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PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2007 7:31 pm    Post subject: WTF Reply with quote

Middle East
Mar 2, 2007

Page 1 of 2
Ready to take on the world
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Al-Qaeda will this year significantly step up its global operations after centralizing its leadership and reviving its financial lifelines. Crucially, al-Qaeda has developed missile and rocket technology with the capability of carrying chemical, biological and nuclear warheads, according to an al-Qaeda insider who spoke to Asia Times Online.

While al-Qaeda will continue to operate in Afghanistan and Iraq, it will broaden its global perspective to include Europe and hostile

Muslim states, Asia Times Online has learned. For the first time since its attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, this could be al-Qaeda's year on the offensive.

According to the contact, "The time has come for a message to be communicated to Europe." Asked what kind of message this would be, the contact simply smiled.

Nevertheless, he stated that with Western forces trapped in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was time to open up new fronts in Somalia, Algeria, Egypt, Palestine and other places.

"In each place, al-Qaeda has its own command and control apparatus, including Palestine, and all those fronts will be opened up very soon," the contact said.

At the same time al-Qaeda is planning this offensive, it has received something of a setback in Afghanistan, where its alliance with the Taliban is under strain. The Taliban have struck a deal with Pakistan over mutual cooperation, which is anathema to al-Qaeda (see Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban, Asia Times Online, March 1).

Osama in the shadows
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has not appeared in a video since October 2004 or on an audio tape since January 2006. He is by no means out of the al-Qaeda picture, although his deputy, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, claims the media spotlight.

Reportedly recovered from ill health, bin Laden - possibly even sporting a trimmed beard - is active in al-Qaeda's planning, according to the contact Asia Times Online spoke to. "He could be in Chechnya, Somalia or Iraq," the man said coyly, obviously not about to divulge bin Laden's whereabouts. Or even in Iran, some insiders hint.

Over the course of many hours of conversation and information exchanges in several locations, the contact - who has a sound track record of being informed of developments within al-Qaeda - explained how bin Laden and Zawahiri had rebuilt al-Qaeda over the past year or so.

Since 2005, the al-Qaeda leadership had been talking to many groups, including Egyptians, Libyans and the takfiri camp (which calls all non-practicing Muslims infidels). Al-Qaeda paid for differences in tactics and ideology among these groups as its structure unraveled and the organization developed into an "ideology" rather than a cohesive group.

As a result, al-Qaeda's global agenda was largely shelved and the international community's financial squeeze definitely hurt. This problem has been overcome, according to the contact, although he would not give any details. Even US intelligence agencies concede that the group's finances have improved, but they have no idea how. All the same, they have pressured Pakistan to clamp down on some charitable organizations in that country.

The Jamiatul Muqatila (Libyan) led by Sheikh Abu Lais al-Libby, the Jabhatul Birra of Ibn-i-Malik, also Libyan, the Jaishul Mehdi, founded by slain Abdul Rahman Canady, an Egyptian, and now led by Abu Eza, the Jamaatul Jihad, an unnamed Libyan group once led by Sheikh Abu Nasir Qahtani from Kuwaiti, who has now been arrested, and the takfiris under Sheikh Essa, an Egyptian, have once again joined forces with "Jamaat al-Qaeda" under the leadership of bin Laden.

The contact insisted that since two major tasks - regrouping and finances - had been completed, major operations could now be planned. But in addition to this, to ensure that 2007 would be "the year of al-Qaeda", a "great compromise" had to be made.

Deal with the devil
Before the "Mother of all Battles", the Gulf War of 1991, bin Laden offered to help the Saudi monarchy fight Saddam Hussein's forces in Kuwait. The Saudi royalty ignored the offer and opted instead for US military assistance. The presence of these troops in the land of the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina inflamed bin Laden, and he split with the Saudi royalty.

Nevertheless, the growing influence of Shi'ite Iran in the Middle East, especially in Iraq after the US invasion of 2003 and Lebanon, concerned al-Qaeda and the anti-Shi'ite Salafi Saudi

Page 2 of 2
Ready to take on the world
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

oligarchs, which included the royal family, scholars, tribes and the state apparatus.

In this environment, a speech by bin Laden was aired on Al-Jazeera television in which he called the Saudi monarchy extremely corrupt, the most contemptuous aspect of which was its alliance with US interests. Having said that, he asked the Saudi monarchy to step aside, saying that the mujahideen did not

at that stage want to confront it. Rather, the Saudis should leave al-Qaeda alone to fight against Americans in Iraq.

