Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Washington Post ignores Al Qaeda Leaders Iran connection

Craig Whitlock, Washington Post: Experts Say Radicals In London, Egypt May Have Followed Orders
The back-to-back nature of the deadly attacks in Egypt and London, as well as similarities in the methods used, suggests that the al Qaeda leadership may have given the orders for both operations and is a clear sign that Osama bin Laden and his deputies remain in control of the network, according to interviews with counterterrorism analysts and government officials in Europe and the Middle East. READ MORE

Investigators on Saturday said that they believed the details of the bombing plots in Egypt and Britain -- the deadliest terrorist strikes in each country's history -- were organized locally by groups working independently of each other. In Sharm el-Sheikh, where the death toll rose to 88 people, attention centered on an al Qaeda affiliate blamed for a similar attack last October at Taba, another Red Sea resort. In London, where 52 bystanders were killed in the subway and on a bus, police have identified three of the four presumed suicide bombers as British natives with suspected connections to Pakistani radicals.

But intelligence officials and terrorist experts said they suspect that bin Laden or his lieutenants may have sponsored both operations from afar, as well as other explosions that have killed hundreds of people in Spain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Morocco since 2002. The hallmarks in each case: multiple bombings aimed at unguarded, civilian targets that are designed to scare Westerners and rattle the economy.

The officials and analysts also said the recent attacks indicate that the nerve center of the original al Qaeda network remains alive and well, despite the fact that many leaders have been killed or captured since the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings in the United States. Bin Laden may be in hiding, the officials and analysts said, and much is still unknown about the network. But they added that his organization remains fully capable of orchestrating attacks worldwide by recruiting local groups to do its bidding.

"What the London and Sharm el-Sheikh attacks may have in common are the people giving directions: This is what needs to be done, and this is how you do it," said Magnus Ranstorp, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Prince Turki al Faisal, the former director of foreign intelligence for Saudi Arabia who was named this past week as the kingdom's new ambassador to the United States, said in an interview, "All of these groups maintain a link of sort with bin Laden, either through Internet Web sites, or through messengers, or by going to the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan and maybe not necessarily meeting with bin Laden himself, but with his people.

"Since September 11, these people have continued to operate," he said, speaking at his residence here, where he has been serving as ambassador to Britain. "They are on the run, but they still act with impunity. They can produce their material and get it to the media, it seems, anytime they like. Along with that, of course, are the orders they give to their operatives, wherever they may be."

Overthrowing the Saudi monarchy has been a longtime goal for bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi native who was once close to the kingdom's rulers but was stripped of his citizenship in 1994.

Some senior U.S. officials have argued that bin Laden has been effectively bottled up since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and question whether al Qaeda still has the ability to plan major operations such as the Sept. 11 attacks.

In April, for example, the State Department concluded in its annual report on terrorist activity around the world that al Qaeda had been supplanted as the most worrisome threat by unaffiliated local groups of Islamic radicals acting on their own, without help from bin Laden or his aides. The pattern of attacks in 2004, the report stated, illustrates "what many analysts believe is a new phase of the global war on terrorism, one in which local groups inspired by al Qaeda organize and carry out attacks with little or no support or direction from al Qaeda itself."

Some regional Islamic radical groups function independently of al Qaeda but enter into mutual alliances for specific operations or campaigns, experts say. In Iraq, for instance, one of the primary networks of insurgents fighting the U.S. military is led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has pledged his loyalty to bin Laden and acts publicly on behalf of al Qaeda but has developed his own organization.

But intelligence officials and analysts from European and Arab countries say there is increasing evidence that several of the deadliest bombings against civilian targets in recent years can be traced back to suspected mid-level al Qaeda operatives acting on behalf of bin Laden and the network's leadership. In some cases, counterterrorism investigators have concluded that bin Laden or his emissaries set plans in motion to launch attacks and then left it up to local networks or cells to take care of the details.

"The rather well-formed structure that they had prior to 9/11 does seem to be degraded," said a senior British counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But there is still a fairly potent, if diffuse network out there that still aspires to make decisions. We should be very wary about writing them off."

Saudi officials said the interrogation of terrorism suspects in that country, as well as intercepted electronic communications, show that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, dispatched cell organizers to Saudi Arabia in 2002 and weighed in on basic strategic decisions made by the local al Qaeda affiliate. The al Qaeda leadership also gave direct orders to attack specific targets in the kingdom, Saudi officials said.

The local al Qaeda network carried out its first attack on May 12, 2003, driving explosive-laden cars into the gates of Western residential compounds in Riyadh, killing 35 people, including nine Americans. The explosion stunned Saudi government leaders, who only a few months before had said publicly that there were no terrorist groups operating inside the kingdom.

Less than one week after the Riyadh bombing, explosions hit Morocco, which has a long history of close relations with the United States and little history of terrorism. On May 16, 2003, suicide bombers launched multiple attacks on hotels, restaurants and other civilian targets in Casablanca, killing 45 people.

