President Bush Was Right: It Cannot

It took White House spinmeisters less than a day to get President George W. Bush to modify the astonishing statement he made Monday, August 30, when he told NBC’s Today Show “I don’t think you can win” the war on terror but “you can you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world”.

Persuaded to reverse course by the flap his remark stirred during the Republican National Convention in New York, the president said in a speech in Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday, August 31 “We meet today at a time of war for our country, a war we did not start, yet one that we will win.”

No matter how he tries to sell it, Bush’s initial comments were right on the money, reflecting the intelligence briefings put before him day after day.

In “Al Qaeda Today, Centralized Strategic Decisions, Decentralized Operations”, (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 168, August 6), we scrutinized the terrorist group’s operational deployment and noted that its supreme leadership has no direct control over target selection or the modalities of attacks.

In a separate article in this issue, we describe the doctrinal-tactical split in al Qaeda, between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who runs the terror and hostage-taking campaigns in Iraq. The first cracks are thus to be seen marring the once rock-smooth unity and obedience binding ever one of the terror network’s various operational branches to the directives handed down by the top leaders.

One such crack is examined in another article in this issue, describing initial al Qaeda attempts, alongside Iran and Hizballah, to grab military footholds in South Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Here we see how the fundamentalist movement’s leaders’ control is slipping over regional and local cells, which are manipulated by outsiders like Iran for political and military ends that are foreign to the movement’s objectives.

This fragmentation of al Qaeda into ungovernable entities allied with outside forces and embedded in civilian populaces prevents any counter-terror force from catching – let alone prevailing over – all its widely-diffused fighting elements – certainly not by conventional military means.

Bush was therefore right when he said the war against terror cannot be won outright. But much can be done nonetheless by deploying large forces, including American troops, in many regions of the world to make them less hospitable to terrorists. As these regions multiply, the terrorists will find their spaces of operation and freedom of movement increasingly cramped.

Local al Qaeda launch Chechen suicides to massacre Russians

The spiral of terrorist outrages overtaking Russia, Iraq and Israel in the last 10 days illustrates this point.

The Islambouli Brigades terror group, named after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassin, claimed responsibility for blowing up two hijacked Russian Tupolev planes that took off from Moscow Wednesday, August 25. Eighty-nine passengers and crew were killed.

Six days later, the same group sent a female suicide bomber to blow herself up outside a Moscow subway station. Ten people were killed. Russian intelligence sources report the bomber was the sister of Chechen terrorist Amanty Nigayeva, who brought down one of the two Russian planes, a Tupolev 134, on a flight from Moscow to Volgograd.

A second woman bomber blew up the other plane, a Tupolev 154 en route to the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

On Wednesday, September 1, some 20 heavily armed terrorists, including women strapped into explosives belts, stormed Middle School No. 1 in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia. An estimated 400 people, including 200 children, as well as their parents and teachers, all celebrating the first day of the Russian school year, were taken hostage. Demands to release Chechen prisoners and the long, black veils of the women recalled the gang that seized a Moscow theater last October and took 700 members of the audience and cast hostage. Russian Speznaz commandos raided the theater armed with poison gas. But because they got the wrong chemical mix, not only were all 50 hostage-takers killed but also 129 hostages.

Shortly before Tuesday’s blast outside the Moscow station, Israel’s southern city of Beersheba suffered one of the deadliest suicide bombings seen since the Palestinian terror war was launched in September 2000. Two Hamas terrorists from Hebron detonated their bombs seconds apart on two buses packed with passengers returning home from the desert city’s main market, killing 16 people and wounding 102.

Quick thinking by the driver of the second bus prevented an even worse disaster. When he saw the first bus explode, he quickly pulled over to the verge and opened the doors for the passengers to tumble out, split seconds before the second suicide bomber pulled the wire.

