PARIS – Ghasub Al-Abrash Ghalyoun, alias Abu Musaf, the super-tourist who used his camcorder to film all possible angles of the Twin Towers and also the Golden Gate bridge, the Statue of Liberty, the Sears Tower in Chicago and Disneyland, is the latest suspected al-Qaeda big fish arrested in Spain in sweeping investigations conducted by the relentless, media-darling judge Baltazar Garzon.
Along with Abu Obed, also arrested in Madrid, and Abu Aldar, arrested in Castellon, Abu Musaf was presented by Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes as a nearly-certified top al-Qaeda operative. The Spanish government’s case basically rests on the fact that the three men are linked to Abu Dhadah, arrested last November and suspected of being Osama bin Laden’s top man in Spain.
While intelligence services in Europe keep nabbing the odd presumed al-Qaeda member, in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan the story is completely different. Another e-mail from a key intelligence-related source inside Pakistan once more sends the message: “The new theater of war is here.” The Pentagon keeps hinting almost on a daily basis at the presence of “international terrorists” in the tribal areas. But a combination of elite American soldiers, ultra-high-tech aerial surveillance and close cooperation between the FBI and the Pentagon has yielded absolutely no concrete intelligence so far on the whereabouts of bin Laden, Taliban leader Mullah Omar and other senior al-Qaeda leadership.
According to the Pakistani source, Afghans in Kabul are convinced that al-Qaeda was behind the assassination of Afghan vice-president Haji Qadir, the powerful former Pashtun governor of Nangarhar province and brother of the famous mujahideen Abdul Haq, trapped and killed by the Taliban last November. Even Karim Khalili, one of the other Afghan vice-presidents, said on the record that “we cannot reject al-Qaeda’s role.” Afghan Defense Minister General Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah – both Tajiks – have already stated that unspecified “terrorists” did it.
The investigation in Kabul is being run by Hamid Karzai’s government in conjunction with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). According to the Pakistani source, Pashtuns in the tribal areas don’t believe that this will be a neutral investigation: they believe that the team will do everything in its power to implicate al-Qaeda, even without evidence.
Meanwhile, everybody and his neighbor keeps guessing the whereabouts of bin Laden – from the editor of the London-based Al Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, Abdel Bari Atwan, to the president of Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service (BND), August Hanning. Bin Laden may be “somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border,” according to Hanning. According to Asia Times Online’s sources, he may actually be hidden in the bowels of a big Pakistani city. American so-called intelligence is spreading everywhere in the tribal areas – especially in the ultra-sensitive Waziristan agency, and also in Khyber agency, operating with the Pakistani army and the Pakistani Frontier Corps. But one wonders whether the deadly combination of summer heat, endless kebabs, endless cups of green tea, no Bud light and no babes is actually sapping American will.
The Pakistani source also adds that the Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh saga is far from over – even with a verdict of death by hanging. Saeed – who was sentenced on Monday for his part in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in January – was tried in a secret Pakistani court in the bunker basement of Hyderabad prison, far away from Karachi. Everybody involved – especially the judges – feared a terrorist attack. Daniel Pearl’s body was never positively identified. The DNA analysis of the remains was sent to Pakistani and American labs. The result was kept top secret.
Moshi Imam, Saeed’s lawyer, said that his client was condemned to death by hanging only because “Pakistan wanted to appease the US.” He is appealing the verdict, a process that could take many years. The US wanted Saeed extradited because the CIA badly wanted to know about his ties with al-Qaeda. Pakistan firmly denied the request. Why? The Pakistani source is adamant: “Saeed would tell the Americans everything about the compromising links between al-Qaeda and the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence.]”
George Joffe, a researcher from the Center of International Studies in Cambridge, England recently warned in a seminar in Paris that “the Americans are bungling up causes and effects.” American national interests are being justified on a “moral” basis – and nobody is paying any attention to the deep causes of “international terrorism.” According to Joffe, “Whatever he engineers short term, [President George W] Bush risks long term to amplify the instability he is committed to erase.”
That’s exactly what bin Laden is betting on. His operatives seem to have suggested to Al Quds Al-Arabi newspaper that they would soon strike again at the US to capitalize on Arab resentment and anger concerning unlimited American support for Israel and the Pentagon’s plans to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Joffe, in Europe, agrees: an attack on Iraq would be “the ideal fuel to increase anger, and this is exactly what al-Qaeda wants. Its actions would be even more justified than before September 11. So we are working against our own interests, while we should be convincing Muslim populations not to follow bin Laden.”
As American intelligence finds nothing in the tribal areas, al-Qaeda prepares another hit. We have been warned: bin Laden will be back, on video, on Al Jazeera. But, as his operatives stressed, “only when he has something to discuss.”