Al Qaeda struck in Sharm al Sheikh Friday night - 24 hours after US secretary of state Rice landed in Middle East
23 JUly 2005
DEBKAfile’s terrorism sources note Al Qaeda struck in Sharm al Sheikh Friday night, July 22, just 24 hours after US secretary of state Rice landed in the Middle East. At least 59 people were killed, 200 wounded in a series of al Qaeda car bomb attacks minutes apart. Britons, Dutch, Spaniards, Qataris, Kuwaitis and Egyptians were among the casualties. One Israeli was initially reported with minor injuries.
Egyptian police say there were 4 to 7 car bombs – starting at the Old Market area and following in Naama Bay near the Ghazala Gardens and Moevenpick hotels. The bars and market were packed. People fleeing from one explosion were trapped in another.
Last October, al Qaeda struck resorts in northern Sinai resorts including Taba Hilton killing 34, among them 13 Israelis.
On July 15, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 214 reported that al Qaeda was diluting its Iraq force for a major terror offensive in Europe and Middle East engineered by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and on its recommendation.
The countries targeted were named as Britain, Italy, France, Denmark, Russia – with the UK and Italy at the top of the list; and, In the Middle East, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Zarqawi in one recent release: Israel is in our sights – and very soon.
Al Qaeda’s ability to carry out tightly coordinated strings of attacks very close together in different parts of the world has shocked many terrorism experts. According to our sources, the organization’s networks are now operating across the Middle East, Europe and West Africa from a headquarters established by Zarqawi in Iraq’s western province of Anbar. This large area bordering Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia has passed under his control. To relay operatives, instructions, explosives and funds to the bomber teams on the ground, the Jordanian terrorist is working with Middle East criminal smuggling rings linked to European and African mafias.
The car bombs blown up at Sharm el Sheikh bore Egyptian customs marks, indicating they were imported from outside Egypt. One fairly easy route would be the sea car ferry connecting Sharm el Sheikh to the Jordanian port of Aqaba.
Exerpts from DEBKA-Net-Weekly July 15.
While the Bush administrations prepares a troop buildup in Iraq, al Qaeda is engaged in the elaborate logistic process of shifting 1,000-1,200 terror combatants out of Iraq and getting them ready to fight on new warfronts. Everything is done in total secrecy. The terrorists are first repatriated to their countries of origin and provided with new passports and identities, before going on to join networks in Europe and the Middle East.
Reporting exclusively on these surreptitious movements, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Al Qaeda and counter-terror experts estimate that the terror group has already kicked off its new offensive. The coordinated bomb blasts on three London Tube trains and a bus on July 7 was one of its initial strikes – although not the only one - and there are more are to come.
At least two major attacks already carried out in London and Damascus herald the new terror offensive:
The Syrian authorities have never released any figures or details of this attack. Scores are believed to have died and hundreds injured, including holidaymakers from Gulf Arab states, when a busload of armed men opened fire on the teeming cafes and restaurants of the Mount Qassioun resort overlooking the Syrian capital. DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals here for the first time that it was the work of a Jordanian crime mob known as the Semadi Gang. They were aided by several al Qaeda adherents who were resting in Syria from their terrorist activity in Iraq.
Our counter-terror experts describe the Mount Qassioun attack as a landmark in al Qaeda methods as well as marking the onset of its Middle East offensive.
The gangster Muhammed Sharif Semadi who planned the operation has a lurid past. He spent time in a Jordanian prison where he got together with inmates associated with al Qaeda. After his release, he took his mob to Iraq and joined up with a fellow Jordanian, al-Zarqawi and persuaded him to press Jordanian criminal elements into service for the first time as terrorists. This influx would boost the terrorist network’s ranks while making use of the gang’s far-flung connections with crooks across the Middle East and Europe.
This experiment work so well, that DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror experts report that Zarqawi has hooked up with another three large Jordanian crime outfits.
One is the Jerabiya Gang, which based in the south Jordanian town of Maan, a notorious stronghold of Muslim extremists. Another is the Mustafa Abu Roman Gang from Salt and a third is a mixed Palestinian-Jordanian group called the Kuwait Returnees, which engages in criminal activities to support adherents, but whose basic philosophy is religious and extremist.
Most of its members are Palestinians deported from Kuwait in 1992 after the Gulf War for collaborating with Saddam Hussein. One sub-faction calls itself “Disappointed with the Palestinian Revolution” and is dedicated to overthrowing Mahmoud Abbas.
Zarqawi designed an ambitious multiple attack for Jordan as his crowning venture. It did not come off. The scheme had four parts: One, to blow up the Iraqi-Jordanian oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Zarqa; two, to torch the hundreds of American and Jordan tanker trucks waiting outside Jordanian pumping stations including H4. The Jordanian-Iraqi border terminals were to have been attacked at the same time and the villages around the terminals and oil pipeline set on fire.
Four would have emanated from the first three: the cutoff of the main energy lifeline from Jordan to the US army in Iraq and Baghdad.
Jordanian intelligence got wind of the danger in time and aborted the plot.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s anti-terror sources reports that Zarqawi placed one of his lieutenants, Abu Abd al Raham al-Afghani in charge of this operation. His real name is believed to be Ismail Abu Awda. The man on the ground in Jordan was to have been Fahd Faiqi, a Saudi Arabian aged 26, who lives in Jordan and acts as Zarqawi’s main contact with Jordanian crime gangs.
It was not the only success chalked up by Jordan’s intelligence services. However, the information elicited from the dozens of detained members of Zarqawi’s networks and the frequency of the major attacks thwarted – an average of one every three or four weeks - sheds a sinister light on the Jordanian master terrorist’s immediate plans.
He and al Qaeda are edging the focus of their operations out of Iraq into new arenas.
The extensive operational network al Qaeda and its top-flight operations chief have laid down in Jordan is matched in Syria. This organization, according to our sources, goes under the name of The Organization of Syrian Fighters” (Tanzim Jund al Shem). Many of its Syrian members fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and early 1990s and have joined the terror war against US forces in Iraq.
Al Qaeda-Syria has two commanders: Abu Rida al Shemi, a Syrian extremist close to Zarqawi. He was falsely reported killed in battle in the west Iraqi Anbar Province; and Abu Huzeifa, about whom nothing is known.
All Qaeda’s Syrian logistical infrastructure depends largely on pacts its Iraq commander struck with elements of the two Iraqi tribes, the Rawi and the Dulaim, which straddle the two countries and whose sub-groups are scattered around the Middle East.
According to intelligence estimates, Zarqawi holds on to Anbar – a territory roughly the size of Texas - with a little more than 5,000 men, of whom roughly 1,000 are Saudi and Yemeni zealots, 300 Jordanian and an unknown number of Syrians, Moroccans and Palestinians. His firm grip on Anbar persuaded the al Qaeda hierarchy in Pakistan and Afghanistan that 1,000 men could be expended from other parts of Iraq and diverted to the new terror offensive outside Iraq.
In a message to his superiors, revealed here for the first time, Zarqawi offered his estimate that after three years of joint combat, Iraqi insurgents ought to be capable of running the guerrilla war against the Americans on their own. He therefore recommended reducing the terror organization’s involvement in Iraq to the minimum needed to retain its control and focus on preserving al Qaeda-Iraq’s grip on Anbar Province for use as a territorial base and springboard for attacks in other parts of the Middle East and Europe.
These attacks will aim at engulfing additional territories in the region and toppling regimes.
The onset of the new al Qaeda offensive in London, Syria, Jordan and now Egyptian Sinai, indicates that Zarqawi’s superiors gave him the go-ahead.