The Saudis and the Shoe Bomber

Shoe bomber Richard Reid, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and Russian President Vladimir Putin

” If Washington is going to win the war on terrorism, it will have to do it overseas. This is true, first, because neither Al Qaeda not the Middle Eastern states that sponsor terrorism have yet shown that they have moved their primary bases of operations into the West. If America doesn’t take the war to them, we will always be playing catch-up”.

Reuel Marc Greecht,

May 28, 2002, NY Times

Saudi crown prince Abdullah had some harsh words to say about Saudi specialists at the CIA and National Security Agency when he visited George Bush at the president’s Crawford, Texas Ranch in April.

“It seems as if most of them are competing to see who can leak the most damaging material against Saudi Arabia,” Abdullah told Bush. “It’s reached the point where a day doesn’t pass without material, mostly lies, alleging that the Saudi royal family is the biggest collaborator and financial backer of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda,” the visitor said.

Abdullah went on to say that Saudi intelligence services believe that some of these agents were planted by or work for the Israeli secret services. “Otherwise, I cannot understand what is going on,” he said.

Intelligence sources familiar with Bush’s conversation with Abdullah told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the president promised to look into his guest’s complaint.

By mid-May, articles critical of Saudi Arabia suddenly stopped appearing in US newspapers. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources have discovered that several CIA and NSA people were quietly advised to keep a low profile and their mouths shut. In some cases, several long-time operatives in Saudi Arabia were told to “come home for the summer” to Washington.

Yet nothing had changed in Saudi Arabia’s support for terrorism that might account for the US media letting the Saudis off the hook. The Saudi establishment, including the royal household, cabinet ministers, intelligence chiefs, and certainly religious and tribal leaders, still contend their aid and support for Muslim spiritual, educational, religious, social, financial and medical institutions, does not conflict with the war on terrorism.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and its intelligence arms continue to pump money into a long line of international Saudi and Moslem organizations with proven links to al Qaeda’s logistical system.

A glaring example was an article published in the Los Angeles Times on May 24 on British “Shoe Bomber” Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an American Airlines plane flying from Paris to Miami on December 22. The authors of the article, John Meyer and Eric Lichtblau, wrote that five months after the incident, a hair and a palm print that do not belong to Reid were found in the explosives packed in his shoe. Investigators are now looking for the planner of the aborted attack that could have killed more than 250 people aboard the plane, trying to find out, according to an FBI source speaking to the Los Angeles Times, if terrorist organizations other than al Qaeda, such as Hamas or Hizballah, were involved in the attack.

Nine days after Reid’s failed attack, DEBKAfile wrote:


31 December: 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’ 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.

Two days later, 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 focuses on the question of where Reid received the explosive shoes he tried to detonate aboard the American Airlines flight. Were the explosives handed over in Aqal’s home, by his host or by a Hizballah visitor? 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 Hizballah operatives associated with Turkish terrorist Metin Kaplan, who is widely regarded as having close ties to local al Qaeda and Hizballah networks. Reid also met Hizballah 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-Zawahri 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. 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 Hizballah, 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.

                               * * * * * *

In effect, information on who in Hizballah, Hamas and the terror networks of the Palestinian Authority Reid met – and not just the identities of people who gave him the explosives or manufactured them — has been in investigators’ hands for almost six months.

Now, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources can reveal a serious problem with the material. Nabil Aqal, who hosted Reid and apparently helped him make contact with a Hizballah agent, was a welcomed guest for many years in Saudi Arabia, along with his brother Imad Aqal, a leader of the first Palestinian Intifada who was killed by Israel in 1994.

The brothers mainly frequented the Saudi cities of Jeddah and Medina, where the Prophet Mohammed is buried. Nabil Aqal would stay with acquaintances he had in the two cities. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, he last visited Jeddah and Medina in late February and early March of this year. In Medina, he met Muslim religious figures linked to the city’s Islamic religious university. In Jeddah, he received handouts from different foundations controlled by Prince Salman, Governor of Riyadh District and a member of the Crown Prince’s close circle.

Only a handful of Americans know that the political and military wings of Hamas in the Gaza Strip would not dare to take an important tactical or military step without first receiving permission from two sources – “Muslim circles in Al-Medina University” and the Damascus-based Hamas leadership.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources quote Abdullah as promising Bush not only to stop Hamas terrorist activities in the Gaza Strip but also those ordered by Hamas headquarters in Damascus. Yet nothing has been done in this regard.

Moreover, a senior Saudi official assured the US government this week during a visit to CIA director George Tenet that Saudi general intelligence had closed Hamas’s Internet site, an important fund-raising platform. Days later, the site at was still online.

The same economy with the truth is a feature of the personality and terrorist record of Mohammed Dahlan, the Gaza security chief, whom Tenet wants to appoint as the top anti-terror champion of the Palestinian Authority.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and counter-terrorism sources point out that in recent years, scarcely a week goes by without Dahlan’s personal involvement in large-scale terrorist operations, including several incidents in which the Hizballah and Hamas operatives associated with Reid have taken part.

Intelligence and counter-terrorism is no business for the faint-hearted, and sometimes countries must look past moral issues and use one terrorist to catch another. But the latest US gestures toward the Saudis and Palestinians show that this is not what the Bush administration intends. Just five years ago, the Clinton administration used the CIA to train Dahlan’s people in terrorist tactics that included preparing explosive devices for detonation by cellular telephone. Dahlan and his men learned their lessons well and put their knowledge to use against targets in Israel, including American citizens. Incredibly, the Bush administration now appears to want to give him a second chance.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Moscow and St. Petersburg say that Washington’s fumbled undercover operations have not escaped the attention of Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose help Washington is seeking in the war against terrorism.

Bush and Putin were all smiles and compliments at their summit last week, but some of the warmth that characterized earlier meetings was missing.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources quoted Putin as saying that America is losing the global war against terrorism, both inside and outside the United States. Bush, the Russian leader said, is simply not using US intelligence agencies properly. Putin told Bush that he was in for the long haul in the global war against terrorism but he was not prepared to commit to same kind of unlimited cooperation he offered immediately after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington and at the start of the war in Afghanistan in October 2001.

The Russian president told Bush what he had heard from Russian intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, that the United States had reverted dangerously to the same old intelligence practices employed before the shock of 9/11.

Bush has being hearing the same sort of criticism from many intelligence and counter-intelligence experts: extra money poured into CIA and FBI coffers and the addition of hundreds or thousands of extra agents to their ranks won’t get the job done. He is being warned that unless the United States war on terrorism is total and uncompromising, more Richard Reids will appear, together with questions down the line asking who knew what and when, and why warnings were not issued in time to avert tragedy.

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