian, Yemeni, Syrian and Palestinian operatives, with North Africans. From 75 to 80 percent of the new force hails from Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia.
This wholesale rotation bespeaks exceptional organizational capabilities and plenty of cash.
Zarqawi dumps adherents suspected of hostile penetration
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror experts note that the logistics of importing and maintaining foreign manpower in Iraq is far more expensive than the use of local strength – high wages, for instance. Zarqawi is spending an estimated $2-3 million a month on running and maintaining this force.
The reason for the general shakeup, according to those sources, is that the al Qaeda commander no longer trusts his local adherents whom he has found to be heavily penetrated by American, Iranian and Jordanian agents.
Iraq-based Syrians and Palestinians are easier to recruit as double agents than North African Islamic zealots, who are almost impossible to “turn”.
2. Zarqawi has appointed new regional chiefs in Iraq under a supreme commander called Monazeir Abeidi.
These reports fly in the face of the impression Jordanian intelligence is trying to convey of a rupture between the Iraqi Sunni guerrilla command and Zarqawi, which is tying him down and threatening to oust him. The Iraqi guerrilla chiefs have always entertained certain reservations about the Jordanian terrorist chief from the outset of their campaign in mid-2003, but they nonetheless work together.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that Zarqawi with some of his top lieutenants were spotted in the last two weeks on the move between Ramadi in central Iraq and al Qaim, where the Iraqi, Syrian and Jordanian borders converge. Zarqawi was observed alone in the Iraqi town of Abu Abeid near al Qaim.
Regarding the claim of a new al Qaeda commander for the lands west of Iraq, DEBKA–Net-Weekly’s counter-terror experts believe that a situation is evolving in the Middle East analogous to Afghanistan.
There, according to our intelligence sources, one of the senior al Qaeda commanders, Abu Lais al Libbi, “the Libyan,” has branched out on his own following an argument with the Egyptian Jihad Islami. The two top al Qaeda chiefs, bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, have taken sides against him. Such quarrels are not uncommon in al Qaeda and do not usually impede the terrorist operations of the warring camps or the collaboration between them.
This very possibly is the situation between Zarqawi and bin Laden.
It is worth noting that, even if it is true that the Iraqi chief has fallen out with the two top al Qaeda leaders, it has done nothing to hinder his penetration of Palestinian-controlled territory, where all the different sections of al Qaeda appear to be working together in harmony.