ATbar The Al-Qaida - Hizballah Connection
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The Al-Qaida - Hizballah Connection

26/02/2002 | by Multiple Authors  
By Jonathan Fighel and Yael Shahar

According to Western intelligence sources, the al-Qaida terrorist organization is attempting to extend its involvement in the Palestinian arena and transfer its base of operations from Afghanistan to Lebanon.

On 1 February, the British daily The Times reported that a senior al-Qaida operative traveled to Lebanon in January, to discuss the relocation with Hizballah leaders.[1] The operative was identified as a Yemeni national traveling under the alias Salah Hajir.

The possibility of al-Qaida joining forces with Hizballah is alarming. Prior to September 11, Hizballah was responsible for the deaths of more Americans around the world than any other terrorist organization. The organization pioneered the use of suicide bombings, including 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 and the truck bombing of a Marines headquarters that killed 241 American servicemen. Hizballah also kidnapped Western hostages in Beirut in the mid-1980s. Two U.S. hostages—William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, and Lt. Col. William Higgins, a Marine officer serving with U.N. forces in Lebanon—were killed.

Iranian Links to al–Qaida and Hizballah

According to U.S. intelligence reports, Osama bin Laden’s operatives approached Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) agents in 1995 and again in 1996, offering to join forces against America. In fact, phone records obtained by U.S. officials investigating the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania revealed that 10 percent of the calls made from the Compact-M satellite phone used by bin Laden and his key lieutenants were to Iran.[2]

Hizballah is funded, armed, and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Iran returned to the spotlight after President Bush’s State of the Union address on future threats to the United States which highlighted an “axis of evil” consisting of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, said: “We know Iran is actively sending terrorists down through Damascus into the Bekaa Valley where they train terrorists, then engage in acts against countries in the region and elsewhere.”[3]

The ideological basis of Hizballah is Khomeinism and its principle goal is the establishment of a pan-Islamic republic headed by religious clerics. The organization’s worldview was first published in its political platform in February 1985, as follows:
The solution to Lebanon’s problems is the establishment of an Islamic republic as only this type of regime can secure justice and equality for all of Lebanon’s citizen’s.
The Hizballah organization views as an important goal the fight against ‘western imperialism’ and its eradication from Lebanon. The group strives for complete American and French withdrawal from Lebanon, including all their institutions.
The conflict with Israel is viewed as a central concern. This is not only limited to the IDF presence in Lebanon. Rather, the complete destruction of the State of Israel and the establishment of Islamic rule over Jerusalem is an expressed goal.
Part of this radical ideology is the group’s militant approach using terror as a means of attaining its goals. The Hizballah organization justifies the use of terror against these enemies as a weapon in the hands of the weak and oppressed against the stronger aggressor.

Hizballah has carried out a series of high profile attacks against Israeli targets in southern Lebanon and American and Multinational Forces targets in Lebanon. The group sees the departure of these forces from Lebanon as a vindication of its methods.

Hizballah was the first group to make use of suicide attacks in the Middle East. The first of these attacks was directed against the American embassy in Beirut (April 1983), followed by attacks on the U.S. Marines headquarters and the French Multinational Force (October 1983). The last two were executed simultaneously and resulted in 300 casualties and dozens of wounded. The later attack made an indelible impression on world public opinion and terror organizations alike.

Although the Hizballah is a Shia Muslim organization, and al-Qaida, a Sunni Muslim group, there is substantial evidence of a working alliance between the two groups dating back to the early 1990s. The trial of al-Qaida militants in the United States has revealed not only ideological links, but also operational connections between Hizballah and al-Qaida.

A representative of bin Ladin reportedly met with an official of the Iranian government prior to the bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa, in order to establish an “anti-U.S. alliance.” This meeting was reportedly followed by an even more important one, this time between bin Ladin and Imad Mugniyeh, the operations director of Hizballah. The bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa bear an operational resemblance to Hizballah suicide attacks against the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. Ali Mohamed, who was convicted of conspiracy in the U.S. embassy bombings, testified that al-Qaida’s method for driving the United States out of the Middle East was modeled on the successes of the Lebanese Hizballah organization.

Referring to the 1983 truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut—an attack that killed 241 U.S. soldiers—Mohamed said that his group intended to use “the same method to force the United States to pull out of Saudi Arabia.”

