26 December 2007

Syria's credible threats [UPDATED 27 DEC 2007]

From Naharnet News Desk, Beirut, 24 DEC 2007 (link liable to change), with h/t to Across the Bay:

Syrian Intelligence Threatens Spanish Peacekeepers in Lebanon

Syria's secret service has threatened Spanish soldiers in Lebanon in a bid to block the extradition of suspected arms dealer Monzer Al-Kassar to the United States, the newspaper El Mundo reported Monday.

The Spanish intelligence service, according to a memo cited by the newspaper, fears that troops on U.N. deployment in south-east Lebanon could be targeted if the Spanish cabinet ratify a judicial verdict and send Kassar to the United States.

General Assef Shawkat, chief of Syrian military intelligence, wrote to his opposite number in Spain: "If you think we are going to ignore the affront inflicted by north-American henchmen on our brother (Kassar), you don't really know us and [you] are no friends of the Syrian people."

Dated end-July, the note also refers to Shawkat delivering a thinly-veiled threat during a discussion with Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Around 1,100 Spanish soldiers serve in the U.N. interim force in Lebanon deployed following the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah. Six Spanish soldiers were killed during a bombing there in June.

Syrian native Kassar, known colloquially as the "Prince of Marbella" where he has been based for the last decade, is wanted in the U.S. on suspicion of arranging arms deals for leftist FARC rebels in Colombia.(AFP)

Beirut, Updated 26 Dec 07, 04:17
This comes as no surprise, really, after recent events in Spain. This from the Times Online UK 01 NOV 2007:
November 1, 2007

191 dead, thousands of victims - but the ‘mastermind’ is cleared

Thomas Catan in Madrid
The accused mastermind of Europe’s worst Islamist terrorist attack was cleared of all charges along with six others yesterday in a shock judgment that angered victims.

Twenty-one others were convicted of playing a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, though many of them on much lesser charges than the prosecution had sought.

Family members of the 191 people killed and 1,800 injured expressed astonishment, branding the sentences as lenient and feeble, and vowing to appeal.

Pilar Manjón, who heads the largest association of victims, said: “I don’t like to see murderers walk free.” She lost her 20-year-old son when ten bombs packed into sports bags and detonated by mobile phone ripped through four commuter trains.

The court ordered victims of the bombings to be paid between €30,000 (£20,900) and €1.5 million (£1 million) in compensation.

One of the highest amounts will go to the family of Laura Vega, 29, who remains in a coma in a Madrid hospital. They will receive about €1 million to help to pay for her continuing care.

The atrocity was the world’s largest terrorist attack since September 11, 2001, and was the first European example of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism on a large scale. But prosecutors failed to convince judges on the three-man panel of a direct al-Qaeda link. And the verdicts also failed to answer the question of who plotted the attack.

The accused mastermind, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, known as Mohammed the Egyptian, burst into tears of relief upon hearing the verdict, shouting “You see that I’m innocent?” according to his lawyer.

He is serving a ten-year sentence on unrelated terrorism charges in Italy, where police taped him bragging in a telephone call about his supposed plotting of the Madrid bombings.

Amid a heavy security operation that included armoured cars and police helicopters buzzing overhead, Judge Javier G�mez Bermúdez read out the verdict to a hushed courtroom. Three men - two Moroccans and a Spaniard - were given the toughest sentences in the complex six-month case.

Jamal Zougam, 34, a Moroccan who lived in Madrid, was convicted of mass murder, having placed one of the bombs packed with dynamite and nails aboard the trains. Police arrested him after finding that one of the mobile phones used in an unexploded bomb had been sold from his shop. Several witnesses also reported seeing him aboard one of the trains that morning.

Othman el-Gnaoui, 32, was also found to have had a direct role in the attack and was convicted of murder.

José Emilio Suárez Trashorras, 31, a Spanish miner with a history of mental illness, was convicted of being a “necessary collaborator” in the bombings after selling the dynamite used in the attack to the Madrid cell.

The three were each sentenced to between 35,000 and 43,000 years in prison - though under Spanish law they will serve a maximum 40 years.

Three other Spaniards were convicted of helping Trashorras to traffic the explosives stolen from his mine.
And who is left out?

In my article Monzer al-Kassar and Transnational Terrorism, I look at some of the evidence that has shown up in Spain. That would take me to Winds of Change's Joe Aguilar look at part of that plot and how it involved Monzer al-Kassar:
Well, we are approaching the culmination of this article, the Schwerpunkt, the point where the main forces of the investigators of 3/11 and the ones that want it covered-up are heading for a perhaps decisive confrontation. At the centre of it, there is a man of Syrian origin, a National Police officer named Ayman Maussili Kalaji.