The speech was, in fact, the beginning of dialogue between al-Qaeda and the Saudi royal family through various Muslim scholars at numerous places in the Middle East. Eventually, the Saudis agreed to turn a blind eye to Maaskar al-Battar (al-Qaeda's training camp) in Saudi Arabia on condition that the fighters would not carry out any operations in Saudi Arabia and go straight to Iraq.

The contact Asia Times Online spoke to said that al-Qaeda is so powerful in Saudi Arabia that the monarchy had no choice but to strike a deal. Similarly, it was al-Qaeda's choice, he said, that it concentrate this year on Iraq.

The way that al-Qaeda sees it, it will consolidate in Iraq to the extent that it and the "coalition of the willing" have their respective and identified occupied areas from which to fight each other.

The Saudi front is thus only deferred until al-Qaeda gains sufficient ground in Iraq.

The "arrangement" between al-Qaeda and the Saudis reveals a diplomatic double-step by Saudi Arabia, which Washington considers an important ally in the "war on terror" and in helping establish a Sunni front against rising Shi'ite power in the region, led by Iran.

Preparing for war
Al-Qaeda uses Maaskar al-Battar in Saudi Arabia to train youths in guerrilla warfare, including the use of SA-7 surface-to-air missiles. Research is also conducted at the camp, as well as in Afghanistan.

This includes work on "Abeer" rockets to carry nuclear or chemical weapons. Last October, the insurgent group Islamic Army in Iraq claimed to have successfully built and tested a rocket with a range of 120 kilometers. It was named Abeer after the 14-year-old Iraqi girl raped and killed by a US soldier who last month received a jail sentence of 100 years.

In video footage released online, the group said the Abeer rocket could carry a payload of 20 kilograms. Iraqi engineers linked to resistance groups are now developing Abeer rockets with upgraded accuracy and payload capabilities.

According to the Asia Times Online contact, basic work on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons has now been completed and the main task now is to mount them on suitable missiles - which it is hoped the upgraded Abeer now is.

In the meantime, the Maaskar al-Battar camp is preparing to send an additional 10,000 trained youths into Iraq by the middle of the year.

This coincides with al-Qaeda organizing all segments of the Iraqi resistance under its umbrella. It has already declared an "Emir of the Islamic Emirates of Iraq" comprising Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din and Ninawa, and in other parts of the governorate of Babel. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi has been declared the emir of the state.

This development signifies that in the coming months, al-Qaeda's epicenter will shift from the Pakistani tribal areas of South Waziristan and North Waziristan to Iraq and its neighborhood, including parts of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria.

It also means that the almost-independent "al-Qaeda in Iraq", once headed by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed by the US, will not function as an entity.

Although many Arab fighters left Afghanistan and Pakistan after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 to join hands with the Iraqi resistance, others are now following. These include al-Qaeda's Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, who moved from Waziristan.

This will further weaken the link between al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the latter's decision to strike a deal with Pakistan. According to al-Qaeda sources, it is only a matter of time before the entire al-Qaeda leadership abandons its bases in the Pakistani tribal areas and moves to the Middle East.

Something holding them back at present is a logistical matter. Previously, Iran allowed al-Qaeda members to pass through its territory on the way to Iraq or other places. But in the wake of the sectarian troubles in Iraq, Tehran is somewhat hostile toward al-Qaeda.

So it remains unclear whether Iran will facilitate al-Qaeda entering Iraq and destabilizing a Shi'ite government that is pro-American, but certainly also friendly with Iran.

TOMORROW: A new home in Iraq

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com.


Looking for a new home in Iraq
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

(For Part 1 of this two-part report, see Ready to take on the world)
KARACHI - Having solidified its leadership and opened up financial lifelines, al-Qaeda is preparing for its next major step - establishing a new base in the heart of the Middle East, Iraq.

This will position al-Qaeda to step up attacks on Europe in an effort to force Western countries to cut their strategic alliances

with Washington, and to serve as a nerve center to bring new al-Qaeda groups into action in the Arab world.

According to people familiar with al-Qaeda's thinking who spoke to Asia Times Online, Osama bin Laden's deputy and the group's ideologue, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, sees potential for the group to capitalize on a possible US war over Iran. Relocating the al-Qaeda leadership from the Afghan-Pakistani border areas would put it closer to this new "epicenter".

