On June 26, the Saudi interior ministry announced the capture of the biggest al Qaeda network ever discovered in the oil kingdom, in time to foil a plot to attack the oil refineries and other installations.
The announcement revealed that al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia is alive and well, contrary to the conventional wisdom of Western intelligence. It is now revealed that, during the years it was far from the world’s headlines, Osama bin Laden’s movement grew a new generation of commanders, overhauled its infrastructure and developed new tactical doctrines.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that the interrogation of the 701 captured terrorists, 520 of whom were kept in detention, exposed two new al Qaeda command centers, both in Africa.
Abdelmalek Droukdal is head of the northern and central African “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” which covers Algeria, Mauritania and Mali.
A more recently-created headquarters covers eastern African Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia. Our sources suspect its chief is Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), architect of the 1988 bombings of the US East African embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salam.
The paucity of Western intelligence’s knowledge of al Qaeda’s new infrastructure is attested to by the New York Times report on July 1 and its conclusion that the Algerian terror group does not have the strength to operate outside Africa, especially in Europe.
This finding ignores the pivotal role of al Qaeda’s Saharan networks in the July 2005 transport bombing attacks in London, and the operational links its North African organization has developed with the cells exposed in recent months in Spain, Germany, France, Belgium and Scandinavia.
Saudi al Qaeda leadership is outsourced to Africa
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s terror experts report that the two African centers now run al Qaeda’s operations in Saudi Arabia. Of late, they established a new network in northwest Iraq. In the view of counter-terror experts, the two African hubs are as dangerous and vigorous as any of al Qaeda’s bastions in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border lands,
Al Qaeda is still a hydra, only its new heads are fresher, more vigorous and outsourced.
Their names, as listed in the directives found with the Saudi detainees, are new to Saudi and Western intelligence services, and their methods of operation more ruthless than those of their predecessors, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources report:
1. The large terrorist ring composed of homegrown Saudi activists operating out of a local headquarters has been abandoned. The new cells of no more than 10 to 15 members are autonomous and kept apart from other cells. No single Saudi terrorist chief has knowledge of the entire network or the names and locations of cell members and leaders. This information is preserved at headquarters outside the kingdom, carried there by couriers, who are usually unskilled laborers looking for work in Saudi Arabia.
This tightly compartmented structure impedes surveillance by counter-terror agencies.
2. The activists captured in Saudi Arabia worked undercover and undetected for three years, getting organized and set for strikes that were assigned them as early as 2005. They took their time in order to perfect their plans down to the last detail and preserve utter secrecy.
3. The new, non-Saudi commanders have no affinity to any part of Saudi society. Their forebears and the rank and file sent to fight in Iraq believed they were performing the will of the Saudi Islamic clerical establishment and some of the more radical members of the royal house. But their ties often compromised internal al Qaeda security, giving Saudi authorities inside access for keeping an eye on their activities.
New Al Qaeda despises Saudi imams and princes equally
These links have been severed. The incoming leaders despise the established clergy as much as the royal rulers. They tell young Saudi recruits that both are equal targets for true believers.
Saudi imams are bound to be affected by this wave of radical Islamic contempt. At some point, they will have to resolve a dilemma – to throw their support behind the royal campaign to crush al Qaeda, or face internal divisions in their ranks over which side to back. Either way, the Saudi throne, which draws legitimacy from its partnership with the conservative Wahhabi Islamic establishment, is in for hard times.
Al Qaeda’s updated doctrinal objectives are equally daunting.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s terror watchers noted with interest Young al Qaeda’s rationale for disapproving of Saudi religious leaders. The materials found in possession of the detained cell members accused Saudi clerics of friendly relations with the religious and political elite of the Shiite minority of the oil-rich Eastern Provinces.
It is evident that al Qaeda stands by its conviction that the conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam is predetermined and inescapable.
As for their targets, Saudi investigators discovered covert networks deployed not only in the oil regions of the East, but also in the northern Tabuk Province in a large concentration near the Jordanian border.
Fast boats from Tabuk can easily hop across the Red Sea through the Tiran Straits and reach Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, Jordanian Aqaba and Israel’s Eilat.