At first, counterterrorism officials in Saudi Arabia and Morocco saw no connection between the two attacks other than the fact that they occurred four days apart. They assumed that the timing was coincidental, or that the Moroccan bombings were prompted in part by the publicity generated by what happened in Riyadh.

Today, however, counterterrorism officials in both countries say there were connections between the two groups that carried out the attacks. Two Moroccan al Qaeda operatives suspected of helping to organize the Casablanca bombings, Karim Mejjati and Hussein Mohammed Haski, surfaced as leaders of the local al Qaeda network in Saudi Arabia and were named to the kingdom's list of most wanted terrorist suspects.

Mejjati was killed in a shootout with anti-terrorism police in a small Saudi town in April. Haski was arrested in July 2004 in Belgium, where he faces charges of helping to organize another sleeper cell with al Qaeda connections, according to Belgian officials and court documents. Both Haski and Mejjati were veterans of al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, documents show.

A similar connection has emerged between the Casablanca bombings and the March 11, 2004, train explosions that killed 191 people in Madrid. Spanish investigators have identified a suspected ringleader of the Madrid attacks as a Moroccan al Qaeda operative named Amer Azizi, who is also wanted by authorities in Morocco on charges of involvement in the network that organized the Casablanca attacks.

Like Mejjati and Haski, Azizi spent time at al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan before 2001 and is believed to be a conduit to the al Qaeda leadership, intelligence officials said.

Counterterrorism investigators and analysts said it was highly unlikely that the people who organized the July 7 London bombings were directly involved in the Sharm el-Sheikh attacks. But they predicted that both plots would eventually be traced directly to al Qaeda.

Ranstorp, the terrorism expert in Scotland, predicted that Egyptian investigators would pursue possible links to Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born physician who has served as bin Laden's top deputy and al Qaeda's leading ideologue since the early 1990s. "I doubt very much that this was done by the same group of Pakistanis who were apparently responsible for what happened in London," Ranstorp said. "But this very well could have been directed by Zawahiri, in terms of activating the Egyptian front."

U.S. and European intelligence officials said they believe bin Laden and Zawahiri remain in hiding along the rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where access and communications with the outside world remain difficult. But many other al Qaeda leaders have found refuge in Pakistan's urban areas, where they are freer to move around and make contact with operatives visiting from other countries.

Pakistani officials have confirmed that three of the four suicide bombers involved in the London attacks this month visited Pakistan for extended periods over the past two years, spending time in Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan's largest cities. Investigators suspect they may have met with al Qaeda operatives who gave them instructions for carrying out the bombings.

British officials and counterterrorism analysts said the trail of the investigation was clearly leading to Pakistan, which has faced renewed criticism for giving haven to al Qaeda sympathizers and other Islamic radical groups. Several highly wanted al Qaeda leaders who have been captured in recent years by the FBI and CIA were caught not in the remote terrain along the Pakistani border, but in major cities such as Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore.

"Why is it that all the roads keep going back to Pakistan?" said M. J. Gohel, a terrorism analyst and chief executive of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based think tank. "Is it a coincidence, or is there something more? The linkages there are just too strong and consistent. The whole backbone of the jihadi infrastructure is not being dismantled. It is still functioning."

The Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, pledged this week to renew his crackdown on "extremists" and Islamic radicals in the country and said officials were doing everything they could to cooperate with the investigation into the London bombings. But he bristled at the idea that Pakistan has remained a haven for al Qaeda.

Staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.
The Washington Post fails to mention the role Iran is playing as the base of operations for al Qaeda's leadership.

MSNBC, in an updated report provided the location of al Qaeda's management team. Robert Windrem, Investigative producer forNBC News said:

Somewhere north of Tehran, living perhaps in villas near the town of Chalous on the Caspian Sea coast, are between 20 and 25 of al-Qaida’s former leaders, along with two of Osama bin Laden’s sons.

Men such as Saif al-Adel, the former military commander of al-Qaida, and Suleiman Abu Ghaith, the bespectacled bin Laden spokesman, are not in hiding but rather in the care — or custody — of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. ...

We believe that they're holding members of al-Qaida's management council,” Fran Townsend, President Bush’s counterterrorism czar, said of Iran. ...

The management council went west, to northern Iran, where the United States had little sway and the Iranians had little interest in pushing for their arrests. ...

But Iran was either unable or uninterested in taking the al-Qaida members into custody. ...

There was also evidence that critical meetings regarding the future of al-Qaida were being held in the relative safety of Iran. But al-Qaida decided at a meeting in Iran in November 2002 that the pressure on it was so great that it could no longer exist as a hierarchy. ...

Publicly, all CIA Director Porter Goss will say is that Iran has “detained” al-Qaida elements.