It was not the job of the local investigators to make all the international connections on the spot. However, the suicide bombers’ modus operandi in attacking two buses strongly resembled the manner in which the two suicide hijackers crashed two Tupolev airliners after takeoff from Moscow.

On that same deadly Tuesday in August, one of Musab Zarqawi’s groups in Iraq, Ansar al-Sunna, murdered 12 Nepalese workers employed as cooks and cleaners by a Jordanian company. One victim was beheaded, the other 11 lined up and shot in the back.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources, local al Qaeda cells had a hand in each of these three terrorist episodes, apparently unbeknownst to the organization’s central leadership which, like the rest of the world, learned of the attacks from television.

Why were Nepalese workers targeted?

The three attacks in Russia this month may be only the beginning, with more horrors to come. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources reveal that they were plotted and executed under the direction of Abu Hafs and Abu Hajr, the commanders. They were ably assisted by two senior Iran-based operatives, Sayef al-Adel and Zarqawi.

Al-Adel is credited with setting up the large-scale terror attacks against Westerners’ housing compounds in Riyadh in May 2003. Zarqawi, in addition to his projects in Iraq, flits between Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Chechnya.

The Islambouli Brigades, the group responsible for the suicide bombings aboard the Russian airliners, is the catchall of the Iranian-al Qaeda-Saudi-Chechen connection.

Mohammed Islambouli, the brother of Anwar Sadat’s killer, is a key al Qaeda player. He and Zarqawi asked Adel to publicly dedicate the Chechen terror attacks to the memory of the Egyptian president’s assassin. Every al Qaeda man dreams that one day, a “glorious operation” will bear his name or be dedicated to a family member.

Even the phrasing of the claim of responsibility for the airliner crashes – as first published exclusively in a previous DEBKA-Net-Weekly issue – bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda’s Iranian arm.

Five Islambouli Brigades members were described as boarding each of the two planes and blowing them up. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources report the claim was false. The Tupolevs were not boarded by two five-member suicide squads. This was said to distract attention from what was still going on: five Chechen women had been assigned to carry out suicide attacks across Russia. Two blew up aboard the Russia planes, one exploded Tuesday outside the Moscow Metro station and two others are still at large in the capital preparing more strikes. Russian security services are searching desperately for the pair of “ticking bombs”.

The execution of the 12 Nepalese by Zarqawi’s men in Iraq was puzzling on the face of it. After all, Nepal has not sent troops to fight in Iraq. Why should its nationals be targeted by Islamic terrorists? Al Qaeda adherents who viewed the hideous atrocity on Al Jazeera television understood at once why they were slaughtered. This act went to the heart of the debate in the organization between bin Laden – who advocates a Crusaders-first policy, targeting the Christian world, starting with the Americans, and only then moving on to Muslim heretics, and Zarqawi – who advocates a two-front war.

The murdered men’s employment with a Jordanian firm that runs supply lines from the Red Sea port of Aqaba to Baghdad via Amman was one clue to motive, indicating that their murder was aimed at disrupting a vital supply line into Iraq. But Zarqawi’s detestation of his own country of birth, Jordan, also influenced his decision to kill the Nepalese who were employed there. Born in the Jordanian town of Zarka, he will do anything to shake, even slightly, Jordan’s Hashemite throne, its intelligence and security services and its economy.

But for al Qaeda at large, the Beersheba bus bombings were more important by far.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report it fitted into the chain of operations al Qaeda is conducting in league with an Iranian Revolutionary Guards detachment and the Hizballah, to eventually gain holdings in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. This alliance is plotting the formation of two linked terrorist enclaves on the Mediterranean coast that will squeeze Israel from the north and south and provide all three with the command of seaports for launching attacks elsewhere in the region. (More on this in the next article.)

So far, US military forces and intelligence have been powerless in dealing with al Qaeda’s operational net which is far flung across so many countries and provides its fighters with the freedom to cross national borders at will. The US president has concluded rightly and practically that the only way to fight terror is to create conditions “so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world”.

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