The Base: Radicals in Iraq
Begin Exporting Violence, Mideast Neighbors Say; Rebels Enter Jordan
for Attack, Kuwait Finds Bomb Cache As Fighters Cross Borders; Bush:
Terrorists' 'Central Front'
by Jay Solomon in Amman, Jordan, Yasmine
El-Rashidi in Kuwait City,and Glenn R. Simpson in Herzliya, Israel
Wall Street Journal.
(Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Oct 7, 2005. pg. A.1
Three al Qaeda operatives crossed from Iraq into Jordan in August,
smuggling seven Katyusha missiles in the underbelly of an aging
Mercedes with a hidden second gas tank. Their orders were to bomb the
headquarters of Jordan's intelligence service and the U.S. and Israeli
embassies. The plot ultimately shifted and they instead narrowly missed
two U.S. Navy ships in the Jordanian port of Aqaba. The militants then
fled safely back to Iraq.
The incident, as related by Jordanian security officials, suggests how
the violence of Islamic militants in Iraq is beginning to bleed out
into the neighboring region. Some Middle East intelligence and security
officials now worry that process threatens a broader, destabilizing
conflict in the Middle East region.
President Bush voiced concern yesterday that al Qaeda and others want
to make Iraq a base from which to launch operations against the U.S.
and other secular governments. "The militants believe that controlling
one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow
all moderate governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic
empire from Spain to Indonesia," Mr. Bush said in a speech to the
National Endowment for Democracy in Washington.
Indeed, "the terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war
against humanity," Mr. Bush said. "We must recognize Iraq as the
central front in our war on terror," he added, in a characterization he
has often used.
The speech sought to shore up flagging American support for the war in
Iraq. Yet Mr. Bush's words also echoed a concern of some who opposed
invading Iraq in 2003: that chaos following an overthrow of Saddam
Hussein could make Iraq a magnet for terrorists. Before the war began,
Arab leaders including Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egypt's Hosni
Mubarak predicted that an invasion would enrage the Arab masses and
allow violent extremists to feed off resulting instability.
Mr. Bush yesterday disputed any idea that the invasion of Iraq has
worsened the terrorist problem the world faces. While acknowledging
threats to stability in the Middle East emanating from Iraq, Bush
administration officials say the creation of functioning democracy
there will ultimately make the region more secure. They say Iraq's
successful election 10 months ago has already helped underpin elections
in other Arab countries, such as recent ones in Lebanon, Egypt and
Saudi Arabia. And they say the changing dynamics in the region could
help end the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, citing Israel's recent withdrawal from
Still, it's clear that numerous governments around the world, including
in Europe, now are concerned about a possible terror spillover from
Iraq. In particular, some close to Iraq say they're facing a growing
network of arms and fighters being smuggled across their borders.
Officials in Kuwait, for instance, grew so alarmed earlier this year
after uncovering a spate of planned terrorist attacks on their capital
that they started building a steel fence on their border with Iraq.
Kuwait also detained security guards it believes were involved in
smuggling networks. It even banned the import of watermelons from Iraq
this summer, after a tip that they might hide explosives, though
Kuwaiti officials say they believe they've contained the threat.
The covert nature of much intelligence work makes it impossible to
verify many claims and warnings from Middle East intelligence sources.
Some terrorism experts say U.S. and Middle East officials attribute too
much of recent unrest in the region to jihadists, either in order to
mask general disaffection within the Arab countries, or as part of a
pitch for greater U.S. financial aid. Still, the intelligence agencies
in Jordan and Kuwait are widely regarded as among the most credible in
Al Qaeda's efforts in Iraq resemble the way Osama bin Laden and other
Islamic leaders used Afghanistan in the 1980s to promote global jihad.
In both cases, Islamists prosecuted the wars as part of a broader
propaganda operation to rally the world's Muslims. Both theaters of
war, meanwhile, have given extremists new training in military
technologies and tactics.
