US, UK Balkan Embassies Narrowly Saved from Suicide Attacks
Al Qaeda was poised for a string of suicide terror attacks Wednesday, Nov. 2, as Britain held memorial services for the 52 people who died in bomb blasts on the London underground and a bus on July 7. It was also the second anniversary of al Qaeda’s offensive against Jewish and British targets in Istanbul. The jihadists had prepared to mark these occasions with a fresh series of suicide attacks on the American and British embassies in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Montenegro – and also apparently in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. The suiciders were to be backed up by gunmen shooting dead American and British diplomats and military men serving in those countries.
This elaborate terror plot was scotched by a row of timely arrests in Sarajevo and Copenhagen. Ten young Muslim teenagers, aged 16-19, were rounded up in all
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s terrorism experts note that this is he first time Western intelligence agencies have picked up the trail of an al Qaeda network weeks before it goes into action. And for the first time, they had a chance to get a close look at a complete network and study its methods of operation before it scattered to the four winds after an attack.
The key discovery, which confirms the findings from the March 2004 railway bombings in Madrid and the July 7 London blasts, was that al Qaeda’s rings do not depend on local Muslim radicals but are a calculated mix of local collaborators and Muslim operatives from other countries. They are brought together and remotely controlled by a distant coordinating headquarters.
It also emerged from interrogating the suspects that although active members of the network, they were given only code names for reaching their operational superiors, the faceless operatives who determined targets, supplied weapons, explosives and cash, organized exit points for the mission-bearers and escape routes for accomplices. Therefore, apprehending terrorist network members or even accomplices of the New York, Spain, Istanbul, London and Sharm el-Sheikh attacks led investigations nowhere.
Instead of securing leads to the elusive masterminds of those atrocities, they found themselves clutching at thin air and forced to accept that those men remain out of reach in deep shadow.
A Turkish Bulgarian and a Swedish Bosnian – ready for suicide
Tracks of the pan-European network were first picked up September 29 when Turkish and Swedish intelligence informed the Bosnian security authorities as well as the Americans, British, Dutch and Italians that two suspicious Muslim youths trained as suicide bombers had that day exited Stockholm and Istanbul respectively and were bound for Sarajevo.
They were identified as Irfan Trtov, a Turk of Bulgarian Muslim origin and member of the IBFA-C, which is al Qaeda’s main operational arm in Turkey, and Mirsad Berktasevic, a Bosnian with Swedish citizenship, who lived for years near Stockholm.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources add that on the same day, another plane landed in Sarajevo bringing a third man who rendezvoused with the first two. His name and where he came from are unknown. The existence of the “third man” was suspected when the group rented three apartments. They had obviously split up to throw off the scent of pursuit and also to give at least one the chance to get away if two were discovered.
And that is exactly how it happened.
Because the Bosnian, American and British watchers, who tracked the first pair, did not know about the third man, he was off like streaked lightning when Trtov and Bektasevic were picked up on Oct. 20 by Bosnian security officers. In their possession was a videotape showing the two men handling rifles, explosives and hand grenades. They were filmed making bombs including one planted in a lemon and another in a tennis ball. In classic Islamist suicide fashion, they were taped asking God for forgiveness for the sacrifice they were about to make. “This is the message for you God in the name of our brothers from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. We are going to revenge the unfaithful ones.”
The mysterious third man must have filmed the tape.
Bosnian officers also took possession of dozens of guns, 30 kilos of explosives and a bomb vest. It was then that they learned of a third apartment used by the third man.
Since Trtov and Bektasevic never contacted anyone in Sarajevo during their stay there, the missing man was most probably their only local contact.
However the American and British stake-out team was able to cover the two would-be suicide killers’ apartments with blanket electronic surveillance for the three weeks of their stay. Their outgoing e-mail and phone calls were found to be signaling a Copenhagen addressee who, according to the content of the messages, was their go-between with operational command.
Six counter-agencies pre-empt the next European suicide attack
With all their electronic resources and physical surveillance, the watchers were stumped by two puzzles:
1. The three terrorists must have got together at some point during their month in Sarajevo, but no meeting was ever detected or recorded.
2. How did the would-be suicide bombers manage to secrete the weapons and explosives into their apartments undetected? Even if they were carried by the third man, how did he disguise his burden? The only possibility is that they were stored on location and collected at an earlier date.
The action then moved from Bosnia to Denmark (Picture: Imam of Copenhagen. Ahmad Abu-Laban).
A week after the arrests in Sarajevo, the Danish police on a tip-off from Bosnia, swooped on several addresses in Glostrup, a suburb of Copenhagen. They arrested four young suspects. They also seized a large stash of cash, some 40,000 euros, address books, mobile phones, computers and radical Islamic literature.
Most significantly, the Danish police turned up evidence of “close contacts” between the four Danish suspects and the Swedish citizen Bektasevic arrested in Sarajevo as a potential suicide bomber.
Another man and a woman were picked up by the Copenhagen police two days later. They were suspected of membership in the same Islamic network that was plotting this suicide attack in Europe. Neither was identified, but they are believed to have been accomplices of the four young detainees.
The investigation of this sprawling al Qaeda network has only just begun. Al Qaeda was prevented from carrying out another devastating terrorist attack in Europe thanks to close cooperation among the Turkish, Danish, Swedish, Bosnian, American and British secret services.
Having made this valuable haul, the forces fighting global Islamic terror face the painstaking task of unraveling the contacts of each of the suspects, their ties with the two designated suicides and how al Qaeda was able to pull together a plan for an elaborate terrorist attack across an entire continent, Europe.