The Egyptian Underground
Rooting out the terrorists.

By Jonathan Schanzer
National Review Online, October 29, 2003.

The roadside bomb that killed four Americans
recently had to have been imported into the
Gaza Strip from someplace. Odds are, it came
from underground tunnels between the Gaza
Strip and Egypt. Countless other weapons
used in terrorist attacks against Israelis in
recent years have also arrived via those
same subterranean routes. So, while Egypt
may not be directly responsible for the attacks
that take place in Gaza, it has indirectly allowed
Gaza's terrorists to arm themselves. In "other
words, it's time for Cairo to see the light, and
put an end to the tunnels.

Over the last ten years, the Israelis have
found 70 or more tunnels originating in
Egypt and leading to Gaza. Israeli Engineer
Corps have destroyed many, but the
Palestinians dig them as fast as they are
found. Recently, however, Israel received
intelligence indicating that there were at least
ten more in operation, and that increasingly
dangerous weaponry was being smuggled
through them. Alarmed by these reports, the
Israelis on October 9 launched Operation
"Root Canal," their most ambitious operation
yet in the Gaza town of Rafah, where the
tunnels empty out.

Israel went on the offensive because they
know these tunnels are a crucial supply line
of weapons for groups like Hamas and Islamic
Jihad. The weapons they receive - everything
from armor piercing weapons and automatic
rifles to mines and rocket-propelled grenades -
come from Egypt, Sudan and Libya. Raw
materials necessary to build the increasingly
accurate Qassam rockets, as well as high
explosives for suicide bombings, may have also
passed through the tunnels.

To ensure the steady stream of weapons, both
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, under the coordination
of Palestinian Authority officials, facilitate the
building and maintaining of the tunnels, which
cost about $10,000 apiece to build. But these
groups do not shoulder the financial burden
alone; reports indicate that the tunnels may also
be funded in part by the mullahs of Iran.

To protect the subterranean supply lines,
the Palestinians (and perhaps Egyptians)
burrow their tunnels more than 60 feet
beneath the surface to evade Israeli sonar
detection equipment. The mouths of the tunnels
are equally hard to detect; some actually open
up into Palestinians homes in Gaza. According
to Israeli sources, there are always three or
four tunnels operational at any one time. They
are extremely hard to find without good

To further protect their investments, Hamas,
|Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
have been fighting tooth and nail in recent weeks
to repel the Israeli operations in Rafah. The
Israelis, for their part, actually distributed
brochures to the local population, explaining
that their operation was only designed to
uncover tunnels. Still, the top Palestinian terror
groups have hit the Israelis with everything they
can, including grenades, anti-tank missiles and
other ordinance. Clearly, the battle over tunnels
has become central to the wider conflict.

Operation "Root Canal" has so far yielded the
destruction of at least three tunnels. But the
Israelis are still very nervous. The September
arrest and subsequent interrogation of a
Palestinian Authority Security official revealed
to Israeli intelligence that the PA had smuggled
in eight anti-aircraft missiles through these
tunnels. According to the Palestinian suspect,
the missiles were designed to counter Israeli
attack helicopters. However, such missiles could
be used to target commercial airliners, too.

Clearly, these tunnels present one of the
gravest threats to regional peace. And equally
clear is that these tunnels originate in Egypt,
and that Cairo has not done enough to shut
them down. To date, Egypt has filled in a
handful of tunnels, particularly after sharp
complaints from the Israelis. Meanwhile,
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher
recently remarked that Israeli allegations of
Egyptian involvement "are old and silly." But
one high-ranking Israeli official reports that
"in some cases, Egyptian soldiers are directly
involved. They receive bribes or other
incentives for keeping the tunnels open."
Indeed, he personally witnessed smoke and
debris plume out of tunnel entrances that
began at Egyptian military guard posts.

As weapons pour into Gaza, leading to more
deaths and injuries, Washington should
consider a few practical steps. For one, the
US embassy in Egypt should undertake its
own survey work along the Egypt-Gaza border
to determine what assistance would be
necessary to close the tunnels. Once that
information is ascertained, the issue needs to
be raised to the highest levels. Indeed, the
next time President Bush meets with his
Egyptian counterpart, Husni Mubarak, a
serious discussion of this issue could
take place. If Egypt still does not see the
light, a team of multinational forces and
observers should be considered.

- Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref Fellow
at the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy.




