Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran look like coming to blows on a strangely reversed battlefield of terror. Mutual animosity has reached a pitch unmatched since the mi-nineties. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Gulf and counter-terror sources follow the chain of events leading up to this crisis:
1. An increasing number of radical Sunni organizations and terrorist groups are turning to Shiite Revolutionary Iran for monetary, logistical and intelligence assistance to support their violent assault on their goals, according to the urgent reports laid by Saudi intelligence before King Abdullah and top palace officials.
One striking example is the Damascus-based Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.
He spent most of the first week of February in Tehran with a large delegation of Hamas military chiefs. Before leaving, he was quoted by the Tehran press as extolling Iran's supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“I have just met the man who is in charge of the affairs of all the world's Muslims,” he said.
Whether this fulsome statement was actually said matters less than the way it was taken by the Saudis, who bankrolled Hamas in its early days as a rising Palestinian Sunni force. They were shocked to hear the head of a radical Sunni Muslim group praising the head of world Shiite Islam to the skies and accepting him as patron of his organization and leadership.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report the Saudis are dismayed by Iran's growing influence in Sunni Muslim movements. They find it a threat to their national security and world standing as Guardian of the Holy Places, equvalent to that presented by al Qaeda's penetration of Sunni extremist groups, such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, in the 1990s.
Al Qaeda also rampant against Saudi Arabia
2. As for al Qaeda itself, Saudi intelligence reports that Osama bin Laden's terrorists are also rampant. Egged on by Iranian undercover agencies, the cells harbored in the Islamic Republic are plotting a fresh wave of terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. Tehran is not bothering to conceal the fact that such attacks are being organized, prepared and launched from its territory.
3. The circumstances were grim enough for Riyadh to take the unusual step of publishing a list of 83 wanted al Qaeda operatives, some of whom were harbored by Iran.
Turki Al-Sahil of the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat wrote on Feb. 5 that its publication has “returned the issue of relations between al Qaeda and Iran to the forefront.”
He disclosed that the “information acquired by us from special sources” shows that 35 Saudis on the list were either in Iran or in the Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan triangle.
The reference to “special sources” is taken to mean that the information in the article came straight from the horse's mouth, namely Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, chief of Saudi General Intelligence.
It shows, the report says, that al Qaeda members present in Iran are planning to attack Saudi or Jordanian interests. Some intend to return to their countries to carry out operations, while others are planning to join groups positioned in Yemen.
Saudis go public on terrorists harbored by Iran
Asharq al-Awsat goes on to name names:
“Saleh al-Qirawi, nicknamed “Najm” (Star), heads al Qaeda operations in Iran.”
He is described as using 14 aliases and having received advanced training in Iran in the use of electronics to detonate bombs. Al-Qirawi, who has made Iran his headquarters in Iran since Sept. 2006, coordinates between al Qaeda commanders and Iraqi and Lebanese cells.
He helped seven al Qaeda prisoners break out of Al-Milz jail in central Riyadh and link up with al Qaeda forces in Iraq. He is active in sending extremists to Lebanon for training (with Hizballah) and smuggling them back to Saudi Arabia for operations.
“Reports show,” the Asharq al-Awsat correspondent goes on to write, that the 35 operatives moving between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, were joined in Iran by a recent addition five months ago. “They arrived through Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Syria.”
The writer, Al-Sahil, adds more names, including Adel Fleih Al-Anzi, who is linked to dangerous figures in Iran, and Abdullah Al-Ayid, whose hand is suspected in the assassination of Gen. Nasser Othman, a high- ranking Saudi security officer and who reached Iran through the UAE on forged documents.
Also mentioned is Muhammad Abu Al-Khayr, a terrorist with 11 aliases, described as Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law and one of his bodyguards.
According to the information available to Asharq al-Awsat, al Qaeda feels it can safely recruit, coordinate and plan operations in two places: Iran and Yemen.
Placing Iran on a par with Yemen is the worst insult Riyadh can hand Tehran.
Iran's hospitality to al Qaeda first revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly in 2003
These revelations will not come as a surprise to the readers of DEBKA-Net-Weekly, which was the first publication to expose Tehran's roles in harboring al Qaeda operatives and putting them up to terrorist attacks, especially in Saudi Arabia. After the US invasion in 2001, Iran opened its borders to help Osama bin Laden's top men escape from Afghanistan.
(The Saudis know of at least four high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives “detained” in a number of sumptuous official guest houses in Teheran and the holy city of Qom – among them are Egyptian-born Saif al-Adel, Al Qaeda’s chief of operations and No.3 in its hierarchy, the Kuwaiti Sulaiman Abu Gaith, and the Jordanian-born Palestinian Abu Musab Zarqawi… DEBKA-Net-Weekly 115, July 4, 2003)
(The Americans, Saudis, Qataris, Kuwaitis, Egyptians and Israelis are well aware that eight senior Al Qaeda officials were enjoying Iran’s hospitality as late as mid-August. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly has reported, have a list of 60 names of Al Qaeda operations officers in the Islamic Republic. Al Qaeda's No. 2, Dr Ayman al-Zuwahiri, was granted sanctuary, a base of operation and finally provided with a safe getaway route… DEBKA-Net-Weekly 123, Aug. 22, 2003).
Riyadh turns to Interpol
This week, the reclusive Saudis finally asked Interpol to issue international arrest warrants for the 83 wanted Saudi nationals and two Yemenis. The wanted men were described as highly dangerous, possibly armed, violent and suicidal, and suspected of plotting terror attacks against Saudi Arabia.
This was the biggest number of suspects for which Interpol had ever issued an “Orange Notice.”
The world police body's secretary general, Ronald Noble, said that the Saudi appeal was intended as a warning to all member countries that the fugitives are “dangerous and their activities represent a security concern not only for Saudi Arabia and the entire region but the world as a whole.”
Noble called for extra vigilance with the approach of the 16th anniversary of the first bombing attack on New York's World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 2009.
The 83 men, most aged between 20 and 35, have left Saudi Arabia, probably for Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran.
Photos and details of the wanted men have been released on Interpol's website www.interpol.int.
Saudi goes into terror business, establishes mixed Sunni-Shiite group
Riyadh hopes that by publishing a list of wanted al Qaeda terrorists, up to a third of whom are operating out of Iran, Tehran will come under pressure either to turn them in or face international opprobrium.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that the Saudis have more than one arrow in their quiver. One is a possible complaint to the UN Secretary Council for a resolution condemning Iran for permitting al Qaeda to use its territory to stage terrorist attacks on the kingdom
5. But the Saudi royal house is not waiting for the international wheels of justice to start turning. According to our counter-terror sources, Prince Moqrin has meanwhile instructed his undercover agents in Lebanon to build a mixed Sunni-Shiite terrorist organization for fighting Iran's Lebanese puppet Hizballah and striking Iranian interests across the Middle East.
An organization has recently surfaced in South Lebanon, calling itself the Jihad Movement for Aiding Gaza. It is headed by a Palestinian Sunni Muslim by the name of Jamail Hamad and, a Lebanese Shiite called Gandi Sukhmurani. They have enlisted several hundred members with the help of pay checks from the Saudi intelligence funds placed at their disposal.
Most are drawn from assorted terrorist sub-groups linked to al Qaeda, such as Jund al-Sham, Hizbat al Nasser and Fatah al Islam, or Sunni terrorists who fled Iraq and wound up in Lebanon.
In recent weeks, they went into training for rigging bomb cars and suicide attacks.