Apparently, Hizballah did more than just serve as a source of inspiration for al-Qaida. “I was aware of certain contacts between al-Qaida and al-Jihad organization, on one side, and Iran and Hizballah on the other side,” Mohamed said. “I arranged security for a meeting in the Sudan between Mughniyah, Hizballah’s chief, and bin Ladin.”

“Hizballah provided explosives training for al-Qaida and al-Jihad,” Mohamed said, adding, “Iran also used Hizballah to supply explosives that were disguised to look like rocks.” Mohamed’s statement has a ring of truth, in that just such disguised explosives were used extensively by Hizballah against Israeli army patrols in South Lebanon.

Imad Mughniyah, described as the head of Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad operational wing, is believed to be behind several terrorist incidents, including the bombing of the Israeli embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and the hijacking of an American airliner. Recently the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, reported that Mughniyah has been appointed by Iran as coordinator of Hizballah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Usbat al-Ansar

Intelligence of the arrival of the senior bin Laden operative in Lebanon and the meetings with Hizballah leaders may provide the first indication that al-Qaida is seeking an accommodation with the Iranian-backed terror group with regard to an operational coalition in Lebanon. There have also been reports that since arriving in Lebanon, Salah Hajir met with leaders of a radical Sunni Islamic organization called Usbat al-Ansar (‘the League of Partisans’) based in the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp in south Lebanon.[4]

The United States has added Usbat al-Ansar to it list of 27 organizations linked to al-Qaida that have been placed under economic sanctions by the U.S. treasury. Usbat is a loosely organized Sunni Wahabbi group comprising both Palestinian and Lebanese members, many of whom have fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and Kashmir. Its main power bases are the Ein al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon in south Lebanon and the Nahr al-Bared camp in Tripoli in the north.

On 25 September 2001, Usbat issued a statement denying links to Al-Qaida, accompanied by praise of Bin Laden and vitriol against Jews and ‘Crusaders’, but there is evidence to suggest that strong links exist. A number of Usbat al-Ansar operatives are believed to have returned to Lebanon in January, after fighting alongside al-Qaida members in Afghanistan.[5] The Palestinian refugee camp of Ein Hilwe, which is off limits to the Lebanese security forces, is home to about one hundred members of Usbat Ansar group.

Usbat al-Ansar has also been linked to a group of Jordanians arrested in December 1999 for terrorist conspiracies. In January 2000, Usbat al-Ansar was iin clashes with the Lebanese Armed Forces that occurred concurrently with riots in northern Lebanon pitting other Sunni Islamists against the Lebanese government.

After the fall of the Taleban and the destruction of much of the al-Qaida infrastructure, including virtually all of its training camps, there is speculation that bin Laden’s organization might try to transfer its headquarters to another country. Initially, Somalia was at top of the list, and a close watch has been kept on all shipping out of Pakistan to prevent al-Qaida members escaping by sea in vessels bound for Somalia and other potential safe havens.

Lebanese sources say that U.S. naval vessels and F-14 combat aircraft have been patrolling the eastern Mediterranean to monitor sea traffic to Lebanon. The sources said the U.S. effort was meant to ensure that Bin Laden or his Al-Qaida combatants could not escape Afghanistan and find a haven in Lebanon. The U.S. Sixth Fleet is said to be monitoring boats headed for Lebanon and has stopped boats traveling from Cyprus, due to information that bin Laden agents may have located in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.[6]

The sources said one Lebanese boat was intercepted after its left the Cypriot city of Limassol on its way to the Lebanese port of Silaata. The ship was contacted by radio by a U.S. naval vessel in the eastern Mediterranean and later U.S. sailors boarded the Lebanese ship and inspected the crewmembers.

On 15 February 2002, Turkish police arrested two Palestinians and a Jordanian who entered Turkey illegally from Iran on their way to conduct bombing attacks in Israel. According to the police spokesman in Ankara, the three fought for the Taliban, received terrorist training in Afghanistan, and were members of Beyyiat el-Imam, a group linked to al-Qaida.[7]

Links to the Palestinian Arena-Ideology and Methodology

Last year, a Palestinian resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip was arrested by Israeli security forces, and charged with attempting to set up a terrorist cell linked to al-Qaida. Nabil Ukal, 27, was to have served as a key figure and first representative in the territories of bin Ladin’s group.

In October 1997, Ukal left the Gaza Strip for religious studies in Pakistan. There he joined one of the organizations affiliated with bin Laden and underwent paramilitary training in Afghanistan. Under orders from Halil al-Dich, a senior member in the organization, Ukal was sent to the territories to set up the paramilitary infrastructure for operations in the territories. These activities were also meant to include the participation of Israeli Arabs.

