|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
13 - 19 August 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Piecing together the puzzle
A previously unknown Islamist militant organisation has claimedresponsibility for last Friday's twin bombings at the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which killed more than 250 people and injured 5,000. Callers to several news organisations in Cairo, Dubai and Paris on behalf of the "Army for Liberating Islamic Holy Sites" said the group was responsible for the blasts -- the work, they claimed, of two Saudi Arabians and an Egyptian.
The two Saudis were members of the Martyr Khaled Al-Said Battalion and allegedly bombed the Nairobi embassy in an operation code-named Holy Ka'aba. The Egyptian who allegedly bombed the Dar es Salaam embassy was a member of the Martyr Abdallah Azzam Battalion and his operation was code-named Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to a statement by the previously unknown group.
The group said it had taken a lead from fatwasissued by Osama Bin Laden, a multi-millionaire who was stripped of his Saudi nationality and is now living in Afghanistan under the protection of the fundamentalist Taliban government.
The group made several demands, including the withdrawal of US forces posted in the Gulf region since the 1991 liberation of Kuwait, an end to "blind" US support for Israel, the lifting of economic sanctions imposed against Iraq, Libya and Sudan, and the release of scores of militants in several parts ofthe world, including Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind spiritual leader of Egypt's largest militant organisation, Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya.
Bin Laden was one of six militant leaders who signed a statement in February announcing the creation of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. The statement said that the six groups have issued a ruling urging the killing of "Americans and Jews and pillaging their money wherever they are". In addition to the Egyptian Al-Gama'a and Jihad, the other signatories included Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups.
Jihad had issued a statement only three days before the embassy attacks, claiming that American agents had assisted in the extradition to Egypt of three Jihad members living in Eastern Europe. The statement threatened to target US interests in retaliation.
Of the three named, Ahmed El-Sayed El-Naggar has already been sentenced to death in absentia by a military court in October 1997 for plotting an attack against tourists at Cairo's Khan Al-Khalili bazaar.
Sources close to the militant organisations confirmed that Jihad leader Ayman El-Zawahri and Bin Laden have been cooperating closely in their hideout in Afghanistan. Both appeared at a news conference in May to reiterate threats against the United States, which they accuse of conspiring against Islamic interests.
Security experts also pointed out that the bombing of the US embassies has similarities with the 1996 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad and the bombing of Al-Khobar military complex in Saudi Arabia in which 19 US servicemen were killed. Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy, saying it was in retaliation for the extradition to Egypt of several Jihad militants living in Pakistan. Bin Laden has praised the Al-Khobar bombing and, in a recent interview, threatened that the worst was yet to come.
Hala Mustafa, an expert on militant groups at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Ahram Weekly that she did not exclude the possibility that Bin Laden, in alliance with Egypt's Jihad, was behind the bombings. "They have the motive and they have the means," she said. Mustafa added that Afghanistan has turned into "a den of militant organisations who enjoy freedom of movement and military training in the absence of any strong central government".
Arab militants first travelled to Afghanistan following the 1979 invasion to resist the Soviet occupiers and were assisted and armed by the CIA and other American intelligence bodies. After the Soviet withdrawal the militants, who became known as the "Arab-Afghans", turned their attention and weaponry against the governments of Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. Some moved to Bosnia where they fought the Serbs in 1992 and 1993. They later moved to Chechnya to take part in the war against Russia. As the Jihad statement indicated, the "Arab-Afghans" are currently fighting on behalf of Muslims of Albanian origin against the Serbian army in Kosovo.
Although Tanzania and Kenya appear to be far from the world of Islamist militant groups, sources close to these groups said that some Arab-Afghans had sought refuge in African countries where they assisted local Islamist movements.
After Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir took power in a military coup in 1989, he forged a close alliance with the leader of the National Islamic Front and Sudanese Parliament Speaker Hassan Al-Turabi. The two turned Sudan into a haven for several Arab militant organisations fighting to overthrow their governments. Al-Turabi, who dreams of building an "Islamic Empire" in Africa, with Sudan at its centre, hosted annual meetings of militant organisations until international pressure forced Khartoum to stop.
Although last November's Luxor massacre convinced several European countries to start cooperating with Arab governments in cracking down on militants involved in plotting acts of terrorism, a security official said that Cairo hoped for yet greater cooperation. "The bombings in Kenya and Tanzania provide evidence of what Egypt has long warned against -- that we are facing organised international terrorism which has no nationality and which is using the latest technology to commit crimes," the security source told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The Ahram Political and Strategic Centre's Mustafa said that one reason the Bin Laden-led front might have decided to attack Americans was to increase their popularity in the Arab and Islamic worlds after the damage the militant groups suffered following the Luxor massacre and the ongoing and brutal killings of civilians in Algeria by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).