“International Terror” Is Working to Scuttle Bush’s Reelection

Russian president Vladimir Putin never fully bought into the assumption that Osama bin Laden‘s al Qaeda carried out, alone and unaided, the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. In the two telephone conversations he held with President George W. Bush soon after, on September 13 and September 23, 2001, he put forward his conviction that foreign intelligence services had taken a hand in the assaults. He also offered Russian military and intelligence assistance in the coming US invasion of Afghanistan. (See DNW 32, October 5, 2001).


Putin’s conviction rested partly on the Russian intelligence evaluation that doubted whether the hijackers who slammed the planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon possessed the insider knowledge and expertise necessary for bypassing the US air defense codes protecting the airspace above the White House and the sprawling defense department complex.


This alone betrayed a helping hand by”International Terrorism”, said Putin.


The Russian leader revisited the theme in remarks he made Monday, October 18 in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.


“I consider the activities of terrorists in Iraq are not aimed so much at coalition forces but more personally against President Bush,” Putin said. “International terrorism has set itself the goal of derailing President Bush’s election for a second term.”


Commentators swiftly seized upon the comment as a vote of support by Putin for Bush’s re-election bid. But seen in the context of his remarks three years ago, it is probable that the Russian president’s suggestion emanated from his longstanding belief in an international terror network which toppled New York’s twin towers and is now striving to abbreviate the Bush presidency.


Putin is consistent in viewing this force as a common and acutely dangerous enemy gunning for America and Russia alike. But since his post-9/11 telephone conversations with Bush, he rarely returns publicly to the theme. In late 2002, when he discussed terrorist threats with senior Russian military and intelligence officers in Moscow, it was noted that al Qaeda never again made use of the top-secret information on US air defense codes. Putin concluded from this omission that the fundamentalist group’s access to such top-secret data had been blocked by its provider.


On September 24, under the strain of the Beslan school hostage crisis, he stated: “International terrorism has indeed declared war on Russia. And I have already said that the aim was not just the destabilization, but the destruction of the Russian Federation.”


The plot as seen in the Kremlin hinges on a recurrent partnership of convenience between al Qaeda and certain intelligence entities. As a rule, al Qaeda and likeminded Muslim terrorist groups do not perceive themselves as part of any international terrorist movement. Their leaders also draw clear distinctions between their jihad and the causes of other terrorist groups.


(See “Al Qaeda Adopts al-Zarqawi’s Watchword: Slaughter the Infidels” in HOT POINTS).


 


Putin warned Bush of terror trap in Iraq


 


Just before last year’s US-led invasion of Iraq, the Russian leader returned to his former warning to Bush. In a telephone conversation that ended a long period of silence between the two leaders, he informed Bush of intelligence he had received of “international elements with ties to international terrorism” preparing a trap for US forces in Iraq that was aimed at tripping up Bush personally in a debacle. This would come in the form of a guerrilla war that would inflict heavy US casualties and force an American withdrawal.


(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 105, April 11, 2003: “Putin is back On-Line to Warn Bush.”)


The US president did not trust the warning, suspecting it was a ploy to avert the Iraq war, against which Moscow had lined up with Paris and Berlin.


But then Putin harked back to his warning to US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, when she visited him at the Kremlin on April 6. At the time, Saddam Hussein‘s forces and loyalists were still holding onto parts of Baghdad.


Rice was sharply reproving. Russian intelligence had better not interfere in Baghdad, she cautioned, or make any attempt to help Saddam and his sons hide in Iraq or flee the country. Putin shot back that his own intelligence services were out of it, but certain other European agencies were itching to put their oar in. He did not identify the agencies, but Washington inferred he meant French intelligence. The Russian leader then advised Washington to beware of the guerrilla war brewing in Iraq, using terms similar to those he employed this week: “International terrorism aims to hurt the United States and George Bush.”


Since his fruitless conversation with Rice, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Moscow report that Putin frequently comments on what he sees as the Bush administration’s misreading of the forces activating the Iraq insurgency. He drops these comments into private conversations with top Russian political and security aides. Washington, he says, mistakenly sees three elements fighting US troops in Iraq: al Qaeda and its affiliates such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ansar al Islam, ex-Baath party activists and foreign fighters (Syrians, Saudis, Yemenis and others).


But he is firmly of the opinion that none of the three commands the resources for moving thousands of people around the world and then into Iraq via Syria or Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, fully furnished with travel documents, money and safe havens, and generous stipends dispensed to the families they left behind. The Russian ruler insists that neither al Qaeda nor the 4,000 Syria-based former Baath officials directing the guerrilla war is capable of organizing a logistical operation on this scale and across such distances.


A former KGB hand himself, he points to the resources the CIA had to collect to place mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Cold War occupation. It could not be done without calling on Saudi intelligence and setting up an extensive network of transit and training camps in several Muslim countries, primarily in Egypt.


Al Qaeda maintained cells in Spain, Morocco, France, Tangier, Gibraltar and perhaps other countries to initiate major terrorist attacks, such as the Madrid train bombings last March. But the Russian leader is certain that to bring this sophisticated, multi-faceted plan to the stage of execution, at least one professional intelligence agency must have been called in to tie together the ends scattered across several countries and place them in the tight operational framework necessary. He also found the political timing more than suggestive of experienced intelligence involvement. The Madrid blasts were precisely timed to take place just before a general election and induce the defeat of the pro-American government in Madrid. Al Qaeda alone, Putin reasoned, does not have this kind of fine-tuned strategic expertise.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism experts report that the Russian leader will have found fuel for his conviction in this week’s kidnapping of Margaret Hassan, chief of operations in Iraq for the international aid agency CARE. She was described in the videotape aired by Al Jazeera as “a British aid worker” although she was born in Ireland and carries Iraqi dual nationality.


Hassan, who has lived in Iraq for thirty years and is married to an Iraqi, was abducted Tuesday, October 19 – the day the first British troops were moved from the southern city of Basra to the flashpoint towns of Iskandriya and in Latafiya south of Baghdad, as “backfill” for the US troops needed for the assault on the Sunni rebel stronghold of Fallujah.


None of the local guerrilla groups currently under US and Iraqi military siege in the Sunni Triangle has owned up to the kidnapping, strengthening the conviction in the Kremlin that the decision to abduct a prominent Briton in Baghdad was made by none other than the “international terrorists” who are orchestrating the guerrilla war against Bush and American troops.

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