Developments include capture of top al-Qaeda All eyes on Yemen [Archives:2002/48/Front Page]

November 25 2002

The eyes of the world fell on Yemen this week as it became a new hub on the war on terror.
Key events included the capture of a key al-Qaeda operative, a renewed focus on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and security alerts ringing from a number of Western countries.
Also, intelligence sources told ABCNEWS a large amphibious ship, the USS Belleau Wood, has been detached from other duties and is standing by off the coast of Yemen to act as a floating launch platform, what the military calls a “lily pad.”
It would allow an American force to assemble and launch without being observed, and if prisoners were taken, to immediately remove them from Yemen.
The key al-Qaeda operative caught is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, described as al Qaeda’s chief in the Gulf and a suspected planner of the bombing of the American warship USS Cole, is in U.S. custody, officials said on Thursday.
“He’s a top al Qaeda operational planner for the Arabian Peninsula, he was captured in recent weeks and is currently in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location,” one official said.
Sources disclosed last week that a top al Qaeda leader had been captured recently, but his identity was not revealed until Thursday.
Al-Nashiri, who was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, was among the top dozen al Qaeda leaders sought by U.S. authorities. He has spent time in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said, declining to reveal where he was captured.
He played a key role in organizing the October 2000 Cole bombing, U.S. officials said.
“His capture really is a serious blow to al Qaeda because in terms of the Persian Gulf, operationally he was the one calling the shots,” another U.S. official said.
Al-Nashiri’s ties to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden date from the 1980s in Afghanistan, when they were fighting the Soviet invasion. “He has very long and close ties to Osama bin Laden dating back to the Afghanistan Mujahideen days,” the official said.
Also this week, in Kuwait, security sources said authorities there had headed off a plot to bomb a hotel housing American citizens in Yemen after arresting a senior al-Qaeda member who had been helping plan the attack.
Meanwhile, while their original base in Afghanistan has been more or less destroyed, some officials worry that the al-Qaeda organization is spread so far and wide, it’s going to require an enormous amount of effort, particularly intelligence resources and policing resources, to break it up.
The grim new assessment of al-Qaeda’s ability to carry out terrorist attacks around the world follows publication last week of a list of 22 potential targets in Canada, including the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Toronto’s CN Tower, and the B.C. Ferries system.
Ottawa last week issued a travel advisory warning Canadians that they may be targeted by terrorists and to exercise “extreme” care when travelling abroad.
British police on the weekend said they had used anti-terrorism laws to arrest three men believed to come from North Africa amid reports they were planning a cyanide gas attack on London’s underground rail system, the “Tube.”
Various officials, including the head of the German BND intelligence service and the head of the international police organization Interpol, have warned recently that al-Qaeda has regrouped and remains a potent force despite a year-long U.S. military campaign against its original base in Afghanistan.
In the Arab Gulf state of Qatar, a journalist for the Arabic television channel al-Jazeera said he had received a document from al-Qaeda starkly spelling out its strategy, including attacks on civilians of any country involved in the war on terrorism.
“We have the right to attack our attackers, to destroy villages and cities of whoever destroyed our villages and cities, to destroy the economy of those who have robbed our wealth and to kill civilians of the country which has killed ours,” London’s Sunday Times quoted the document as saying. Al-Jazeera last week broadcast an audiotape, acknowledged as authentic, in which bin Laden praised recent terrorist attacks in Bali, Moscow and Kuwait, and promised more to come.
In Paris, Michele Alliot-Marie, the Defence Minister, warned yesterday the threat of terror attacks in France was high. “France is one of the first targets,” she said.
The search for bin Laden, meanwhile, has shifted to Yemen, where British Special Air Service troops are hunting the al-Qaeda leader after new intelligence surfaced revealing he fled Afghanistan last year and is being protected by tribesmen in his ancestral homeland.