I don't have all of the information I would like to have,” he told Tom Brokaw. “But I think your understanding is that there is a group of leadership of al-Qaida under some type of detention — I don't know exactly what type, necessarily — in Iran is probably accurate. But I don't think I want to go too far into that — if you don't mind.” .... former senior U.S. intelligence official .... The Iranians will not give you specific names, or at least they would never give us specific names. They would always duck the question,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Radio Free Europe connected the dots back in December when it reported the al Qaeda leadership's located in Iran played a role in the Madrid bombing.
Reports nonetheless persist that hundreds of Al-Qaeda operatives along with some 18 senior leaders -- including Saif Adel, Al-Qaeda's military commander, and Osama Bin Laden's son, Saad, are living in Iran. Spain's top counterterrorism judge has dubbed this Al-Qaeda's "board of managers," according to the 1 August "Los Angeles Times." A French counterterrorism official says that these leaders have "controlled freedom of movement" inside Iran, AFP reported on 15 July, and the London-based Arabic daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reports that some are even living in villas near the Caspian Sea coast town of Chalus, AFP reported on 28 June. Other accounts of their activities are far more disturbing. U.S. communications intercepts indicate that the 12 May 2003 attacks on the expatriate compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, were orchestrated from Iran, according to the 1 August "Los Angeles Times," and though others may be involved, European government officials reportedly point to Adel as the primary suspect. ...

Spanish investigators believe that even the 11 March commuter train bombings in Madrid were at least partially planned from the Al-Qaeda base in Iran. Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, named by Spanish police as a primary suspect, is suspected of having operated from Iran, as is another suspect, Amer Azizi, who is believed to have spent time in Iran before returning to Spain to carry out the attacks, according to Spanish communications intercepts cited in the "Los Angeles Times." ...
The same report suggested that there are divisions within the Iranian leadership with regard to al Qaeda:
In August, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry foiled a series of assassinations allegedly being planned by Al-Qaeda's Adel along with a high-ranking leader of the IRGC...

it furthermore shows the deep divisions between the hard-line and reformist factions in determining Iranian foreign policy.
But in the battle between the reformists and the hard-liners, the hard-liners won.

So is there evidence of an al Qaeda connection with the bombing in Sharm el-Sheikh?

The Middle East Newsline reminds us of Iran's involvement in past attacks in Eqypt and Saudi Arabia.
Iran has helped plan and finance attacks on both Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the last year. They said an Iranian diplomat planned the strike on a petrochemical facility in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia in May 2004. The attack resulted in the killing of five Western engineers.

The Iranian diplomat has escaped Egypt but would be tried in absentia. Officials said the diplomat employed an Egyptian national who has been captured and would be charged with espionage and terrorist offenses.

Egyptian public prosecutor Maher Abdul Wahed identified the Iranian diplomat as Mohammad Reza Hosseindoust. Abdul Wahed said Hosseindoust paid the Egyptian detainee, identified as Mohammed Eid Mohammed Dabbous, who supplied information that facilitated the attack on Yanbu.
Recently, Asharq Alawsat provided a short bio on Seif Al-Adl, the Egyptian military leader of Al-Qaeda. It provides a peek into the al Qaeda operation.

In the article they state, Adl discussed an agreement with Al-Zarqawi:
It seems they had decided to set up a central leadership command circle in Iran, from which further sub-circles would branch off. ...

He accused Bin Laden's closest ally, Al-Zawhri, of being an agent, having:
... received money from the Iranians, implicating the ranks of the organisation in failed and unstudied operations. ...

after we were trapped in Iran, after being forced out of Afghanistan, it became inevitable that we would plan to enter Iraq through the north, which was free from American control. It was then that we moved south to join our Sunni brothers".

Al-Adl then moved to the question of Iran, and said "The steps taken by Iran against us shook us and caused the failure of 75 percent of our plan. Approximately 80 percent of Abu Musab’s [Al-Zarqawi] group were arrested. It was important to create a plan for Abu Musab to follow with those left with him. Where were they to go? The destination was Iraq, via the Northern Iran/Iraq border. The aim was to reach the Sunni areas in the center of Iraq and then to start preparations to combat the American invasion. It was not a random choice; it was a well studied one."

The connections between Iran and al Qaeda are many, the relationship sometime tenuous. But remember, the group responsible for overseeing al Qaeda in Iran is the elite Quds force which the new President of Iran, Ahmadinejad, was a founder.

So if al Qaeda's management team is in Iran, where is Bin Laden?

CIA director Porter Goss recently stated that he had an "excellent idea" where Bin Laden is. He said:
"...when you go to the very difficult question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you're dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play. "We have to find a way to work in a conventional world in unconventional ways that are acceptable to the international community."
In conclusion, we cannot expect to win the war on terror as long as the present regime in Iran remains in power. The least costly means to ending their rule is to support the pro-democracy forces there. But time is running out.