- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. officials believe they have identified a young former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden as al Qaeda’s new chief of terror operations in the Persian Gulf.

Abu Hazim al-Sha’ir, a 29-year-old Yemeni now believed to be living in Saudi Arabia, is one of a new crop of al Qaeda operatives who are trying fill the roles of senior bin Laden lieutenants who have been captured or killed since September 11, according to officials from U.S. counterterrorism agencies who discussed the intelligence on the condition of anonymity.

“Capable replacements appear to be emerging, many of whom have demonstrated their ability to see previously planned operations through to fruition,” according to one U.S. intelligence report.

Meanwhile, the CIA said yesterday that an audio recording that aired Sunday on Arab TV, attributed to al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, is probably authentic.

In the message, the voice of Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden’s top surviving deputy and thought to be in the remote border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, accuses the United States and Israel of trying to abolish Islam and urges Muslims to “resist this Jewish crusade.”.

The audio message referred to recent events, including a visit by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to India in early September and the Sept. 6 resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

“I thus call for [holy war] against this campaign that seeks to end Islam as a doctrine and law and turn us into a herd that follows the lords of Washington, Tel Aviv and London,” the speaker said.

Abu Hazim, the new Persian Gulf operative, appears to be taking the place of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a key organizer of the USS Cole bombing and the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, officials say. Al-Nashiri was detained in the United Arab Emirates in late 2002.

The international hunt for such senior leaders is a key component of the U.S.-led war against al Qaeda. For all the thousands of people who trained at bin Laden’s camps, only such senior leaders are thought to have the connections, financing and savvy to pull off major terrorist attacks.

“The loss of so many senior operational coordinators represents the elimination of a decade worth of terrorism planning experience. These individuals were, in large part, the guiding force behind the success of al Qaeda’s attacks,” the U.S. intelligence report says.

Abu Hazim is on Saudi Arabia’s list of 19 most-wanted al Qaeda operatives. He is believed to have trained in al Qaeda’s Afghanistan camps in 1999 and later to have served in bin Laden’s bodyguard. U.S. counterterror officials also tie him to the May 12 bombings of residential complexes in Riyadh.

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