The director of US National Intelligence, John Negroponte, flew into Jeddah Sunday Oct. 29 for urgent talks with Saudi King Abdullah, shortly after he declared a high national alert for possible al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the kingdom’s oil installations and oil fields – on land and offshore.
Next day, Oct. 30, Gen. Negroponte conferred in Cairo with President Hosni Mubarak and his minister of intelligence General Omar Suleiman.
They also discussed the flaming violence in Iraq.
But the high point of the US intelligence chief’s talks in both capitals was the first explicit commitment by a US official to prevent Iran’s nuclearization.
In their talks on the pressing terrorist threat, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources disclose that al Qaeda’s sights are aimed not only at the Arabian Gulf but also the vital Suez Canal waterway and Egyptian ports.
(See also HOT POINTS Oct. 30: US-led Military Thrust Focuses Heavily on Broad Naval Deployment).
The US intelligence director’s discussions in the Middle East centered on a number of key questions:
1. How has al Qaeda suddenly acquired the sweeping operational capability for targeting regions across the Persian Gulf and the Middle East?
2. Can al Qaeda be credited with acquiring new resources for maritime terrorist strikes? Could the organization have established itself on shore bases within reach of its targets in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and Suez Canal?
3. These questions may be addressed in a word: Iran. The possibility that Iran, feeling the heat of an approaching military clash as American forces pile up opposite its shores, will decide – or has decided – to use al Qaeda as a whip to lash American, British and Arab targets.
Algerian jihadist to erase Iranian fingerprints
This option has come up more than once on the agenda of supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s inner circle and has been discussed in previous DEBKA-Net-Weekly issues.
Until now, collaborative ties between the Islamic Republic and al Qaeda have rarely taken practical form. The reverse has been the case. In Iraq for instance Iranian agents have been fighting al Qaeda groups. However, the Americans, the Saudis, the Egyptians and everyone else involved in the regional war against al Qaeda, have always borne in mind that Osama bin Laden’s top operations officer Seif al Adal aka Muhammad Ibrahim Makkawi, is based in Iran. Some say he operates out of Tehran.
There are also signs that al Adal is personally close to the Imad Mughniyeh, currently commander-in-chief of Hizballah in Lebanon. As a close adviser to Ali Khamenei, Mughniyeh has long shown a special talent for bringing al Qaeda in harmony with Tehran and persuading its leaders to lend a helping hand to operations in the Iranian interest.
In his talks in Jeddah and Cairo, Negroponte looked closely at the danger of natural conditions being generated for this collaboration to be intensified by the incendiary pressure exerted by the massive American-led naval, air and marine might in the Persian Gulf opposite Iran, further aggravated by spiraling military tensions in Iraq, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources point to a piece of bizarre intelligence data giving the agencies watching the jihadist scene pause for reflection on this very point.
One of al Qaeda’s specific targets has just been revealed as being the Bahrain branch offices and staff of Societe Bengaz S.A. owned by the Benin Republic. This choice of target unexpectedly raises some ominous issues, as does the fact that an unknown group has been assigned to execute the operation.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s terror experts note some of the assumptions prompted by this data against a background of relevant developments:
One: Seif al Adal may have engineered the decision so as to catch the Americans and their Gulf allies in Riyadh and Cairo off-balance by eschewing al Qaeda’s known networks and instead importing for the Bahrain hit operational squads of the violent Algerian Salafi Group for Call and Combat – the GSPC.
They may even come from as near as Iraq.
Our Iraq sources disclose that, in recent weeks, a swelling influx of Algerian terrorists has augmented al Qaeda’s ranks in the western Iraqi terrorist hotbed of Anbar province and they have turned up in such flashpoint towns as Ramadi and Baghdad.
The Algerian group’s involvement in Iraq dates from September when Ayman al-Zawahiri marked the 9/11 anniversary by announcing the merger of al Qaeda with the GSPC, thereby integrating the Algerian jihadis in the full gamut of al Qaeda’s world planning.
Two: Using the Algerian group would also help wipe Iranian fingerprints from an operation against a neighbor, even though the GSPC could not be reasonably expected to move around the Gulf region without logistical back-up and assistance from local al Qaeda networks which Seif al-Adal rules from Iran.
Al Qaeda targets energy, dabbles heavily in Africa
Three: As for the singling out of the Benin gas company’s Bahrain offices for attack, that too has a reason: Our counter-terrorist sources reveal that the Bahraini outfit symbolizes the convergence of high-profile strategic parties in the Western energy industry, led by the energy giant Chevron. In December 2006, the first gas delivery from the West African Gas Pipeline Project-WAGP will be made, according to an announcement by Chevron Nigeria Ltd.
Partly owned by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and the Takoradi Power Company, the 569-km offshore segment of the pipeline will deliver natural gas from Nigeria to its neighbors along a route starting in Ghana and running parallel to the coastline past Togo and Benin. The onshore, offshore high-pressure pipeline, costing $590 m, will have a maximum capacity of 574 cubic standard feet a day of gas.
Its other shareholders are Societe Togolaise de Gaz and Societe Bengaz SA.
Chevron’s affiliate company Chevron/Texaco West African Gas Pipeline Company Ltd. holds 38%, the highest interest in the WAGP project.
By striking at Societe Bengaz offices in Bahrain, al Qaeda and its new Algerian partner-in-terror would show off its formidable intercontinental reach as a major terrorist force capable of targeting a world-class energy multinational at any point between Africa and the Arabian Sea.
To the same end, while fiercely concentrating on its energy targets in Persian Gulf states, al Qaeda continues to keep its momentum high in West Africa.
From Algeria, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s al Qaeda watchers report that security authorities in El-Oued Province recently broke up a network for recruiting young volunteers to fight the Americans in Iraq. Some 20 young men are estimated to have died or disappeared in Iraq, recruited by the Islamic and Salafi Movement for Jihad in Iraq, whose center is located in Algiers.
After the July 7, 2005, transport attacks in London, DEBKA-Net-Weekly traced their master planners and source of explosives to al Qaeda operatives working closely with the Tuareg tribes of the Sahara, who had been recruited by Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s agents before his death in June 2006. American and Algerian intelligence agencies are keeping an eye on these tribes fearing that it is only a matter of time before they reappear on the jihadist terrorist scene.