Shoe bomber Richard Reid and the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades
Shoe bomber Richard Reid may have been strip-searched by Israel’s security-conscious El Al airlines before they flew him from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv in July 2001, but in the Gaza Strip he was accorded upgraded hospitality.
According to debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources, Nabil Aqal, one of the senior operations officers of Hamas’s military wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigades, laid out the personal welcome mat, hosting the strapping Briton at his home in Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp for several days.
Aqal was related to Imad Aqal, the brigades’ operations officer in the first Intifada in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Israel liquidated Imad Aqal in late 1991, when the uprising was on the wane. He did not treat his unusually tall visitor like any chance tourist. Reid was kept carefully hidden in Nabil Aqal’s home away from prying eyes, except for a nocturnal outing round the Gaza coastal area and its famous fish restaurants. Aqal was seen playing the tour guide for his important guest, an extraordinary display of hospitality on the part of a senior al-Qassam officer. Fundamentalist Hamas leaders usually give the restaurant strip and its free-flowing alcohol a wide berth, acutely aware that that it is also teeming with the spies and informers employed by the various intelligence agencies services operating in the Gaza Strip.
After two days of the red carpet in Gaza, the English visitor crossed into Egyptian-controlled Sinai at the Rafah border crossing.
debkafile‘s intelligence sources report that the multinational inquiry into Reid’s actions at Aqal’s home focus on question of where Reid received the explosive shoes he tried to detonate aboard the American Airlines Paris-Miami flight on December 22. Were the explosives handed over in Aqal’s home, by his host or a Hizballah visitor?
Reid boarded the flight at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport on December 22, the day after the 13th anniversary of the blast that destroyed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. He had tried to board the American plane the day before, on the anniversary itself, but was delayed by suspicious security personnel and missed the flight.
An alternative theory is that one of the Hizballah operatives posted in the Gaza Strip visited Reid at Aqal’s house and handed him a contact address in Turkey or Pakistan, his next destinations after leaving Gaza, for picking up the shoe bomb.
The investigation has turned up a meeting in Turkey between Reid and senior Turkish Hizbollah operatives associated with Turkish terrorist Metin Kaplan, who is widely regarded as having close ties to local al-Qaeda and Hizbollah networks. Reid also met Hizbollah operatives in the Peshawar region of Pakistan.
Imad Mughniyeh, the most dangerous terrorist mastermind working for the two top al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri is emerging as a prime suspect in the shoe bomb case. Investigators are examining whether Mughniyeh – currently active in Lebanon — used his agents or other emissaries to assign Reid with the suicide mission of bringing down the US airliner. They are also checking for operational links between Mughniyeh and Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian leader’s inner circle, since the type of explosives packed in Reid’s shoes was identified as triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, the same substance used by the Jordanian suicide bomber, Said Khoteri, who carried out the Tel Aviv disco atrocity on June 1, killing 21 people, mainly Russian speaking youngsters, and wounding more than 100.
TATP was also used in two further devastating suicide bombings in Israeli towns: the explosion in Jerusalem’s pedestrian mall on December 1, that took 10 lives and injured more than 170 and the Haifa bus bombing a day later, in which 15 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.
According to a disclosure in the Jerusalem Post, two Hamas explosives experts, Jassar Samaro and Naseen Abu Ras, both of whom received their professional training from Hizbollah, are known to have fabricated TATP. The investigation has turned up the fact that Reid’s host in Gaza, Nabil Aqal, acts as the Qassam brigades’ liaison man with the Hizballah officers whom Arafat imported from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip in December 2000 and January 2001 to upgrade Palestinian terrorists’ standards of operation.
Two men in Arafat’s immediate circle keep constant tabs on all Hizballah personnel in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
They are Sahar Habash, Arafat’s most trusted henchman, and Mohammed Dahlan, chief of the Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip. Habash and Dahlan are in direct operational contact with Aqal. It would be stretching the imagination to believe they were not told of the arrival of a stranger like Reid to the Qassam man’s home – in which case, there was no way the information would have been kept from Arafat.
Investigation of the Reid episode has exposed evidence of cross-fertilization in the international terrorist movement. In a word, the operational marriage Arafat sealed with the Hizballah to enhance the effectiveness of his confrontation with Israel, yielded a contribution to the international terror campaign 19 months later.
This discovery has added urgency to the categorical American demand of Arafat that he disband Hamas and Islamic Jihad and bring Palestinian terrorism againstIsrael to a halt. To accomplish this, the Palestinian leader must first arrest all Hizballah operatives in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and smuggle them out to Lebanon.
The shoe bomb case has also sent ripples through US-Israeli relations. debkafile‘s sources report the angry tone taken by US officials with Israeli security officers and Sharon himself over the Reid affair. They believe Israeli intelligence services knew six months ago about Reid’s suspected involvement in terrorist activities as well as the real purpose of his Gaza visit – but said nothing. Had Israel spoken up, or at least dropped some hint about Reid, he never would have been allowed to board the American Airlines plane. Washington would have tipped off French authorities, which would have picked Reid up immediately on his arrival in Paris.
To make the situation worse, a private security company called ICTS, owned by an Israeli, Ezra Harel, and registered in the Netherlands, was employed at Charles de Gaulle airport to screen passengers boarding US planes. Most of its personnel are ex-Shin Bet officers. The company covers security atBoston’s Logan airport, where the American Airlines plane came down after flight attendants and passengers overpowered Reid. The Americans believe someone at ICTS must have known that Reid planned to take that flight and passed it on to Israel, which withheld information that could have prevented a major air disaster.
The Israeli response to US allegations is no less harsh. They admit letting Reid board an El Al flight from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv in July, although an armed sky marshal was ordered to sit next to him. This was a calculated risk in order to find out who Reid’s contacts were in Israel and the Palestinian territories and the only way to cover his movements effectively.
In fact, they found out as early as July 2001 that terrorists associated with the Hizballah planned to smuggle explosives onto planes in the soles or heels of their shoes.
Israel also realized eight months ago that terrorist operatives had discovered a “dead spot” in support beams for electronic scanning equipment at airports, located roughly 10 cm (four inches) from the floor, through which weapons and explosives can pass undetected.
Israel passed this discovery on to the Americans with a recommendation to pay particular attention to the shoes of suspect passengers.
Reid’s were therefore taken off and examined when showed up at Amsterdam airport for his flight to Tel Aviv, but nothing was found. However, Washington, say the Israelis, failed to act on their warning. Indeed, prior to the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, they accuse US authorities of consistently ignoring Israeli information linking al-Qaeda and Hizballah terror networks and operations to Arafat and his senior security and intelligence lieutenants. As a result, Israel decided not to bother to let the United States know about Reid last July.
Major General Amos Malka, the outgoing chief of Israeli military intelligence, gave the following account in a farewell interview with Israel’s Maariv newspaper on December 28:
“Two years ago, Israeli intelligence services received concrete information about Hizballah activities among the Moslem communities in Europe aimed at developing a terrorist infrastructure. Israel asked intelligence agencies and Western governments to put a stop to these Hizballah activities. Their response was hostile, accusing us of distorting information for political gain. Today, the world understands things differently and is more ready to hear us out.”