Kalaji arrived to Spain in 1980 as a political refugee, fleeing from the Civil War in Syria. He had served in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (FDLP) in Lebanon, and it appears that he reached the rank of second commander of a missile base there. He also took the anti-government side in Syria, during that country's repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, resulting in Kalaji knocking on Spanish Immigration's door in order to keep his head on his shoulders. What may be more interesting to us is that as a bright teenage, he had been well trained in terrorist techniques, including electronics, and intelligence operations, and might even have been trained in the Soviet Union.

Regarding his experience, he began to collaborate with the Spanish security forces. Among other duties, he controlled the communications of Monzer Al Kassar, an arms trafficker that supplied to Palestine terrorists the weapons used in the assault of the Achille Lauro. Al Kassar bought Spanish protection against any awkward Israeli attention by selling two SA-7 portable antiaircraft missiles equipped with a transmitter to ETA. He was also allegedly a friend of Secretary of the Interior Rafael Vera. Later, in 1989, Kalaji worked in an operation to arrest a Hizbullah cell in Valencia, the year in which he was finally admitted to the National Police corps.

What is his relation with the 3/11 plot? Well, he owns a mobile phone store where the mobile phones allegedly used in those attacks were unlocked, (manipulated their software so they can use SIM cards from any company) as he himself has recognized. However, that is not all; the Civil Guard unit that is investigating the plot sent a communication to Judge Del Olmo in which, due to (a) the short time frame (from March 4th and 8th to 11th) to manipulate the phones, (b) the knowledge of Kalaji about terrorists operations and electronics (those well soldered wires) and his relations with other Syrians involved in the attack, requested an arrest warrant against him. The Civil Guards suspect that he is the person that attached the wires to the vibrating units of the mobile phones used in 3/11.

That is, no Al Qaeda, no ETA, but a Police officer.
Then on to Barcepundit gives a 2005 review of events:
El Mundo explains how the police found out that one of their own was the owner of the store where the cell phones were programmed:
From the data obtained in the van, plus the data from the unexploded knapsack bomb, the cell phones that Jamal Ahmidam’s people bought at Bazar Top (the Indian store), and the following “release” [by which the cell phones were able to be operated from any source including calling cards] of those phones, Kalaji’s coworkers at the General Information office came to his store, Tecnología de Sistemas Telefónicos Ayman.

From that very moment, Maussili Kalaji began to fully cooperate with his ex-coworkers at the Information Office, and thanks to him, and to his having written down the IMEI identification numbers of the Bazar Top cell numbers he had been asked to “release” (i.e., program so they phones would allow calling cards from any company and in any modality, prepayment, or contract), the investigators were able to find the Leganés apartment where the terrorist leader of the 3/11 trains of death had taken shelter.
. . .
He was in charge of the Syrian Monzer Al-Kassar
Maussili Kalaji thoroughly knows the Syrian community in Spain, and additionally, was the Spanish agent in charge of listening to and translating all of the telephone conversations of Monzer Al-Kassar, allegad weapons trafficker that was charged by judge Baltasar Garzón for collaborating in the Achille Lauro hijacking

The ship’s hijacking took place in 1985, and in 1992 judge Garzón charged Al-Kassar -- Syrian resident of Marbella and representative of the Spanish government in some weapons sales to third countries – of allegedly belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (led by Abu Abbas [see link]), of murder, of belonging to an armed gang and terrorist organization, of attempted murder, illegal detention, and piracy.

Kalaji, as member of the Office of Information and by order of the judge, kept close match on Al-Kassar and his family; but eventually the Syrian friend of former Cesid director Alonso Manglano and ex-Secretary of the Interior Rafael Vera, was absolved of all charges of which judge Garzón had accused him.
Kalaji's Palestinian connections are strong and remain strong. El Mundo describes him as "Kalaji, who considers himself a defender of the Palestinian cause". My question is, is it wise of the Spanish intelligence services to have place in such sensitive jobs both Kalaji and members of his family?
Yes, Monzer al-Kassar, involved with the 3/11 Madrid train bombings. Syria wants him not to be extradited which comes down to a pretty blunt piece of work by Syria.

Here is what they are saying: Your soldiers in Lebanon are hostages of fortune, release Monzer al-Kassar... or else.

And Syria has delivered a message to the US on this, from Naharnet News, Beirut, 26 DEC 2007:
Syria Warns 'Resistance' Against Being Dragged into Civil War

Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustafa, has cautioned that a political failure could plunge Lebanon into civil war and warned Hizbullah against being dragged into the battle which could be a "great national disaster for Syria and victory for the enemies of the Lebanese resistance."

Mustafa also dubbed a possibility to elect a new Lebanese President by a simple majority vote an "explosive choice."

He hoped that Lebanon would get out of the presidential vacuum, adding, however, that there is a "strong possibility that an agreement could be finally reached" where the Lebanese would have a consensus President "who enjoys respect of all factions and that (person) is Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman."

