Two Gazan Palestinians detonated bomb that killed 3 Americans

US officials in Tel Aviv are complaining about the “mixed” cooperation FBI investigators have encountered from Palestinian Authority security services in their inquiry into the remote-controlled bomb attack in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, October 15, that left three American security men dead and one injured. This was a polite expression of their frustration at being stonewalled by the Palestinian authorities who know exactly whom the perpetrators are.
debkafile has obtained their names exclusively from high intelligence and counter-terror sources.
The murderous bomb-attack was planned and executed by Yasser Zannoon and Mohammad al-Baba, heads of a Khan Younes militia in the southern Gaza Strip. The undercover allegiances of this Palestinian militia hint at the labyrinth of terrorist groups rampant in the Gaza Strip. On the one hand, the Khan Younes militia operates in the framework of the Popular Resistance Committees, whose chief is Yasser Arafat’s man in Gaza, Jemal Sema Dana of the notorious Rafah-based smuggling clan. On the other, it is linked to Rashid Abu Shbak, acting head of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service that was set up legitimately under the 1993 Oslo Accords to counter Palestinian terrorism.
At the outset of the Abu Mazen government’s brief tenure in May, internal security minister Mohamed Dahlan leaned hard on Washington to obtain Abu Shbak’s removal from Israel’s most wanted terrorists list. Dahlan claimed Abu Shbak’s active assistance was vital for an effective anti-terror campaign. Washington assented and Israel called off its dogs.
Zannoon, who is revealed here as the operations chief and al-Baba, as the senior “ideologue” of the Khan Younes militia, are both well known to Israeli counter-terrorist agencies. Theirs were the hands that set off the massive explosions that destroyed four Chariot tanks in the Gaza Strip over the past year. They are also known for their close rapport with Hizballah and al Qaeda operatives smuggled into the territory.
For the Palestinian terror machine, there is no more sensitive clandestine project than its logistic mainline route system via the Gaza Strip. Those routes are operated by a lethal mix of Preventive Security officers-turned-terrorists, Palestinian Resistance Committees’ local militias which keep the Israelis under fire, Hizballah and al Qaeda infiltrators, and the Sema Dana clan’s Rafah-based tunnel network, the largest entry point for Palestinian smuggled hardware.
This complicated machine was behind the attack on the US diplomatic convoy. Zannoon and al-Baba, like most of its integral elements, function under four hats.
Hat No. 1: Up until three and-a-half years ago, the pair were officers of the Gaza Strip Palestinian Preventive Security service under the command of Mohamed Dahlan. Then, in mid-2000, Yasser Arafat rewrote their job specifications in line with the terrorist confrontation he prepared to launch against Israel in late September. They were given terror assignments after being instructed to resign their formal duties so that the Palestinian Authority would not be caught engaging in terrorism. However, they were left on the PA payroll. To this day, therefore, Dahlan and his successor as preventive security commander, Abu Shbak, dole out their wages to Zannoon and Al-Baba.
The only real change is that Dahlan and Abu Shbak are no longer friends since the latter moved in on the former’s turf and no longer takes orders from him.
Hat No. 2: Arafat’s recent reorganization of the Palestinian terror system to seal it off against Israeli intelligence penetration – its detachment from official Palestinian organs and fragmentation – has led to the redeployment of the ex-Preventive Security officers loyal to him. These officers were spread out and given commands of local militias – usually in their own family localities. The second hat assumed by Zannoon and al-Baba is therefore that of local commanders of the Khan Younes militia.
Hat No. 3: Arafat ordered Rashid Abu Shbak to place all the local militias of the southern and central regions of the Gaza Strip under the command of Jemal Sema Dana, head of the Palestinian Resistance Committees. The terrorist movement of the Gaza Strip is thus both fragmented into militias and united under the single command of the Committees, whose arcane nature – some foreign media have bought the fiction that it is a “rogue” or “splinter” group – enables Arafat to wash his hands of terrorist attacks.
This arrangement also provides Sema Dana with a reserve of “soldiers” for running operations and protecting the Palestinians tunnel lifeline from Egypt’s northern Sinai into Rafah. This smuggling route is all the more vital for bringing in combat manpower, weapons and explosives since Israel blockaded all the other sea and land routes into the Strip.
Hat No. 4: Al-Baba grafted an Islamic religious function onto the ideology of the Khan Younes militia so as to render it acceptable to Hamas, Hizballah, Jihad Islami and al Qaeda – both locally and in such strategic overseas centers as Lebanon and Syria. After this “conversion”, the Hizballah officers and bomb experts slipping into the Gaza Strip – either through cracks in Israel’s barriers or Sema Dana’s tunnels – shelter more comfortably with the Khan Younes militia. They also offered its operatives expert instruction in the activation of large explosive devices by remote control. In this way, the pair would have acquired the expertise for blowing up the American diplomatic convoy last week.
The investigation is also examining the possibility that the Zannoon militia hosted the two British al Qaeda members, Asif Muhammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, in the Gaza Strip in late April after they were trained as suicide bombers in Syria. The two were believed to have attacked a night spot in Tel Aviv after failing to penetrate the security cordon at the US embassy nearby. If true, it would mean that the attack last Wednesday on the American convoy was not the first, but the third operation by the Zannoon militia against an American target in the last six months.
The second caused little harm. It occurred on July 28, when a previous remote-controlled bomb struck an American convoy in the Gaza Strip, damaging a car and slightly hurting passengers. The Palestinians then blamed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It is now evident that this was the first instance of a Khan Younes militia bomb attack against a US official convoy.
Even after they have the names of the perpetrators, the US investigation is faced with three baffling mysteries:
1. On whose orders did the Khan Younes militia and its Popular Resistance Committee commanders carry out the attack on a CIA vehicle?
2. Who laid on the precise intelligence that betrayed the convoy’s itinerary and timing?
3. Were the Palestinian perpetrators working with a foreign body, such as the Hizballah or al Qaeda, or on their own?
To solve these riddles, American investigators need to apprehend and interrogate the pair. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report they have gone into hiding. FBI queries to the Palestinian authorities meet blank responses. None admit to knowing the two Palestinians’ whereabouts or whether they have escaped by sea or through the Sema Dana tunnels to Egypt.
The Americans are not fooled by Palestinian leaders’ condemnations of the attack and promises of cooperation and understand that no real help will be forthcoming – especially since Friday night, October 17, the day after the FBI agents began their investigation, when the Popular Resistance Committees Web site was suddenly taken down. “Preventive security” officers acted on panicky orders coming from Ramallah and removed the site before an incautious signal could betray the hiding places of Zannoon and al-Baba. This is also the custom of Hizballah and al Qaeda after strikes. Despite all Arafat’s efforts to muddy the trail leading to him and notwithstanding his failing health, he is still on top of his terror machine.
The American embassy in Tel Aviv is under no illusions that the terrorist peril is over. Official US trips to the Gaza Strip have been suspended indefinitely and all security arrangements at US locations are under current review.

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