24 September: DEBKAfile's readers were not taken aback by the Israeli Shin Beit's (Security Service) disclosure on September 23 that it had custody of a three-man Palestinian cell from Ramallah who trained in Iraq with Iraqi instructors in the execution of strikes against Israeli targets - in the company of al Qaeda terrorists.
Their admissions - which link Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in a collaborative relationship for the pursuit of terror were included in a sensitive file carried to Washington this week by a team of Israeli officers.
DEBKAfile pointed attention to this association right after the Passover massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya on March 27, 2002. Three months earlier, in January 2002, we highlighted secret rendezvous taking place regularly in Amman between two childhood friends: Col. Tawfiq Tirawi, chief of West Bank General Intelligence and one of Arafat's most trusted aides, and another Palestinian terror executive, Mohammad Abbas, known as Abu al-Abbas, head of the Baghdad-based Arab Liberation Front. The two men were born and went to school in the village of Tirah north of Ramallah. From 1991, they have been meeting regularly in Amman, which is halfway between the West Bank and Baghdad, to trade directives, intelligence, funds and messages between their respective bosses.
Abu al-Abbas is better known for hijacking the Achille Lauro pleasure craft in 985 in an operation ordered by Arafat's and throwing the American Jewish Leon Klinghoffer overboard in his wheelchair.
Tirawi's importance to Arafat is such that is willing to see his government compound in ruins rather than hand his senior aide over with his pockets full of incriminating secrets.
According to DEBKAfile's military and counter-terror sources, the Israeli officers brought to Washington two further pieces of information:
1. The interrogations of Palestinian and Iraqi terrorists and agents picked up in recent weeks in the West Bank, at the Jordan Bridges crossings from Jordan and in Jordan itself, yielded the discovery that Yasser Arafat's hand was behind the assassination in Baghdad on August 16 of the terror master Abu Nidal, his notorious former partner turned rival, with four of his aides. Indeed, Tirawi and Abu al-Abbas were entrusted with setting up the murder. Arafat asked Saddam Hussein to get rid of Abu Nidal, claiming he was on the point of passing to American parties in the Persian Gulf evidence of the three-way partnership-for-terror forged by Arafat, Saddam and bin Laden. Arafat relayed his request to the Iraqi leader through Ahmed Azzam, Arafat's special envoy to Baghdad, together with Al-Abbas.
Saddam gave his assent at the beginning of August. The plan of operation entailed Abu Nidal's regular contacts in Iraqi intelligence calling on him and, when he opened the door unsuspectingly, standing aside for the Palestinians to burst in and do the deed..
2. The second piece of information relayed to Washington exposes another hidden facet of the working relationship binding Arafat and his PLO with Saddam and al Qaida. That facet surfaced after Italy seized a ship on August 5, carrying a suspected al Qaeda cell of 15 Pakistanis. The ship's smudged name appeared to be "Sara". The Pakistanis were detained in Sicily after US naval intelligence deciphered coded messages and gathered evidence on some of the men. One coded note used the expression "united in matrimony", which was similar to a reference intercepted during the first attack on New York's TwinTowers in 1993.
DEBKAfile 's counter-terror sources reveal exclusively one of the most telling discoveries of the Italian investigation: The "Sara" was owned by the same shipper as the Karine-A, the freighter captured by Israel last January with 50 tonnes of arms bound for the Palestinian Authority. Both vessels were also purchased by the same Palestinian-Iraqi company; the Palestinians negotiated the purchase with money put up by Iraq. Both ships flew the Tongan flag of convenience.
Whereas the Karine-A carried a cargo of contraband weapons provided by Iran, the Sara carried a suspected al Qaeda terrorist cell.
Arafat may protest he is innocent of terrorist activities and make a show of demanding a halt to terror. However, ample evidence continues to pile up demonstrating his hand in violence not only against Israel, but also in al Qaeda's global terror campaign and Iraq's machinations against the United States.