In addition, the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has cooled after the Taliban's decision to strike a deal with Pakistan over support for the insurgency in southwestern Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda refuses to deal with any state, including Islamabad (see Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban, Asia Times Online, March 1).

The al-Qaeda leadership is biding its time, banking on sufficient chaos in Iran and Iraq for it to move to the Middle East, according to Asia Times Online interactions with various sources.

Wars devastate people, but they are a blessing for organizations like al-Qaeda. When the Pakistan Army led operations in the tribal areas to root out Taliban and al-Qaeda elements, all it did was alienate the people and make them actively support these groups. Radical clerics across Pakistan issued edicts in favor of al-Qaeda and against the army. As a result, many thousands of members of banned jihadist organizations who had been sitting idle joined hands with militants in North and South Waziristan.

Likewise, the US invasion of Iraq served to mobilize jihadis to join either the Iraqi resistance or militant outfits in their country.

Al-Qaeda's online operations through videos and speeches show a clear way for young man of the Middle East to go. According to Egyptian intelligence, mosques are the safest, easiest and most natural forum for like-minded people to interact and eventually to form separate cells. Al-Qaeda's ideology serves as a cohesive force among all such groups.

Egyptian intelligence agencies are aware of new groups in their country exclusively tied with al-Qaeda, but they have been unable to pinpoint them or their plans. This has come as a surprise to the intelligence agencies, as they have in the past been successful in rounding up breakaway renegade factions from the Muslim Brotherhood, the traditional source of opposition to the government in Egypt.

A pointer to what's coming
A manual called Muswatul Jihad al-Afghani (The Encyclopedia of Jihad) has 11 volumes and is authored by Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi. It is a good reflection of al-Qaeda's tactical ideas and deals with chemical weapons and explosives and their application, such as planting them on bridges and at strategic installations to get optimum results.

It is intended to equip international operations with clear tactical ideas on how upcoming battles should be fought. The encyclopedia is available in jihadist circles in book form as well as on compact discs. It was written in Arabic and translated into Pashto, Urdu and English.

Al-Qaeda envisages that groups will mushroom and then link in Egypt, Algeria, Palestine, Lebanon and Somalia, among other countries. They will then be oriented locally, rather than sent to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Al-Qaeda has keenly shown the white American face of "Adam" in its videos. This Muslim convert sits next to Zawahiri and threatens "American devastation". Certainly this is a scare tactic, but such converts as Adam - many of whom keep their change in faith a secret - are extremely difficult to track down in their own countries as they don't fit any standard "terror" profile.

They will be some of al-Qaeda's new foot soldiers in the heart of Europe and the United States.

A falling out in Pakistan
Osama bin Laden remains the hero of many Muslims. Nevertheless, when groups, parties or individuals side in any way with the state apparatus, al-Qaeda sees them as unreliable and potentially harmful to al-Qaeda's mission. This has happened with the Taliban over their deal with Islamabad.

Some Pakistani religious leaders have angered al-Qaeda, including the leader of the opposition in Parliament, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is chief of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, which in turn is part of a six-party religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

Rahman's closeness to the Libyan government and President Muammar Gaddafi is one reason, and al-Qaeda believes that at the behest of the Libyans, Rahman facilitated the arrest of a Libyan group that was hiding in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, including Abu Dahda al-Barah. Mosa-i-Saiful Islam al-Khayria, a Libyan welfare organization headed by Gaddafi's son Saiful Islam, was used as a cover for the intelligence operation.

Another person to have drawn al-Qaeda's ire is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed of the Jamaatut Dawa Party (formerly the Lashkar-i-Toiba). He is suspected of embezzling about US$3 million that he was given by al-Qaeda to move Arab-Afghan families to safety after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Abu Zobaida handed over the money to Saeed, and when Saeed did not deliver on his part of the bargain, Abu Zobaida demanded that the money be returned. Then Abu Zobaida's hideout in Faisalabad was exposed and he was arrested. Saeed is believed to have betrayed him.

"If and when al-Qaeda gears up its global strategies, these hypocrites will be the immediate targets," an al-Qaeda source told Asia Times Online, referring to Saeed, Rahman and Maulana Abdul Rahman Makki of the Jamaatut Dawa, among others.

The Pakistani Taliban in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, under the influence of al-Qaeda, have already murdered the uncle of the MMA's chief minister of North West Frontier Province and sent death threats to Rahman's brother.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com.


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