No Loose Network but a Centrally-Controlled Organization

American, British and Israeli terrorist experts are reviewing some commonly-held working hypotheses about the structure of al Qaeda as a loose network of branches without a central command. Their curiosity has been aroused by the manner in which al Qaeda has managed to plant a new operational nucleus in the Gaza branch of the Palestinian Hamas. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources say that this development, ignored for a time, is no longer in doubt. But all three governments hesitate to go public with this admission because it would overturn some of their most cherished policies.

The Bush administration’s goal of putting the Gaza Strip on its economic feet is seen as a key milestone on the road to an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation.

The Blair government is heavily staked in three MI6 Secret Service command and control centers in the Gaza Strip, to boost Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to exercise his authority over the unruly territory.

The Sharon government staked all its political capital on the wrenching evacuation of Israel civilians and troops from the Gaza Strip enhancing Israel’s national security and buying the Jewish state international kudos for a peace initiative.

All three see the presence of an al Qaeda outpost in the Gaza Strip hosted by Hamas as gravely jeopardizing their respective policy objectives. They are therefore digging their heads in the sand instead of confronting the peril in conjunction and head-on.

This absence of opposition is fully exploited by al Qaeda to deepen its penetration of the Gaza Strip as a launching pad for the West Bank and Israeli Arab community, in the first instance. Eventually, Osama bin Laden‘s organization hopes to make the Gaza Strip a key operational forward base for attacks against the America and Europe.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s experts say Gaza may soon outdo Iraq, Pakistan, the Philippines and the Caucasian as a major stronghold for al Qaeda’s global offensive.

This development not only threatens to defeat key Western Middle East policies, but challenges Washington’s strategic conception of the nature of the global Islamist organization.


Only “a loose network, not centrally controlled…”


This conception was most recently articulated by George W. Bush in a speech he delivered at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk Virginia last Friday, Oct. 28.

“Many militants are part of a global, borderless, terrorist organization like al Qaeda, which spreads propaganda and provides financing and technical assistance to local extremists, and conducts dramatic and brutal operations like the attacks of September the 11th. Other militants are found in regional groups often associated with al Qaeda – paramilitary insurgencies and separatist movements in places like Somalia, the Philippines and Pakistan and Chechnya and Kashmir and Algeria. Still others spring up in local cells, inspired by Islamic radicalism, but not centrally controlled or directed.

Islamic radicalism is more like a loose network with military branches than an army under a single command. Yet these operatives fighting on scattered battlefields share a similar ideology and vision for our world.”

These words signal the US president’s acceptance of a doctrine gaining wide currency, which holds that al Qaeda operates through local terrorist groups aligned with its radical ideology, having evolved into a movement without a central command structure.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources disclose that the curiosity about al Qaeda’s presence in the Gaza Strip is focusing on two areas:

1. Information on the methods and routes used by the organization to invade the territory.

2. The possibility that the same terrorist manpower pool allotted terrorists for the July 7 London bombings, the July 23 Sharm el-Sheikh attacks and the infiltration of Gaza in August. The probe is beginning to point that way. If all these terrorists came from the same source, it would mean that there must be a centralized force which streams operational manpower according to a master plan.

Pinning down a single source for all three projects would demonstrate finally that the global terrorist offensive does not emanate from a diffuse, rudderless entity, but that a single central command with finite manpower resources plots the most significant terrorist operations according to a unified global strategy.


July 7 bombings, London, and Mike’s Place, Tel Aviv


This conclusion gains substance from a recent discovery of British domestic intelligence, the MI5, which is charged with fighting al Qaeda terror in the country.

MI5 has turned up a link between the July 7 suicide bombers in London and the two British suicide bombers of Pakistani origin who attacked the Mike’s Place beachfront bar in Tel Aviv next door to the US embassy on April 30, 2003.

This discovery leads to the conclusion that al Qaeda not only commands a centrally-controlled manpower pool, but that it dates back two years at least. In other words, for at least that long, Western counter-terror strategists have been working according to a fallacious conception.

The method by which al Qaeda penetrated the Gaza Strip and latched onto Hamas does not bespeak “operatives fighting on scattered battlefields who share a similar ideology…” but rather a far-sighted command center, capable of sticking to a well-calculated, devious and dangerous plan of campaign.

Until three car bombs blew up at the Taba hotel and other Sinai resorts on the Red Sea coast in 2004, no Western anti-terror agency seriously considered Sinai might be transformed into a key al Qaeda Middle East base, ranking third after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Most experts took it for granted that Egyptian intelligence had security well in hand and, in case of any lapse, Israeli security was there as a watchdog to sound the alarm when needed.

