Not all members of the al Qaeda hierarchy agree that the new terror offensive in Europe is a good step. The London transport bombings of July 7 aroused some of its members to strong criticism. The marks of this discord have trailed across the organization’s electronic communications and some of its publications in the last two weeks.
Tony Blair and his secret service chiefs, who traveled to Africa to track down the brain behind the attacks, will not be delighted by the cause of the dissent.
One of the Prophet Mohammed’s edicts forbids an attack on anyone granting Muslims sanctuary. The command dates from seventh century when the early believers were forced to flee the HIjaz and found asylum across the Red Sea in Ethiopia.
Contemporary al Qaeda dissenters compare London to Ethiopia of 14 centuries ago as providers of asylum for believers and therefore entitled by the Prophet’s decree to immunity from attack.
This argument indirectly confirms the existence of a form of tacit armistice between the British security services and al Qaeda elements in Britain. Implicit too is criticism of those who ordered the London attack, namely al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
The dissident faction argues against al Qaeda overextending its resources; there seems to be some fear that an inclusive offensive will boomerang against al Qaeda itself. There is an undertone of skepticism as to the organization’s ability to carry the combined weight of campaigns in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Europe.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s al Qaeda experts note that the critics are outspoken about a policy decision to withdraw forces from Iraq and divert them to the general offensive even though that decision was taken personally by Osama bin Laden.
The bin Laden menace that London ignored
Our sources confirm the report appearing Thursday, July 14, in the French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine under the caption: The bin Laden Menace that London Ignored.
The paper quotes French intelligence sources as claiming that twice, in February and May, they passed on to London the contents of secret bin Laden tapes made for internal consumption rather than television airing. On these tapes, bin Laden announced the organization was about to strike the capitals of nations whose soldiers serve in Iraq. He made it clear he was not talking about single operations like the rail bombings in Madrid last year, but a series of hammer blows.
This disclosure points to two facts about al Qaeda today.
1. That the conclusion shared by many of the experts on the war against Islamic terror that bin Laden had been reduced to a symbol without influence – if he was alive – was premature. The recordings picked up by the French and the attacks on London prove that bin Laden is not only active but in full control at the helm of al Qaeda’s operations and the engine behind the continuing terror attacks.
2. Bin Laden backs Abu Musab al Zarqawi, chief of the Iraqi wing, to the hilt. He rates him the greatest general the Islamic movement has seen in centuries and has entrusted him not only with the Iraqi warfront but the new broad offensive.
This determination by al Qaeda’s supreme leader prompted a major dispute between Zarqawi and his spiritual mentor Abu Mohammed al Maqdasi, who is also the spiritual guide of the terrorist networks in Jordan.
Earlier this month, Maqdasi came out in total opposition to attacks on Iraqi Shiites and their treatment as infidels. He also condemned the beheading of hostages and the filming of these atrocities, common practices of Zarqawi’s cohorts in Iraq. Above all, he objected to taking the war beyond “the River,” namely Iraq.
Wednesday, July 13, Zarqawi responded to the rebuke from his former guru.
He issued a statement in his capacity as al Qaeda’s War Commander in Iraq to his men, in which he declared that Maqdasi is no longer “our sheikh.”
Zarqawi is above criticism in al Qaeda
He then asked: Who appointed you to set the rules for a Muslim believer to lay down his life? Who gave you the right to forbid us to harm Shiite people? The Shiites today don police uniforms in loyalty to the Crusaders, the Americans, and we therefore must not stop killing them. It is a fact that we do not harm non-Muslims such as Assyrians (Christians) and Zaidis who do not collaborate with the Americans.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly has no record of internal al Qaeda disputes as fierce as this one. Zarqawi would never have denounced his former mentor in terms as sharp as this without the full support of bin Laden.
Our sources disclose that Maqdasi conducted his dispute with Zarqawi from a Jordanian prison, smuggling out his messages and declarations. Jordanian secret service officials kept track of the argument and decided it could be exploited to cut down Zarqawi’s influence in Jordan and Iraq. Ten days ago, therefore, they came to King Abdullah with a proposal to release the firebrand al Qaeda cleric if he promised to publicize his views on Zarqawi’s methods and path over Arab media. The king consulted Washington and obtained consent to his release.
Maqdasi became a free man in the first week of July and went straight to the Arabic TV al Jazeera studios. To the astonishment of the Jordanians and Americans who viewed the broadcast, the freed man did not have a cross word to say about Zarqawi.
Later that day, Jordanian intelligence agents guarding him discovered that among the hundreds of well-wishers who called at his home to congratulate him on his release were messengers from Zarqawi. Magdasi asked them to tell their boss that he was prepared to renew their collaboration and help organize terrorist attacks in Jordan for the purpose of overthrowing the king.
Twenty-four hours later, he was back in jail on orders from the palace.
The incident shows Zarqawi’s strength in Jordan, where his men are not scared to act under the noses of Jordan security and many other intelligence services present in Amman.