Ukal returned to the Gaza Strip in 1998 and remained in contact with bin Laden activists in Jordan and Britain, receiving instructions through electronic mail. Upon his return, Ukal met with the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, informing him of the training that he had undergone in Afghanistan. Yassin, in turn, provided Ukal with the sum of $10,000 for his activities. Israel’s Shin Bet security service is of the opinion that Yassin was not aware that Ukal was operating under the orders of Bin Laden.[8]

For his part, Ukal sought to recruit Israeli Arabs into his cell. He met with two Islamic Movement activists in Umm al-Fahm, but without success. The two were held by the Shin Bet at a later date, but were subsequently released after questioning.

Ukal was eventually indicted by the military court at the Erez Crossing in the Gaza Strip and charged with planning a large-scale attack in the center of the country, recruiting suicide bombers, and planning attacks on Israel Defense Forces soldiers. While Ukal was in detention, his colleagues continued to gather intelligence information, test explosives and amass explosive materials. Ten of the members of the bin Laden cell in the territories were arrested.

London link between al-Qaida and Palestinian groups

An additional link between bin Ladin’s network and the Palestinian organizations is Syrian born radical Islamist Sheikh Omar bin Bakri Muhammad. Sheikh Bakri is the founder of the London branch of Hizb Al-Tahrir (the Islamic Liberation Party), and of the organization “Jama’at Al-Muhajirun” (“The Emigrants,” a reference to those who accompanied the Prophet Muhammad on his Hijra from Mecca to Medina).

Bakri presents himself as the spokesman of Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. This organization, by Bakri’s own admission, participates in fundraising for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and is “in touch” with Hizbullah. Bakri has further claimed to recruit volunteers for training in paramilitary camps located in the U.S. and Lebanon.[9]

In an interview, Bakri said that The International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders, created by Osama bin Laden actively supports Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. “We collect funds to be able to carry on the struggle; we recruit militiamen; and sometimes we take care of these groups’ propaganda requirements in Europe.” According to Bakri, during the previous month The Islamic Front recruited 160 volunteers in Britain and sent them to Jordan, where they awaited opportunities to infiltrate into the West Bank and join the uprising against Israel. Recruits had also been sent in recent months to Lebanon, where they were trained in Palestinian refugee camps. “In the ‘Ein Al-Hilweh camp, for instance, new mujahideen are being recruited and trained with the aim of opening up another front in south Lebanon.” He added that the International Islamic Front is also “in touch with Hizballah and with Islamic movements such as Usbat Al-Ansar, which are determined to fight for the liberation of Jerusalem.”[10]

Concern Over future Attacks

The presence of al-Qaida cells in Lebanon, and the cooperation with the radical Islamic terror organizations sponsored by Iran poses a potential real and immanent threat to American interests all over the Middle East.

The threat to Israel has also grown with Hizballah’s increasing involvement in the territories ruled by the Palestinian Authorities. In particular, the organization is enhancing it cooperation with Hamas’s operational infrastructure. The interrogation of some 500 Palestinian operatives from Hamas and Fatah Tanzim during the first half of 2001 indicates that Hizballah, with the backing of Iran, is working to build a terrorist infrastructure and operational cells in P.A.-controlled areas.

This infrastructure would be invaluable for al-Qaida, allowing its operatives to infiltrate, recruit new operatives, and build new sleeper cells that would combine forces with the Islamic Militant organizations already operating in the Palestinian arena. All of these groups share a common ideology and methodology of terrorism. If al-Qaida is able to establish a foothold in Lebanon, this would allow the organization’s members to infiltrate directly from Lebanon or indirectly through Jordan in order to join forces with the well-organized platform of the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in carrying out terror attacks inside Israel.

According to Israeli officials, the possibility exists that Israel may be the target of an unconventional attack by members of Osama bin Laden’s organization. Nabil Ukal said told interrogators last year that he was planning to poison Israeli water sources. Israel has learned that bin Laden’s men have trained in chemical and biological warfare, but still focuses its resources on groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which are considered more of a threat. [11]


1. Associated Press
2. New York Times
3. Reuters
4. The London Times
5. Jane’s
6., Associated Press
7. CNN
8. Haaretz
9. Memri- Middle East News Information
10. Ibid
11. Maa’riv