By Jonathan Schanzer
October 28, 2003

U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near
Eastern affairs William Burns visited Algeria
on October 25-26, just days after a new
Algerian terrorist organization was added
to the Treasury Department's list of
Specially Designated Global Terrorists
(SDGT). The visit also came amid reports
that several Algerian groups with al-Qaeda
ties have spawned splinter groups and
are gaining ground. The imminent
expansion in security cooperation
announced at the end of Burns' visit will
constitute the strongest ties between
the United States and Algeria in
decades. Yet, even this expansion may
not be enough.

Background: GSPC Activity
The primary terrorist threat in Algeria
today is an al-Qaeda affiliate known as
the Salafist Group for Preaching and
Combat (GSPC). The group is active
primarily in the provinces east of Algiers,
but also has numerous financial and
logistical cells that assist the al-Qaeda
network throughout Europe. GSPC was
designated a Foreign Terrorist
Organization by the State Department in
March 2002 and placed on the Treasury
Department's SDGT list in September

GSPC was formed in 1998 by
approximately 700 breakaway fighters of
the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), a primarily
"Afghan Arab" movement that became
increasingly hated in Algeria for its brutal
and indiscriminate violence against
civilians. Since the mid-1990s, the GIA's
numbers have dwindled to an estimated
100 fighters. GSPC, by contrast, has
expanded to as many as 4,000 fighters
due to both support from al-Qaeda and
its own stated opposition to "shedding
the blood of innocent people in
massacres." Despite breaking its word
on this latter issue, GSPC has become
the dominant Islamist force in Algeria.

Although violence has diminished greatly
since the peak of Algeria's civil war in the
1990s, fighting continues, and GSPC is
responsible for much of it. Since the
beginning of 2003, some 820 Algerians
have been killed in the continuing
bloodshed. The worst areas are east of
Algiers, particularly in the Kabilya province,
where the GSPC presence is strongest.

The most notable incident was the spring
2003 GSPC kidnapping of thirty-two
foreigners (from Germany, Austria,
Switzerland, Sweden, and the
Netherlands). The kidnappers were headed
by GSPC leader Amari Saifi (a.k.a.
Abderrezak al-Parra). On May 13, Algerian
forces recovered some of the hostages in
the desert after a four-hour gun battle in
which nine terrorists and one soldier were
killed. Another group of foreigners,
however, remained in captivity. One
German hostage eventually died from
heatstroke. On August 18, Germany, with
help from Libya, secured the release of
the remaining hostages, whom GSPC had
transferred to Algeria's neighbor Mali.
According to some sources, a ransom
payment was made, although the details
are unconfirmed. Such a payment could
have been made by Libya, which may
have given money through the Gaddafi
International Foundation for Charity
Associations as a means of indirectly
financing continued GSPC operations. The
payment could also have come from Mali,
with the expectation that compensation
would be made by the hostages' home
countries in the form of increased
development aid.

In September, international media
reported several battles between
Algerian government and Islamist forces.
In one raid, fifteen GSPC members
suspected of kidnapping the Europeans
were killed in hideouts east of the
capital, and a significant weapons cache
was uncovered. In another military
offensive, intensive shelling killed a
number of GSPC fighters. In October,
Islamist guerrillas operating in the
southern Medea region struck back. In
one attack, fighters set off a bomb as a
convoy drove past and then opened fire,
killing eight soldiers.

GSPC has been quite active abroad as
well. In 2001, seven men, along with
suspected high-level al-Qaeda operative
Abu Qatada, were arrested on suspicion
of involvement in GSPC's "English cell."
Also that year, Spanish police dismantled
a six-man cell that had sent high-tech
equipment and intelligence to operatives
in Algeria. According to President Jose
Maria Aznar Lopez, the cell had
"financial connections to the terrorist
organization led by bin Laden." In
September 2002, two Algerians believed
to be members of GSPC were arrested in
Pakistan with false passports and
forgery equipment. In April 2003, Dutch
authorities arrested several Algerians
"accused of supporting terrorist activities"
carried out by GSPC. Finally, the Italian
government definitively linked a high-
ranking GSPC member in Milan to cadres
of Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda affiliate
that continues to attack U.S. soldiers in

Splintering Terrorist Groups
Algeria's terrorist groups continue to
splinter and multiply. For example, the
kidnapping of the European tourists
constituted the announcement a new
faction of GSPC. According to several
reports corroborated by French and
Algerian officials, Abderrezak al-Parra
likely undertook the kidnapping
operation without the consent of GSPC
leaders, including the group's founder,
Hassan Hattab. By mid-October, the
Algerian and French media verified that
a power struggle had indeed emerged
within the group. While some reports
suggest that Hattab remains in control,
others claim that he has been replaced
by Nabil Sahwari (a.k.a. Abu Ibrahim
Mustapha). Sahwari released a statement
on September 11, 2003, declaring that
GSPC operated "under the direction of
Mullah Omar and of the al-Qaeda
organization of Usama bin Laden."

