Three Terrorist Stars Recruited

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report mounting fears within US and Israeli counter-terrorism agencies that al Qaeda’s three command centers are preparing mega-terror attacks for US and Israeli targets.

They believe that, for the time being, at least, al Qaeda has foregone a nuclear, radiological or chemical option in favor of biological warfare, intending to use weapons systems believed to have been supplied by Iraqi military intelligence and already in the hands of three al Qaeda commanders: Abu Musaab al Zarqawi, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, nicknamed “the Mukhtar”.

According to those sources, the Islamic fundamentalist group has established a headquarters in the radical Kurdish Ansar al-Islam enclave of northern Iraq, as one of its three main planning centers for strikes in the United States.

All Zarqawi, whose full name is Ahmad Fadeel Nazal Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, aka al Khalayleh, is the senior project director.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources report that al Zarqawi was spotted traveling between Baghdad, the enclave’s main city of Bayara, and then on to Damascus and Beirut, between November and December. This sighting gave the Bush administration its first direct proof of the terrorist link between Baghdad and al Qaeda. This is what the US President was referring to when he said on Tuesday, December 31, that “an attack from Saddam Hussein or a surrogate of Saddam Hussein would cripple our economy.”

Zarqawi makes his headquarters in northern Iraq; Abdullah is based in Pakistan – either in the port city of Karachi or near the border with Afghanistan; the whereabouts of Mohammed, “the Mukhtar” are unknown. He may be in Bosnia or Europe.

The biggest and most imminent threat, according to intelligence officials in the Middle East, comes from Zarqawi.

A Jordanian-Palestinian in his late 30s, he fled the kingdom in 1999 after the authorities exposed his plot to blow up hotels hosting foreign tourists visiting the kingdom for millennium celebrations. He is the only al Qaeda operative known for certain to have undergone extensive terrorist training – including airline hijacking techniques — in Iraq’s notorious Salman Pak special weapons facility. He has since established his headquarters and residence in Bayara, the North Iraqi town near Iran which is controlled by the fundamentalist Ansar al-Islam and Iraqi military intelligence.

Back in October 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks in the United States, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported that Bayara became an al Qaeda base complete with chemical and biological training laboratories run for the group by the Iraqis.

Our counter-terrorism sources reveal that Zarqawi was also in charge of the relocation of 150 to 200 al Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan to South Lebanon. His connections in Baghdad and Damascus were good enough to provide them all with traveling documents as well as money and logistical support until they landed safely in Lebanon.

The group destined for Lebanon was not chosen at random. Its members were all hardcore terrorists with special training in the use of chemical and biological weapons.

Recently, the group was broken up into teams of three or four and spread out in Beirut and the southern Lebanon port cities of Sidon and Tyre. Each team represents an operational cell. According to current intelligence information, some of the cells have been assigned US targets in the Gulf and Europe while others have been ordered to carry out biological attacks in Israel. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources say that Zarqawi recently dropped out of sight, raising the suspicion that one of his mega-terror attacks was imminent.

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah is believed to be the highest ranking of the trio of al Qaeda commanders. Aged about 40, he is an Egyptian and member of the radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Bin Laden’s primary operational arm. He was one of the 500 who crossed into Sudan to join Osama bin Laden in 1991, when the al Qaeda leader moved from Afghanistan to Khartoum to set up his new headquarters.

They have been together ever since, Abdullah acting as al Qaeda’s chief money man, but also active in shoring up the group’s worldwide logistical network and organizing operations.

In early 2002, after the US forced the main body of al Qaeda and Taliban to flee Afghanistan and escape to Pakistan and Iran, Abdullah took over as overall al Qaeda commander in Pakistan and Kashmir. Whether his area of operational jurisdiction includes Afghanistan is not entirely clear. Many intelligence sources claim that today, Abdullah is the top man in al Qaeda, but there is no proof of this.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources have unearthed two little-known facts about this mysterious and powerful figure:

First, he lives under the full protection of Pakistan’s military leaders and intelligence – the most senior al Qaeda operative to enjoy this status. Second, Abdullah was the mastermind behind the November 28 strikes against Israeli targets in Mombasa, Kenya, in which 16 people died, although the terrorist team on the spot failed to shoot down an Israel airliner with 270 people aboard.

This top al Qaeda commander has CIA and FBI officers in Pakistan chewing their nails in frustration. They usually know where he is and where he goes, but they cannot touch him because of the protective umbrella the Pakistani SIS extends him on orders from President Pervez Musharraf. The Americans have to accept that there is no point in trying to nab him because he will be forewarned and, in any case, Pakistani officers will spring him on the instant.

This standoff is the cause of friction between US special forces and their Pakistani counterparts, who are keeping the Americans on a short leash on instructions from military intelligence.

This week, a Pakistani unit exchanged fire with US troops who apparently got too close to areas Pakistani military intelligence designated as off-limits. There were rumors at the time that Abdullah was in the neighborhood of the incident. The United States responded with a B-52 bombing run against the Pakistani contingent.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources can also disclose that, while an al Qaeda operative called Mohammed Fazul led the operation against the Israeli-owned Mombasa Palace Hotel and an Arkia airliner, Abdullah was the operation’s planner and supreme commander. He picked the terrorist team, decided how best to smuggle the Strela shoulder-launched missiles into Kenya and who would fire them at Mombasa airport,

Intercepts of messages between Abdullah and Zarqawi indicate it will be the latter that will orchestrate the next big al Qaeda attack in the Middle East. Counter-terrorism agencies expect him to aim for American or Israeli targets. Abdullah will meanwhile put together a large-scale strike inside the United States itself.

Al Qaeda’s third command center, known as the European HQ, is headed by Mohammed, or “The Mukhtar”.

He may be the lowest-ranking of the three commanders – he is not authorized to plan or carry out attacks without approval from above – but his field of operation is major, covering such key European cities as London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Prague and Moscow.

Bush has good cause to be deeply concerned over al Qaeda’s potential for biological attacks. Two of the group’s most prominent leaders, Zarqawi and Abdullah, enjoy the protection and help of the formidable military intelligence arms of Iraq and Pakistan, the latter ostensibly a US ally but working behind the scenes against Washington’s global war against terrorism.

The US president has another worry: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan could end up aligning themselves with Saddam Hussein, should he succeed in persuading al Qaeda to dispatch its fighters to Iraq and locate the group’s command centers on its soil.

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