After Afghanistan, Top-Level Assassinations to Destabilize the West
Osama bin Ladens al Qaeda and his partners in the Egyptian Jihad Islami are not content with brandishing nuclear, chemical and biological threats over the cities of the Western world. They are preparing a parallel campaign to destabilize targeted governments in the Middle East and Western Europe by assassinating their national figures.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weeklys counter-terror sources, the terror masterminds count on this campaign to revive their aura as superstars of the global terror firmament.
Political assassination is a tried and true al-Qaeda tactic.
The terrorist leaders expected the United States to retaliate in Afghanistan for their devastating terror strikes in New York and Washington on September 11. Two days earlier, bin Laden and Zuheiri dispatched two ace operatives on a suicide mission to murder Northern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. Posing as journalists, they were able to draw close in for the kill. Massoud was disposed of to make sure the Northern Alliance fell apart before the first American soldier set foot in the country.
Al-Qaeda also took a hand in the terror assault last month on the Indian parliament in New Delhi, in which 14 people died, including the five assailants. Information has reached Indian intelligence that the Kashmiri Lashkar-e-Toyyiba group did not act alone, but with al Qaeda confederates who were sent to the Kashmir Valley to help hatch the conspiracy.
A loud signal to start treating al-Qaedas plans for wreaking murder and assassination in European and Middle East capitals with all seriousness came in the form of an assassination plot against Lebanese prime minister Emile Lahoud, that was timed for his Christmas vacation in Monte Carlo.
The hitmen were a group of five Hizballah terrorists, acting on orders from bin Ladens most trusted operations officer, Imad Mughniyeh, a former Hizballah operations chief himself.
They planned to break into Lahouds hotel suite or attack his motorcade on its way to one of Monte Carlos luxury restaurants. Tipped off by Israeli and French intelligence, Lahoud cut short his French Riviera holiday and flew back in haste to the presidential palace in Beirut.
The Hizballah hit squad, sensing it was under surveillance, fled Monte Carlo.
After the episode was leaked to the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat - the only publication to carry the story, albeit without identifying the would-be killers - an angry Lahoud issued a strong denial of the murder attempt and ordered copies of the newspaper censored before they went on sale at Beirut newsstands.
DEBKA-Net-Weeklys sources confirm that Al-Sharq al-Awsat had it right.
The secret services guarding European and other Middle East leaders certainly thought so. Many top politicians suddenly found themselves surrounded with stepped up security. DEBKA-Net-Weeklys sources can report the tightening of the guard on British prime minister Tony Blair and his family, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, French president Jacques Chirac and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, prime minister Bulent Ecevit, cabinet ministers and military officers were given beefed up bodyguards. Special security units were stationed inside government buildings in Ankara, their fingers on the trigger ready for any attack. Outside, anti-aircraft missiles were placed ready to intercept any aircraft trying to crash into official premises, like the planes that smashed into American buildings on September 11.
In the Middle East, stringent protective measures were added to the security cordon around Jordans king Abdullah, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.
The national services responsible for the lives of these rulers know that assassination squads can quite easily enter their countries from the Gulf emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Saudi cities of Riyadh and Jeddah and Beirut. A top VIP counter-terror protection expert told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that all three components of the terror networks handled by Imad Mughniyeh operate freely from all those locations - the Iranian, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Saudi Hizballah groups, together with his own personal squads.
Those networks have had their hands full in the last two weeks processing al-Qaeda fighters late of Afghanistan, distributing them to safe havens in the Middle East and recruiting the pick of the litter into their own ranks. These ex-Afghanistan veterans require little training or instruction and can be thrown into the field at short notice on terror or assassination missions. They are also described to DEBKA-Net-Weekly by a senior security official as highly motivated and eager to avenge al-Qaedas expulsion from Afghanistan. These veterans do not consider themselves defeated at war - only forced into exodus in the first round of a continuing global confrontation. Having retreated to the second line of that conflict, they feel fully able to fight on with fresh vigor.
Mughniyeh himself is the perfect fit for assassination master, given his lurid past in Beirut as master of bombing massacres and hostage-taker. He is not only playing a key role in the new campaign of political murder, he also had a hand in the failed attempt to smuggle arms to the Palestinians aboard the Karine-A, foiled by its interception in the Red Sea by Israeli naval commandos.
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