Iran Arrests al Qaeda’s “Mr Policy” – Ibrahim Siyasiya
National grief over the horrific ravages of the earthquake that razed most of the historic town of Bam has not slowed down Tehran’s drive to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cairo. Amid the mystification engendered by most Iranian actions, some US officials are reading into this drive -and the very fact that the Islamic republic accepted humanitarian aid – signals of the regime’s willingness to be engaged by Washington.
This week, secretary of state Colin Powell heralded “encouraging signs” from Tehran that could pave the way for talks. “There are things happening,” he said.
He had his response within hours. Tuesday, December 30, Iranian president Muhammad Khatami said sourly: While American assistance “was welcome, humanitarian issues should not be intertwined with deep and chronic problems. If we see change both in tone and behavior of the US administration, then a new situation will develop in our relations.”
In 1980, Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolutionary regime severed relations with Egypt to punish President Anwar Sadat for granting sanctuary to the deposed shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and committing the still more heinous sin of becoming the first Arab leader to sign peace with Israel with the help of American mediators. For 23 years, the Iranians treated Egypt with contempt. Now, they are suddenly in a hurry to break the ice.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that Washington is quietly encouraging the historic rapprochement in the hope of acquiring a more direct and manageable channel to Tehran than the problematical route via Europe. Some US officials also nurture hope of a normal Cairo-Tehran relationship leading to weakened Iranian support for such terrorist thorns in the side as the Lebanese Hizballah as well as the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, all of which are financially dependent on the Islamic regime in Tehran.
On the other hand, Washington is mindful of a possible downside to the reconciliation: a new Egyptian-Iranian axis, possibly joined by Syria, that could hamper the Bush administration’s plans for rebuilding the Iraqi economy and political system and crushing the guerrilla war against coalition efforts.
American policy planners are still trying to figure out the significance of the secret arrival in southern Iraq earlier this month of top terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, an operations and intelligence specialist working for al Qaeda and Iran and an old foe of the United States.
(Mughniyeh’s emergence in Iraq is dealt with in a separate article in this issue)
The terrorist ace’s relocation from Lebanon to southern Iraq has given rise to conjecture over Iran’s intentions in Iraq and the suggestion that the ayatollahs might be preparing to loose an upsurge of terrorism in support of the anti-US guerrilla war against the US military in a bid to forestall any American threat to Iranian nuclear facilities.
Even in the unlikely eventuality of the Islamic republic abandoning its nuclear bomb aspirations – voluntarily or not – its leaders might have a second ulterior motive for engineering an anti-coalition campaign of violence in the south: a push for control of the predominantly Shiite region.
Iran still not handing over wanted Al Qaeda terrorists
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources disclose that Tehran took both Washington and Cairo by surprise on Monday, December 29, by suddenly arresting Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayer, operations chief of al Qaeda’s special units. Word of the arrest was received through intelligence channels. Khayer’s nom de guerre – “Siyasiya” meaning “policy” – attests to his senior position in the terrorist organization as policy strategist and regulator of the level of its attacks.
The arrest has enabled our sources to shed first light on the way al Qaeda has marshaled its strike forces of late. The network has established ultra-secret, highly trained units, organized along similar lines to those of the US Navy Seals or Delta Force for deep-penetration special operations inside “enemy” territory, the United States.
Khayer, according to our sources, is an Egyptian whose real name is Abdallah Mohamed Rajab and who is a close associate of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader and Osama bin Laden’s deputy and chief operations officer. Khayer was tried in Egypt in absentia in1998 and sentenced to death for terrorist attacks in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities.
US security and counter-terrorism chiefs are keen to find out more about his arrest in Iran in light of the current orange alert in the United States for the New Year season. A senior official involved in the battle against al Qaeda told DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources that US counter-terrorism authorities would like nothing better than to be able to speak with Khayer.
“If anyone in al Qaeda knows when and where the fundamentalist terrorists mean to strike in the coming days or hours, Ibrahim Siyasiya is that man,” a US official said. “But we have to be realistic – after all, we’re dealing with the Iranians and, aside from their claim to have arrested him, we may not hear word of him ever again. This is what happened in April 2003, when we heard no more about the fate of Sayef al-Adal, the commander of the May 12 bombings in Riyadh, or Musaab Zarqawi, who masterminded the suicide attacks on two synagogues, the British consulate and HSBC bank in Istanbul.
The Iranians have typically not revealed where and in what circumstances Khayer was taken into custody or where he is held. All the Iranians would say is ‘We’ve got him.”
