US Warns Egypt and Israel of Al Qaeda Threat: Chemical or Marine Terror Possible
At the beginning of December, Washington warned Jerusalem and Cairo of a planned major al Qaeda attack in one of their cities – possibly even with chemical weapons. In addition, the Americans and the British warned Israel and Egypt to beware of large-scale maritime strikes in the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aqaba, the Red Sea or the Suez Canal. One possible method is the familiar one of suicides aboard speedboats crammed with explosives ramming merchant vessels and oil tankers; but another way could be to hijack vessels and scuttle them in the Suez Canal to block the international waterway. This stratagem would create international havoc. Even if it failed, marine insurance premiums in these waterways would rise and sea freight rates would shoot up on the routes from China to the West.
Washington issued its warning after analyzing the October 7 al Qaeda attack on three Sinai resorts in which 34 people died and its aftermath.
It was noted that Egyptian security has not managed to lay hands on al Qaeda’s Sinai Peninsula lair or prevent it from being strengthened in recent weeks with a manpower infusion. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources also reveal that Saud Hamid al-Utaibi was appointed new al Qaeda commander in Saudi Arabia largely thanks to his expertise in marine terror. His experience includes an active role in blowing up the USS Cole in October 2000 and in holing the French Limburg tanker two years later; both rammed by exploding speedboats in Yemeni waters.
All three attacks took place in October.
Al-Utaibi’s exceptional operational capabilities stood out in his latest operation on dry land – namely against the December 6 raid on the US consulate in the Red Sea town of Jeddah. It owed its success as much to its military precision and accurate inside and undercover work, as to the large gaps in Saudi intelligence.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 185 described the attack in detail:
The fundamentalist terror group timed its first operation for the absence overseas of Prince Nayef. Its planners figured correctly that without his commanding presence and firm hand, Saudi security forces’ responses would be slow and indecisive.
American and Saudi security units at one of the most heavily guarded US facilities in the kingdom were in fact caught napping. Saudi special operations units were dropped by helicopter at the consulate more than one hour, 20 minutes, after the attack began at 11.30 a.m. They would have arrived faster by road, but feared al Qaeda ambush squads would waylay them on the approach roads to the scene of attack.
While some details are sketchy because of the Saudi blackout on the investigation, there is no concealing that this was one of al Qaeda’s most audacious daytime strikes.
The assailants reached the scene in three tightly-coordinated bands of between 8 and 12 men – all in Saudi army uniforms carrying standard issue Saudi weapons. They drove up in one or two explosives-packed vehicle – or vehicles – painted with Saudi military colors. This truck or convoy was waved unquestioningly through all three Saudi security checkpoints positioned on the road approaching the consulate. This alone has led the investigation to presume inside help.
They then operated at speed with clockwork precision
The first group used a truck to drive directly to the gate on the eastern wall leading into the visa, immigration and public services department. They waited for the gate to open for a departing car and then burst in spraying automatic weapons fire and hurling hand grenades. The guards manning the watchtower at this gate fled before sounding the alarm, leaving the attackers in control.
At this point, the ongoing assault had still not registered with the Americans in the building and the Saudis outside the facility, despite the surveillance cameras at the watchtowers and gates. However, at that moment, the second group blew up the same truck – or a second vehicle – at the main gate. This was the signal for the third band to blow a big hole in the 17-foot high western perimeter wall with dozens of kilos of explosives and burst in to link up with the first group.
The large crater at the main gate prevented consulate staff from escaping; the blast distracted attention from the two groups of intruders.
Once through the perimeter walls, the terrorists appear to have known their way about well enough to shut down the consulate’s electronic surveillance systems, before storming the building.
By then, the American staff had been alerted and evacuated to vault-like security rooms sealed off by reinforced steel doors. With no chance of breaking through, the raiders climbed up to the consulate’s roof, where they lowered the American flag and burned it. There were no armed guards to stop them as they went through the building, room by room, collecting documents – some of them top secret, before setting the offices on fire. Only then did the Saudi helicopters carrying the commandos appear overhead, albeit high up and out of range of possible ground fire.
At least one feature of the Jeddah consulate assault plan recalls al Qaeda’s modus operandi in its May 29 strike against foreign oil company offices in Khobar. Then, when Saudi commando helicopters put down on the roofs of captured buildings, the terrorists cut off the heads of eight or nine non-Muslim hostages they had seized. They then made off ahead of capture.
In Jeddah, the terrorists simply shot dead in cold blood eight of the people waiting in line for US visas – and ran. The bodies of three attackers were later found in the compound, two more were injured and taken alive. One died later.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources challenge the official estimate of five assailants for this precisely-plotted operation. It glosses over the escape of four or five terrorists and leaves unanswered the question of how they escaped safely through the cordon of some 200 Saudi police and security officers surrounding the building. Once again, inside connivance with al Qaeda is indicated.
Two further questions stand out:
1. Who passed the attackers sensitive data on the locations of the mission’s security and surveillance equipment and the vulnerable gaps in its security system? Aside from the “safe rooms” that saved the lives of the American personnel, al Qaeda had been briefed on the exact points of the building’s electronic control centers and the keys to disarming them. Security experts fear that for their next raid of a US diplomatic facility, al Qaeda will have acquired additionally the codes for penetrating the terrorist-proof “Americans-only” shelters inside the building.
2. How was an armed “military” convoy able to move unchallenged through Jeddah’s downtown business district – Saudi Arabia’s economic heartland — at a particularly tense time when the kingdom’s security and intelligence services were on high alert?
3. Looking at al Qaeda’s Jeddah consulate attack and the December 12 Palestinian Rafah tunnel blast (See opposite column) six days later, experts on terrorist tactics are gaining the impression that Islamic and Arab terrorist organizations are beginning to move away from the lone suicide bomber format; they seem to be advancing toward deploying larger operational units using standard military methods as well as applying superior intelligence to gain the great advantage of surprise