- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

JERUSALEM — Terrorism analysts here are examining the biography and teachings of a Palestinian religious figure as a factor in the simultaneous Oct. 7 bombings of a hotel in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and two other resorts farther south on the peninsula’s Red Sea coast.

They suspect the attacks marked the start of an effort to extend al Qaeda’s operations to this part of the Middle East, and ultimately to Israeli territory.

The most credible claim of responsibility came from a group calling itself the Brigades of the Martyr Abdullah Azzam.

The name offers a hint of the group’s motivation and goals.

Abdullah Azzam, who grew up in a village on the West Bank of the Jordan River now occupied by Israel, was a leading al Qaeda theorist, said Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer in the Arabic Department of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

The two groups suspected of perpetrating the Sinai attacks are Egyptian extremists opposed to the government of President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and Bedouin Arab allies in the Sinai inspired by Azzam’s teachings. They are believed to have been recruited by Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.

The consensus in Israel’s intelligence establishment is that al Qaeda is intensifying its campaign against Arab states that have close ties to the United States. Al Qaeda’s long-term goal, according to the intelligence establishment, is to rid the Middle East of perceived Western implants, including the Jewish state.

Bin Laden confirmed that view 21 months ago.

Accusing the moderate Arab regimes of backing the Bush administration in the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, he described them as “Jahiliya” heathens — the Arabic term for paganism practiced on the Arabian peninsula before the advent of Islam.

In March 2003, Al Jazeera television and some Arabic Web sites carried bin Laden’s “will,” in which he said that “getting rid of the Arab regimes is an Islamic commandment because they are heretical and cooperate with America.”

In fact, the “will” was a speech he recorded two years earlier. Arab reports called it his “will” because it was delivered while he was besieged by U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan.

Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, contended five days after the Sinai bombings killed 34 persons, a third of them Israelis, that “we regard international terrorism as a threat to Israelis abroad as well as at home.” Gen. Yaalon said al Qaeda had made several unsuccessful attempts to infiltrate the West Bank and Gaza Strip but that its personnel were intercepted by Israeli troops.

“We are deployed in such a way as to deal with al Qaeda’s threat, and this matter requires international cooperation,” he said. Military intelligence officers refused to elaborate, but well-informed sources said the incidents occurred over the past six years.

The deputy head of the research branch of Israeli military intelligence, Col. Zohar Alfi, said Worldwide Jihad, the group that sponsored the Sinai bombings, comprises separate cells in dozens of countries whose epicenter is al Qaeda. One of the cells is named after Azzam, who was born 63 years ago in a West Bank village near Jenin. He is regarded by Palestinians as a national hero, said Maher al-Alami, a senior editor of the daily al-Quds (Jerusalem).

Mr. Kedar and Reuven Paz, director of Project for the Research of Islamic Movements, agree al Qaeda’s main objective is to overthrow all Arab regimes that are linked to the West.

This view is supported in an article by Abu Abbas al Aedhi, a Saudi scholar whose writing has appeared in several online outlets. In a piece titled “From Riyadh/East to Sinai,” a reference to the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Mr. al Aedhi wrote: “The blessed attack in Sinai had long-term dimensions, the same as the attack in Riyadh. Egyptians carried out the Sinai attack, but with the support and experience of their brothers in [Saudi] Arabia and elsewhere.”

In February, Mr. Paz said bin Laden preferred to let Palestinian militants engage the Israelis while his disciples fought the United States. The Sinai attacks led him to revise this assessment.

“The return of al Qaeda to the Arab homeland,” he wrote in a newly published article, “ended a seven-year-long hiatus in terrorist operations on Egyptian soil.” The term “Arab homeland” includes Israel and extends south to the Sinai Peninsula and west to the Nile Delta.

Mr. al Alami, the editor at al-Quds, also cited the overthrow of Egypt’s pro-Western regime as one of al Qaeda’s primary objectives. “It relies on Egyptian dissidents to topple Mubarak and end the Cairo regime’s alignment with the West, and especially the U.S.,” he said.

Cairo’s effort to counter the idea that Egyptians linked to al Qaeda were responsible for the Sinai bombings was echoed by Al-Gumhuriya (the Republic), a pro-government daily.

Its columnist Adli Barhum wrote: “The U.S. is the main culprit in all acts of violence. It takes advantage of the call to fight terrorism in order to conceal what it is doing — terrorism from a powerful country by means of invasion, economics and brainwashing.”

Responsibility for the Sinai bombings was claimed by the brigades, whose members detonated l,000 pounds of explosives at the Taba Hilton. The explosives were obtained by Sinai Bedouin. They announced their involvement on their Internet outlet.

Azzam’s slogan, “The Way to Liberate Jerusalem Passes Through Cairo,” implies that the downfall of Egypt’s pro-U.S. regime will lead to Israel’s elimination from the Middle East.

Azzam left the West Bank shortly after the 1967 Six-Day War, settled in Jordan and joined the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Disappointed at the PLO’s advocacy of a secular Palestinian state, he decided to study Islam at Al-Azhar University in Cairo — the world’s oldest university, which opened in the 10th century.

After returning to Jordan, he went on to Saudi Arabia to teach at King Abdul-Aziz University, where one of his students was bin Laden.

The Saudis sent him to Pakistan, where he advocated a worldwide jihad, or holy war.

“His writings brim with hatred of the West and the Jews, ideas which still motivate al Qaeda,” Roni Shaked wrote in the daily Yediot Ahronot. Azzam was killed by an explosion that went off as he headed for a mosque on Nov. 24, 1989.

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