And the tactics in Iraq are getting more sophisticated, some say.
Militants fighting there "are not like the mujahadeen 20 years ago,
trained in guerrilla warfare, handed an AK-47 rifle and a satchel of
grenades," says Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert at Rand Corp.
who consults for the U.S. government. "Rather, these people have been
trained in urban warfare, in ambush and sniper tactics, in the use and
placement of improvised explosive devices."
Driven out of Afghanistan by the U.S. after Sept. 11, top Islamists
established bases for operations elsewhere. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a
leader of the Iraqi insurgency, passed across Iran and set up shop in
Kurdish northern Iraq.
One goal for al Qaeda, after losing its Afghan haven, was to bring its
struggle to multiple fronts that would stretch American forces thin,
according to statements released by al Qaeda. Mr. Zarqawi and other
foreign militants in Iraq are believed to have formed a loose alliance
with members of the former ruling Baath party and with Sunnis who fear
being marginalized in a Shiite-dominated Iraq.
U.S. military officials say al Qaeda-linked elements conduct fewer than
10% of the insurgent military strikes in Iraq but provide the vast
majority of suicide bombers and cause a large percentage of
U.S.casualties. "Zarqawi is in no shape or form the head of the
says a senior Pentagon official in the Middle East. But al Qaeda "is
very good at field craft and creating high-casualty events."
Terrorist strikes in the region, such as recent ones in Egypt and Saudi
Arabia, are on the rise, and according to Middle East intelligence
officials, most are either ordered or inspired by Mr. Zarqawi and other
al Qaeda figures. The officials view Mr. bin Laden's threats against
the royal family in his native Saudi Arabia -- and Mr. Zarqawi's desire
to attack targets in his native Jordan -- as more ominous when al Qaeda
fighters are next door in Iraq rather than farther away in Afghanistan.
In addition, violence in Iraq between the Sunni and Shiite branches of
Islam risks spilling over to other Arab lands, worries Adnan Abu Odeh,
a former adviser to Jordan's late King Hussein. "I think the
significance of what's been set off in Iraq will play out for decades,"
Jordan, sandwiched between Iraq and Israel, could be particularly
vulnerable. Roughly 60% Palestinian, Jordan has long had to deal with
radicalism focused on Israel. But Mr. bin Laden's late mentor, Abdullah
Azzam, hailed from Jordan, as did Mr. Zarqawi. "Zarqawi used to swear
in prison that he'd get his revenge" against the Amman government and
intelligence services, says Abdullah Abu-Romman, a journalist who
served in prison with Mr. Zarqawi in the 1990s. "He'll try again."
The August missile attack in the Jordanian port of Aqaba shows
militants in Iraq can move weapons into neighboring countries despite
extensive monitoring. It also illustrates coordination between violent
cells in Iraq and elsewhere.
Jordanian security officials believe Mr. Zarqawi personally chose two
Syrian brothers and an Iraqi national to do the Jordanian operation.
They say the brothers' father in Amman, Mohammed Hassan Abdullah
al-Sihly, provided intelligence and logistical support, and also
coordinated with other Jordanian nationals who were part of a local
The team's initial plan, say investigators who later interrogated Mr.
Sihly, was to attack the offices of Jordan's General Intelligence
Department in Amman, plus the U.S. and Israeli embassies. The
investigators say this was the second plot targeting these buildings
since April 2004, when police broke up a 13-man al Qaeda cell allegedly
planning to use 20 tons of chemicals in an attack.
Heightened security led Mr. Sihly to redirect the team to the port of
Aqaba, where two U.S. Navy ships, the Kearsarge and Ashland, were
berthing for military exercises, according to these officials. The
three-man team rented a second-floor workshop about five miles from the
docks and positioned the Katyusha rockets with timing devices. Three of
the rockets fired, with two narrowly missing the ships and a third
hitting the Israeli city of Eilat.