To further complicate matters, on October
20 the U.S. State Department announced
another Specially Designated Global
Terrorist group from Algeria known as
Dhamat Houmet Daawa Salafia. This
group previously operated under the
name of Katibat al-Ahual (Horror
squadron), a splinter of the GIA led by
Mohammed Benslim. According to the State
Department, the group "is well organized
and equipped with military materiel, and
has engaged in terrorist activity in Algeria
and internationally. It is responsible for
numerous killings since the mid-1990s,
and has escalated its attacks in recent
years." More pointedly, the statement
notes that the "group has links to

GSPC's operations in Algeria and
throughout Europe are an issue of serious
concern in the war on terror. Clearly, even
this relatively obscure al-Qaeda
subgroup has global reach. For historical
reasons, however, the United States has
largely left this problem in the hands of
France. Even as Paris and Washington
continue to exchange barbs over Iraq,
perhaps Algeria can emerge as one area
in the war on terror where U.S. and
French interests clearly converge.

It is encouraging that Algiers is eager to
build a stronger relationship with
Washington based on counterterrorism.
Although Washington should build on this
momentum (evidenced by the 2001 and
2003 meetings between Presidents George
W. Bush and Abdelaziz Bouteflika), any
enhancement in military ties should be
used as leverage to demand increased
democratic and economic accountability
and reform. State Department reports
indicate that the Algerian government
needs to devote more effort toward
improving human rights, lifting state
controls on the media, and implementing
much-needed economic changes. Algerian
national elections scheduled for spring
2004 represent an excellent opportunity
for the United States to match its
commitment to democratic development
with its commitment to fighting terrorism.

Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref fellow at The Washington Institute.





By Jonathan Schanzer
October 3, 2003

Lebanon and occupying Syria have downplayed the threat of Asbat al-Ansar ever since the al-Qaeda affiliate was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the U.S. government on September 23, 2001. Made up of only a few hundred fighters, Asbat was thought to be contained within Ein al-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Accordingly, Beirut and Damascus continued to allow the group to operate virtually unrestrained.

Asbat has recently given policymakers cause for increased concern, however. Besides daring terror attacks in Lebanon, the arrests of al-Qaeda operatives deeply connected with Asbat in Australia and Spain have demonstrated the group's global reach in conjunction with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. Therefore, now may be the appropriate time to step up actions against Asbat.

Lebanon's al-Qaeda Affiliate
According to the State Department, Asbat al-Ansar is an Islamist group that "receives money through international Sunni extremist networks and Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network." Its members trained in al-Qaeda camps or fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan. In 1999, the group was behind explosions at the Lebanese Customs Department and a courthouse. In 2000, Asbat attacked the Russian embassy in Beirut with rocket-propelled grenades. In May 2003, the group was at the center of an Ein al-Hilweh bloodbath in which eight people were killed and twenty-five wounded. During the fighting, machine guns, mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades, and even armor-piercing missiles were fired.

In January 2003, Asbat members of the so-called Tripoli Cell (Khaliyat Tarablus) attempted to assassinate U.S. ambassador Vincent Battle. This Tripoli Cell is strongly linked to Asbat; according to the London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat, the cell is directed by Ibn ash-Shahid, a Yemeni Asbat member based in Ein al-Hilweh. By their own admission, several apprehended members of the cell are Asbat operatives.

In addition to the January assassination attempt, the Tripoli Cell has been linked to several other attacks in recent months. In June, several Asbat militants tied to the cell launched a missile strike against Lebanon's Future TV station, owned by Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. More recently, a Lebanese military court accused more than thirty suspects of participating in the Tripoli Cell, bombing a McDonald's restaurant in Beirut in April, and attempting to attack a Russian airliner in Lebanon. In the McDonald's attack, four people were injured when a bomb exploded in a bathroom; a device planted outside the restaurant failed to detonate.