Mustafa said the enemies of Lebanon were "those who wish that civil war break out in it," adding that the same foes "are instigating one Lebanese party against the other in the hopes that this would lead to an internal political strife; they are the ones who are turning Lebanon against its brethren and neighbors."

He believed that the Hizbullah-led opposition's aspirations were "Lebanese ambitions," stressing that there is nothing harmful in them.

Beirut, 26 Dec 07, 09:51
Couple that with the threat to Spain and what do you get?

Something like: Give up extraditing Monzer al-Kassar and looking into the assassinations in Lebanon, or things will go very badly in Lebanon and we will pin it on you.

This is the other shoe dropping on trying to get Monzer al-Kassar.

This is not over by a long shot.

UPDATE 27 DEC 2007
From Reform Party of Syria via wadinet

Assad Behind Bombs to Stop the Extradition of Kassar

RPS Press Release/ -- The Reform Party of Syria condemns the latest bombs, which exploded in Iraq killing at least 34 innocent Iraqis in two separate cities on one of the holiest days of the year and accuses Baschar al-Assad of carrying out a well calculated terror campaign against Iraq.

The cold killing comes on the heels of a court order in Spain to extradite the Syrian arms dealer Monzer al-Kassar, a close Assad operative, to the US who is suspected of selling arms to various anti-US groups and whose history of drug smuggling and other illegal activities mirrors the Assad regime qualitative purpose. The latest spate of killing in Iraq was intended to send a signal to the White House that unless the US vacates its request for the extradition of al-Kassar, the Assad regime will continue terrorizing Iraq and its innocent citizens. Al-Kassar can indict Assad directly in suspected killing of Americans, which explains the threats Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and Chief of the Military Intelligence, made against Spanish UNIFIL troops in the south of Lebanon should the Spanish government comply with the US request.

Kassar is an important asset and when he points the finger at Baschar al-Assad and his immediate family, the US will be able to threaten the Assad family directly and much more impetuously than the parallel indictment expected from the UN international tribunal investigating the murder of Rafik al-Hariri. The cat and mouse game between the Assads and the international community is on high octane manifested by appeasing words from diplomats in the US and Israel while behind the scenes, tracts are pursued to clip Assad's wings once and for all.

We salute the Spanish government for its brave stand against terror and urge it to extradite Kassar expeditiously. We also urge the US administration to expedite its pursuit of the Thugs of Damascus as they continue disrupting Lebanon, killing innocent Iraqi civilians, and threatening the region with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The alternative to Assad are Syrian dissidents and patriotic politicians committed to democracy, freedom, and human rights.

© Reform Party of Syria
My thanks to Mark Eichenlaub for pointing to this material.


Coach Mark said...

I still don't understand. Is al Kassar already in Spanish custody or are they still trying to get him?

A Jacksonian said...

Ikez - He is in Spanish 'custody', if that means anything these days. The question of his being 'out of circulation' is another one that is pretty nebulous when it comes to Spain as he has had time to pre-plan with lawyers and such for decades whenever he is 'taken into custody'. So even in jail that does not mean he is not controlling his assets and contacts... and I have this nasty suspicion that he is under much less 'custody' than that. Spain has been quiet about that... their laws tend to be lax on these things, to say the least.

A Jacksonian said...

Gabriel - My thanks.

I have covered this in multiple, previous posts.

I will add that the Israeli vessel was not the only one targeted that night and that the attack and sinking of an unarmed merchantman at sea is an act of piracy on the high seas by the Law of Nations. I thus consider Hezbollah to be fully a Piratical organization beyond their Private War outlaw behavior on land.

Hezbollah is wholly a creature of Iran with assistance from Syria, but is no longer limited to just Lebanon, but stretches into Spain, Algeria, Argentina and the Tri-Border Area there, Bosnia, Chechnya, and, of course, Afghanistan and Iraq. The latter two Nations are giving more than a little resistance to them, to say the least.

Hezbollah wages Private War on the cheap and their static positions were no match against Israel and the Israelis were able to control 'the most heavily defended air corridor on Earth' over the Bekaa with impunity. I consider Hezbollah to be a vicious foreign legion of Iran, but without any military honors due to it as it is a fully outlaw organization in the realm of war. Even removal of Syria and Iran will not end the full Hezbollah threat as the funding centers are now present in The Balkans (via the narcotics trade), TBA (via narcotics, money laundering, intellectual property theft, and actually owning parts of legitimate businesses) and via their 'meat processing centers' which are slaughterhouses donated by Iran and used as base points for training of Hezbollah cadre... they also put out steaks and such, too. Add to that the standard 'terrorist tax' or tithe or whathaveyou of simple intimidation of locals and you have a globally distributed organization that would carry on its missions without the heavy weaponry provided by Iran and Syria.

Again, my thanks, but this is more than slightly OT.