But al Qaeda’s planners viewed Sinai through a different prism. In April 2004, they took note when President Bush and visiting Israeli premier Ariel Sharon announced that Israel would withdraw from the Gaza Strip and the international crossings and hand them over the Palestinian Authority. The wheels of a new strategic decision began revolving in the minds of the senior al Qaeda hierarchy. A five-point plan of action was laid out:


First, invade Sinai


1. To establish new terror bases in Sinai by using the already active smuggling routes for weapons fighters and explosives al Qaeda was pumping into Iraq via Sinai, the Israel Negev and Jordan. That route carries more men and materiel that the Syrian outlet.

2. To derail the Bush-Blair-Sharon blueprint for replacing Israel in the Gaza Strip with Egyptian security control backed by British intelligence by severing the Gaza Strip from its land link to Egypt. This would be done by a string of terrorist attacks in the peninsula to undermine Egypt’s authority there.

3. An estimated 100 to 250 al Qaeda agents were detailed to build a terrorist network among the local Egyptian, Bedouin and Palestinian inhabitants.

4. In the early stages of organization, al Qaeda agents were ordered to develop further established working relations with Palestinian Hamas in Sinai and Gaza. They were not strangers.

In 2000, Hamas hosted British al Qaeda member, Richard Reid, later known as the Shoe Bomber, two months before he failed to blow up an American airliner over Miami.

Two years ago, the two British Tel Aviv bombers, Asif Mohammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif spent weeks with Hamas in the Gaza Strip before setting out for Tel Aviv.

5. Al Qaeda prepared a detailed blueprint for the partnership which can now be seen in action. A portion of the war materiel al Qaeda has been moving into Iraq was diverted to caches in the central Sinai mountains. An advance guard of terrorists was set up, one group entered the Gaza Strip before Israel’s pull-back, another straight after. A logistics time table was organized with the Hamas for the transfer of the stockpiled weapons, assorted missiles and explosives from Sinai into the Gaza Strip.

August 2, two weeks before Israel began evacuating whole communities, al Qaeda’s websites formally unveiled its Gaza Strip project, launched for operation under the name of Jihad Brigades of the Border Land. American, British and Israeli security authorities reacted strangely to the new manifestation. Adhering to the preconception that it was no more than a bunch of Palestinian extremist militants inspired by al Qaeda’s name and ideology, for two months they tried to shrug it off as inconsequential – even when al Qaeda posted three more communiques from Gaza.

Since September, when the last Israeli soldier shook the sand of Gaza from his boots, al Qaeda has kept silent.

Some intelligence experts familiar with the Gaza Strip assign this silence to three causes.

A. Al Qaeda has its hands full moving mountains of weapons from Sinai to Gaza. Israeli intelligence estimates the quantities so far smuggled through as consisting of 5,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, hundreds of mortars and heavy machine guns of 0.5mm caliber, Katyusha 270mm rockets, some 1,000 anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades, an unknown number of Strela SA-7 shoulder-launched ground-air missiles, a million to a million and a half bullets for various weapons, nearly 1,500 tons of explosives of different types and an unknown quantity of mines including anti-tank mines.


Hamas gives al Qaeda storage space


According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, most of the smuggled weapons are stored in Hamas warehouses in separate compartments

B. Al Qaeda is also busy transferring the nucleus of its Sinai command to the Gaza Strip. This group is thought to number 20 to 35 senior men. The transfer requires a low profile so as not to attract hostile attention until it is completed.

C. Our experts postulate another possibility, that al Qaeda is immersed in the planning of its terror debut inside Israel. The global organization will want to stage an attack clearly distinguished by its hallmarks from run-of-the-mill Palestinian terror operations so as to extract maximum psychological and propaganda effect. Planners may be eying American military targets in Israel of which there are plenty, whether Marines training sites scattered through central and southern Israel, US command centers in Tel Aviv, weapons depots or US missions and business firms.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that American officials based in Israel took careful note of the first kidnap-execution carried out in Israel of Sasson Nuriel, from Jerusalem, that brought to mind al Qaeda’s exercises in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

They also took note of a surprise offshoot of the Israeli air strike which Tuesday, Nov. 1, killed a senior Fatah-al Aqsa operative Hassan Madhun in Gaza. Israel intelligence was taken aback to discover that riding in the same vehicle as the targeted terrorist was a Hamas leader, Fawzi al Kara, who died with him. Al Kara was known to be close to the al Qaeda agents who infiltrated the Gaza Strip immediately after Israel’s withdrawal. Finding him alongside a Fatah officer raised the suspicion that al Qaeda is aiming to spread its influence through the entire Palestinian terrorist movement.

The sheer range of well-thought out, interlinking, phased moves uncovered in this article would appear to be too formidable and coherent for “a loose network with military branches” to chart. Their execution called for extensive intelligence capabilities, a recruiting machine, the ability to move vast quantities of weapons between countries, precise coordination with Egyptian and Gazan elements, decision-making on synchronized timing and scope, and public relations integrated into al Qaeda’s world-wide information campaign. All this could only be accomplished by a highly-competent regional headquarters under the guidance of a dynamic global main center.

The opening article graphically demonstrates this point in a different geographical arena – Europe.

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