The Australian Connection
One of the linchpins that ties al-Qaeda, Asbat al-Ansar, and the Tripoli Cell together is Bilal Khazal, an Australian citizen of Lebanese origin. Also known as Abu Suhaib, Khazal is head of Australia's "Islamic Youth Movement" (Ash-Shabab al-Islami), a small but influential group of perhaps 150 members that is suspected of recruiting Islamic radicals. Since 1994, the organization has published a radical Salafist magazine called Nidaa ul-Islam (call of Islam).

According to the Lebanon Daily Star and al-Hayat, Khazal is also a direct financier of Asbat and other radical factions inside Ein al-Hilweh. For example, one member of the Tripoli Cell told a Beirut military court last week that the cell's leader, Mohammed Ka'aki, received at least $1,800 from Khazal. Recent Australian press reports indicate that Khazal has been friends with Ka'aki since the late 1990s, and that Khazal's brother, Maher, met with Ka'aki during the same period to discuss financing for terrorist operations in Lebanon. Beirut issued a warrant for Khazal's arrest in June 2003.

Khazal is known to have other ties to al-Qaeda. Australian authorities have been suspicious of his activities for nearly five years. He is thought to be the organizer of an illegal weapons training camp uncovered in Australia in August 2000. According to the Lebanese daily an-Nahar, authorities searched his home just before the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and in 2001, authorities confiscated his passport based on suspicions that he was linked to al-Qaeda. Australian authorities now indicate that Khazal is closely linked to Mahmoud Habib, an Australian national currently held at Guantanamo Bay.

According to a 2002 CIA document, "the al-Qaeda leadership has allegedly delegated responsibility" to Khazal. The document cited uncorroborated intelligence that he was planning attacks against U.S. targets in the Philippines and Venezuela. The document also claimed that Khazal "was in Afghanistan in 1998, where he was affiliated with Ayman al-Zawahiri and Usama bin Laden." Other reports suggest that Khazal has met repeatedly with Abu Qatada, a London-based radical cleric who was initially detained under Britain's antiterrorism laws and who now faces extradition to Spain after formal charges were placed against him in September for allegedly participating in al-Qaeda.

The charges against Qatada stem from the dismantling of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid in November 2001. That ongoing investigation has revealed even deeper al-Qaeda participation on the part of Khazal. Documents from court proceedings show that Abu Dahdah (a.k.a. Imad Eddin al-Yarkas), the Madrid cell's leader now regarded as one of the masterminds of the September 11 attacks, was an "important contact" of Khazal's. Similarly, the Australian Broadcast Corporation reports that Dahdah, who also had close associations with September 11 terrorist leader Mohammed Atta, was in "constant contact" with Khazal. In February 2001, Khazal solicited support from Dahdah to help "a brother" slip into Europe after Italian immigration officials issued him "a stamp prohibiting his entry." According to Spanish court documents, Dahdah facilitated the individual's illegal entry and provided accommodations in Madrid. Court documents also reveal that Dahdah, Qatada, and Khazal met in Spain, though the purpose of the meeting is not stated.

Next Steps
The case of Khazal demonstrates that Asbat al-Ansar is not a small, insignificant al-Qaeda affiliate, as Beirut and Damascus would have the world believe. Rather, Khazal's activities demonstrate that the group is inextricably connected to al-Qaeda, with both international links and international targets. In order to step up pressure against Asbat and Khazal, the U.S. government should:

* Provide intelligence and support for Australia's investigation into Khazal's activities. Such support could assist Australian authorities in charging him with participating in or aiding a terrorist group. Australia may even permit his extradition to Lebanon.

* Investigate whether Khazal qualifies as a Specially Designated Terrorist. One Australian official asserts that Khazal is a "significant figure for al-Qaeda in Australia." Proving this accusation would help Australia and other governments further weaken al-Qaeda's presence on their soil.

* Encourage Lebanon's apparent willingness to prosecute Khazal and the terrorists he has financed. The United States could also offer increased antiterrorism cooperation against other al-Qaeda operatives in Lebanon (although not without continuing to press Beirut to dismantle Hizballah, another terrorist group that operates openly on Lebanese soil).

* Pressure Lebanon and Syria to fully dismantle Asbat al-Ansar. Both Beirut and Damascus refuse to bring Asbat and other violent factions in Ein al-Hilweh under control. Instead, they limit themselves to weak security measures on the camp's perimeter, despite specific knowledge of Asbat's strongholds and cadres. Should Beirut continue to permit Asbat to operate freely, especially in light of Hizballah's ongoing terrorist activity, Washington could consider penalties, even economic sanctions.

Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref fellow at The Washington Institute.

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