No Egyptian terrorists extradited from Iran
The name of ‘Ibrahim Siyasiya’ comes up all the time in interrogations of top al Qaeda people we are holding,” the official said. “Any time anyone opens his mouth about a terrorist attack or preparations for one, Siyasiya’s name is mentioned. We heard about him when we interrogated Abu Zubaida after he was captured in Pakistan in March, and from Adel Abdel Majid Aldabari, an Egyptian picked up in London who, according to our sources, was handed into US custody as a senior planner of the August 1998 American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.”
“From them we found out that Siyasiya supplied fake passports, money – some of it counterfeit – and secure byway hideouts to terrorist units traveling from the Indian subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula to Europe, Asia and the Far East – some heading on to the United States.”
Not only are American counter-intelligence authorities anxious to get hold of al Qaeda’s policy strategist, so too are the Egyptians who have asked for his extradition. However, the Mubarak government’s earlier attempts this year to persuade Iran to give up al Qaeda terrorists who are Egyptian nationals ran into a blank wall. A group of senior Egyptian intelligence officers spent weeks in Tehran cooling its heels before giving up and returning to Cairo empty-handed.
Tehran’s fence-mending overtures to Cairo may, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, not go beyond token gestures with nothing substantial behind them. The ayatollahs have agreed to rename a street in the Iranian capital when Cairo declared diplomatic relations would not be restored as long as it carried the name of Khaled Istambuli Street, a co-assassin of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. But not too much should be read into such gestures at this stage.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism experts greatly doubt that Tehran’s signals will lead to any breakthroughs in the global war against terrorism or provide the key to thwarting a major al Qaeda attack in the United States or in Britain, Italy, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
New Al Qaeda deep penetration units for US
Osama bin Laden’s top policy strategist does not operate solo. Head of a “committee,” he is like Mughniyeh in that he is supported by a very small highly trusted group, usually kinsmen. The al Qaeda special operations units are backed by a wide-ranging infrastructure, whose precise composition is revealed here for the first time:
Ahmed Salameh Mabrouk is Siyasiya’s senior lieutenant and deputy.
It is up to him to draw up detailed operational plans for approval by top Al Qaeda leaders. After they give their seal of approval, Mabrouk goes ahead and picks the men for the terrorist mission.
Nirjan Salem is head of the doctrinal committee that keeps an eye on the members of al Qaeda’s teams of special forces and makes sure that each operation meets strict fundamentalist Islamic criteria. Without its religious stamp, no mission may go forward. Salem’s function resembles that of a Soviet ideological commissar of the Stalin era – with the difference that he has the task of inspiring rather than restricting al Qaeda’s war of terror.
Adel Abdel Qadous deals with logistics and care for the families of al Qaeda’s special forces members. It is his job to make the weapons available for each terrorist attack and assure the man in the field his loved ones are looked after while he is gone and in case he does not return.
“Welfare officer” Qadous may arrange for the overseas transfer of a terrorist’s family if necessary.
Shuwaiki Salameh and Ahmed Ibrahim Najr are two other main players.
Salameh makes available “forged documents” and also furnishes the funds for every operation. Najr runs terrorist operations in Egypt and the Horn of Africa, assigning special units to targets in that part of the continent.
After he was handed over to the United States, Aldabari provided a stream of unique and detailed information on the command structure of the Siyasiya committee running Al Qaeda’s special terror operations. It turns out to be virtually one and the same as Zawahiri’s own operational headquarters and the command center of his Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
Since the September 11 attacks in the United States, many intelligence and counter-terrorism experts have often claimed that this command structure had only been in place during the years from 1993 to 1996 when Osama Bin Laden operated out of neighboring Sudan, but that it had relocated frequently since then. In actual fact, it may move around geographically but its structure remains unchanged. Information elicited from Siyasiya's arrest in Iran, according to our sources in the Persian Gulf, proves that there never was any change. Indeed, according to our sources, bin Laden’s operational command structure leans more heavily than ever before on Zawahiri’s core headquarters.
Iran will not reveal who issues al Qaeda’s operational orders, but the group’s command center could be anywhere in Iran – from downtown Teheran to Mashhad, Qom or Bandar Abbas – even if bin Laden himself or Zawahiri are in another part of the world.
DEBKA-Net–Weekly's counter-terror sources reveal that the interrogations taking place in Saudi Arabia this week have revealed that the orders to the “committees” – including the Saudi cells – are carried by couriers between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Whence the orders originate or from which commanders remains a mystery. The whereabouts of the two top men are unknown.