Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Attempted Cover-Up of Al-Qaeda Role in Hariri Murder?

Yesterday, the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Addiyar (edited by Charl Ayoub) ran a story about the 13 suspected detainees who are believed to be part of an Al-Qaeda ring, and who were arrested by Lebanese authorities over a month ago. Addiyar claims that a source close to the investigation has told the paper that one of the suspects had confessed to taping and editing the videotape made by suspected suicide bomber Ahmad Tayseer Abu Ades taking responsibility for the Hariri assassination on February 14, 2005. This tape was aired by Aljazeera shortly after the bombing that also killed dozens of others. Abu Ades is believed to be the suicide bomber who drove the explosives-laden truck used in the assassination, according to some circles. Addiyar also reports that a team from Saudi intelligence had also interrogated the detainees at some point in the investigation.


Ahmad Abu Ades as he appeared in the videotape


Last week, another Lebanese daily, Assafir, ran a story citing a ‘security official’ who claimed that only 11 suspects were arrested, while two others who were also targeted in the raid got away. One of those escapees is supposed to be Khalid Medhat Taha, named in the Mehlis report as Abu Ades’ handler.

I have a source who is allegedly speaking to someone with direct knowledge of the investigation, and this is what I was told last week:

-Khalid Medhat Taha managed to escape (…or was helped to escape) from the dragnet. He is currently believed to be hiding in the ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp (for Palestinian refugees) on the outskirts of Sidon.

-A Saudi national and a Palestinian refugee were among those detained. In their first affidavit, they described how the vehicle (did not specify model) that was used in the Hariri assassination was fitted with explosives and stored in the ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp.

-The detainees are being held by the Interior Ministry (pro-Hariri), while Military Intelligence (thought to be pro-Lahoud) has not been allowed to interrogate them. The UN inquiry team into the Hariri assassination, currently headed by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz (took over from Detlev Mehlis on Jan. 24), has asked for access to this group but are being stonewalled.

-A team from the Saudi intelligence service arrived in Beirut and spoke to the Saudi and Palestinian detainees. They managed to extract the names of five priority security targets operating in Saudi Arabia. It has been suggested that the initial information about the truck bomb was expunged from the record after this meeting, leading to speculation about some sort of deal. [This is where my source overlaps the Addiyar information, but I was very hesitant to write about all of this since this speculation concerning a bargain with the detainees does not seem realistic.]

-There have been three bombings against military targets in Lebanon, with minimal casualties. Unknown groups have taken responsibility for these acts in an e-mail (tracked to Cyprus) and through a phone call (from a public pay booth in ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp), and have threatened further attacks if the 11 militants are not released. This information has also been published in the Arab press. It seems that the attackers have given Feb. 14 as a deadline, ominously falling on the one year anniversary of the Hariri assassination.

I don't know for certain if the Addiyar story or what was relayed by my source is accurate in full, but it seems that the notion that Al-Qaeda (Zarqawi branch? Ansar Al-Sunna branch?) was somehow involved in the Hariri assassination has picked up a momentum of its own, and the members of the Lebanese political elite that are privy to this information are themselves preparing pre-emptive talking points for release upon public disclosure. The anti-Syrian camp is saying that the Asad regime is manipulating Al-Qaeda's activities in Lebanon, just as they supposedly do in Iraq, thus acting as enablers of jihadist terrorism. The pro-Syrian establishment is preparing for a big push to release the four imprisoned generals who stand accused of killing Hariri according the Mehlis report, and to divert some of Brammertz’s attention into an inquiry as to who ‘coached’ the three ‘false witnesses’: Zuheir Siddiq, Hosam Hosam and Ibrahim Jarjoureh.

All this adds up to a ‘calling card’ announcing the arrival of Sunni jihadism in Lebanon—a development that most observers would have found ridiculous until recently. Sunni fundamentalists from northern Lebanon rioted in ‘East’ Beirut today, burning the Danish Embassy and almost escalating a confrontation with security forces into a sectarian bloodbath pitting Christian Maronites against Muslims. The Lebanese state—already looking weak after PM Sinyora’s backpedaling on Hizbullah disarmament—failed to provide law and order; a disquieting flashback to the early events that sparked the still-unforgotten civil war.


Welcome to Beirut, 2006


The Minister of Interior has resigned in humiliation, but that does little to deal with the very real problem of Al-Qaeda operating in the Lebanese powder-keg. The focus now should be on uncovering exactly how many cells are operating in Lebanon, and which of them were involved in the Hariri murder and the subsequent campaign of terror. If indeed the evidence points to Al-Qaeda in all that has been happening in Lebanon over the last year, then this marks an incredible leap in strategic planning being employed by the terrorists. Imagine: Al-Qaeda sets off a series of events in Lebanon that has the world community breathing down the necks of the Alawites in Syria, even threatening military action. As the regime is progressively weakened, Al-Qaeda moves in and sets up Fallouja-like mini-states outside of government control where the Shariah governs life, all as part of a process to resurrect the Caliphate.

If the bad guys are thinking on such a scale, then things have gone really bad. Is the response of the civilized world to his challenge anywhere nearly as sophisticated?

On the other hand, if the Syrians are indeed operating through Al-Qaeda, then this is a clear mandate for the Bush administration to declare war on the Asad regime and launch the liberation of Syria. Whatever way one looks at it, Lebanon is in trouble and everyone, including the Syrians, loses out by having parts of it turn into Al-Qaeda havens. After all, the Al-Qaeda theme song (Haya Bina Haya) lists the Alawite regime as one of its principal targets...

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