Coded electronic signals bandied in recent days among al Qaeda Middle Eastern elements across secret Internet sites
all carry the same message: the supreme leader, Osama
bin Laden, has come out of hiding in Afghanistan and set out, or is about to
set out, for Iraq. This is the sense gained from this correspondence by DEBKAfile’sexclusive
Some of the signals schedule his date of arrival as the
second half of September when Ramadan is estimated to begin. His arrival in Iraq
is planned to signal the launching of the biggest offensive his organization
has ever launched against the US
army. If these signals are a true representation of bin Laden’s
plans and not a red herring, what is planned is a dramatic landmark battle in
the global war on terror and the Iraqi conflict.
The signals cap a secret exchange of messages in recent
weeks in which al Qaeda’sIraq
commander Abu Musab al –Zarqawi
attempted to persuade bin Laden to leave Afghanistan
and take command of the Ramadan offensive in Iraq.
Zarqawi argued the importance of his transferring from
Afghanistan to Iraq
on two grounds: to boost al Qaeda’s standing as it
embarks on an “offensive whose scale and importance rival the
September 2001 operation.” and in
the interests of his own personal safety.
Zarqawi stressed, according to our
sources, that bin Laden will be safer in Iraq
than in Afghanistan
– an indication of Jordanian terrorist’s inflated self-confidence.
DEBKAfile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s experts
have authenticated the messages as emanating from Zarqawi.
Their secret contents have begun to leak out and set up a huge flap in al Qaeda networks, cells and affiliates in many countries and
talk of “a new jihad to honor the leader.”
If bin Laden was indeed swayed by Zarqawi
and aims to reach Iraq by mid-September, he has little time to lose and must
already have set out on his winding secret journey, or be about to depart. One
of his options would be the long way round through Pakistani and Iranian Baluchistan and across the border into Iraq.
But there is an alternative route from Pakistan
which he might find easier. DEBKAfile’s
counter-terror sources revealed last May that al Qaeda
had established a new marine base in the remote GawatarBay,
a Persian Gulf inlet down the middle of which runs the
Pakistani-Iranian border. Al Qaeda operatives are
known to be active on both shores – on
the Pakistani side, they use as sanctuaries the Baluchi villages strung along the River Dasht
which empties into the divided bay; on the Iranian side, the move around the Baluchi port of Chah-Bahar (Bandar
From both these places, al Qaeda
has for months been running a sea corridor of smugglers’ vessels into the
southern Iraqi port of Basra.
There, they clandestinely drop arms and fighters and collect injured men on the
return trip for treatment in Pakistan.
Al Qaeda’s marine traffic from Baluchistan was first revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly
211 on June 24.
The al Qaeda leader may choose to
enter Iraq by
sea rather than take the long, overland route, in which case his people will
have arrived at GawatarBay and making preparations for his
journey. He would have reason to believe it is safer. Intelligence of al Qaeda’sBaluchi sea smugglers has
reached the American and British naval forces operating
in the northern reaches of the Persian
Gulf, the Shatt al Arb,
Basra and the southern Iraqi oil
terminals. Yet neither has been able to put a stop to the traffic.
Bin Laden has proved himself an undercover escape artist par
excellence. In the five years since he escaped the BoraBora siege, he and
his party, including his close tribe, have managed to flit from place to place
undetected - even when his pursuers were close and watching out for him. If he does indeed make it to Iraq,
the public airing of his presence in the Land of the Two Rivers,
would have a radical impact on the nature of the Iraq
conflict. No longer a mere guerrilla campaign, it would escalate to a
full-scale fight to the finish against al Qaeda in Iraq,
analogous to the all-out hostilities in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden’s organization has begun
referring to the Iraq
conflict in these ultimate terms.