Jordanian security forces neutralized the other four rockets and
arrested Mr. Sihly and some other accomplices. But they didn't catch
the three main operatives who had come over from Iraq. Mr. Zarqawi took
credit for the attack a week later, saying on an Internet posting that
"the brothers who carried out the assault on Aqaba have returned
safely" to Iraq.
Kuwait also faces threats from the Iraqi insurgency next door. In
January, Kuwait's Security Services uncovered a bomb-making operation
on the outskirts of Kuwait City. In a low-rent apartment in a district
known as Jaber Ali, security officials say they found nine complete
explosive devices, packed into sacks ready for transportation into the
In this and other raids, Kuwaiti police say, they found diagrams of
military installations and shopping-mall complexes. The plans, say
these security officials, reflected the same tactics used by Iraqi
insurgents, using light weapons and car bombs. The officials say
interrogation of some of those captured reveal they had orders from a
Saudi-based al Qaeda cell linked to Mr. Zarqawi to target military
installations and shopping malls.
The neighboring countries potentially destabilized by extremists in
Iraq include Syria -- even though President Bush yesterday said Syria
has been one of the insurgency's biggest boosters by letting funds,
fighters and weapons freely cross its borders. The problem for Syria is
that the regime of President Bashar Assad is avowedly secular, and some
radical Islamists view its leaders as infidels.
Militants with ties to Iraqi insurgents are already waging a campaign
against the Assad government, says Eyal Zisser, a Syria expert at Tel
Aviv University. He says the campaign is waged by a group called Jund
Al Sham, or Soldiers of the Levant, and that fighters caught or killed
in the campaign show it is transnational. "This is a major problem for
the Syrian regime and a clear result of the anarchy in Iraq," Mr.
A longer-term impact of the Iraq conflict could come from foreign
fighters who train in Iraq and later return home. U.S. officials
estimate that foreign fighters who have entered Iraq so far number in
the very low thousands -- nowhere near the 20,000 who went to
Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion 25 years ago. They also say
most Middle East governments don't support their citizens going to
Iraq, in contrast to overt Arab financial underwriting of the earlier,
anti-Soviet Afghan insurgency. Still, al Qaeda and other Islamist
groups have developed a steady pipeline of recruits heading to Iraq
from North African countries such as Morocco and Algeria, from the
Arabian Gulf and from Europe, say U.S. and Middle East officials.
The fighters usually pass through Syria, these officials say, where
they get initial training and provisions before heading into central
Iraq for, in some cases, "martyrdom" operations. Islamic Web sites
carry videos showing young Saudi and Yemeni fighters preparing for
In one, Muntada Al-Ansar, the medical-student son of a Saudi diplomat,
appeared alongside hooded militants who briefed him with charts and
maps. The youth then embraced his tutors before climbing behind the
wheel of a truck full of explosives. Cell members filmed from three
angles as the truck drove down a highway before making a turn into a
government building in Mosul, Iraq, and setting off a giant explosion.
Many governments in the region worry that this network of Islamist
recruits could reverse, bringing battle-hardened extremists back home
someday. Twenty-one Kuwait men now are on trial in Kuwait accused of
fighting in Iraq and recruiting others. In Jordan, seven suspects went
on trial in August, accused of taking part in the Iraqi insurgency.
Germany is concerned with an Iraqi Kurdish group, Ansar al-Sunna, that
has worked closely with al Qaeda and Mr. Zarqawi. Last December, German
police broke up a plot by Ansar members to assassinate Iyad Allawi,
then Iraq's prime minister, during a visit to Berlin. The group has an
underground railroad for Iraqi fighters that runs through Italy,
Sweden, Syria and other countries, according to a dossier compiled by
Italian judicial authorities.
Ansar "is another example of an emerging and increasingly successful
organization which has grown with the war in Iraq and the subsequent
insurgency, in close cooperation with Zarqawi," said Ernst Uhrlau,
director of intelligence coordination for the German government, at a
Farnaz Fassihi in Beirut and Robert Block in Washington contributed to
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