Saturday, August 7, 2010

DETROIT---DECEMBER 25,2009, NEW YORK---MAY 1,2010 & HORMUZ---JULY 28,2010



Forensic experts of the United Arab Emirates are reported to have concluded that the "M Star", a fully-loaded Japanese oil tanker sailing home from Abu Dhabi through the Strait of Hormuz, which suffered easily-repaired damages in an incident of unknown origin on the night of July 28,2010, had been the target of a terrorist attack which failed to cause severe damages.

2. A local news agency, citing Coast Guard sources, has reported as follows: "An examination carried out by specialised teams had confirmed that the tanker had been the subject of a terrorist attack.UAE explosives experts who collected and examined samples found a dent on the starboard side above the water line and remains of home-made explosives on the hull. Probably the tanker had encountered a terrorist attack from a boat loaded with explosives."

3.US and Japanese officials, who are making their own investigation, have not yet come out with their finding. However, the suspicion of the UAE experts that a boat loaded with explosives had probably been involved in the attack corroborates a claim made on August 3 on behalf of a group called the Abdullah Azzam Brigades that it was responsible for the attack. The group posted a statement and a photo on an Islamist ( Al Faloja) website known to be used by pro-Al Qaeda terrorists. The statement said as follows: “Last Wednesday (July 28), after midnight, the martyrdom-seeking hero Ayyub al-Taishan blew himself up in the Japanese tanker M.Star in the Strait of Hormuz between the United Arab Emirates and Oman.” The photo posted on the web site was of the alleged suicide bomber (al- Taishan) dressed in an Arab-style white robe and cap, pointing at a picture of a supertanker on a videoscreen. The group claimed the attack was meant to be a blow to the global economy and the oil market and that those who have offered other explanations for the incident are trying to cover up the incident.

4.In 2005, a group with a similar name had claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack at the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh and for two unsuccessful rocket firings against two US warships in Jordan’s Aqaba port. The authenticity of the claims could not be established. It is not clear so far whether there is a separate pro-Al Qaeda organisation by that name or whether terrorists carrying out opportunistic attacks assume that name in homage to Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian of Jordanian origin who was among the first of the Arab volunteers to have gone to Pakistan to join the jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Many consider him to have been a mentor of Osama bin Laden.He used to live in Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa province of Pakistan, where he was killed under mysterious circumstances. He has many admirers in the Pashtun community in the Af-Pak region. When the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as the Pakistani Taliban is known, claimed responsibility for the attack on the Pearl Continental Hotel of Peshawar on June 9,2009, it claimed that the suicide attack was carried out by its Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade or AASB.

5. The "News" of Pakistan reported as follows on June 11,2009:

"KOHAT: An unknown al-Qaeda-linked group, Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade, claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s (June 9,2009) bombing at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, in which 17 people were killed and around 60 were injured.

"A spokesman of the organisation, Amir Muawiya, phoned reporters in Kohat city Wednesday (June 10,2009) to claim responsibility for the attack and threaten more such bombings. He said the bombing was in retaliation to the operations by the Pakistani armed forces at the behest of the US in Swat and rest of Malakand region and also in the tribal areas of Darra Adamkhel and Orakzai Agency. He claimed that important people including foreigners were killed when the hotel was car-bombed.

"Amir Muawiya is a Pakistani Taliban commander operating in the semi-tribal area of Darra Adamkhel, located between Peshawar and Kohat. His group, led by Commander Tariq Afridi, is affiliated to the Baitullah Mahsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

"According to Amir Muawiya, until now different groups used to claim responsibility for bomb attacks but now the central shura, or council, of Taliban and also al-Qaeda had decided that only the Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade would in future do so and others would keep quiet.

"When asked about evidence that his group indeed had carried out the suicide bombing at the Pearl Continental Hotel, Peshawar, the spokesman said his group would be willing to explode a small bomb outside the BBC office in Islamabad to prove the group’s power and capability.

"The spokesman also claimed responsibility for some other recent terrorist attacks in Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar. He said his group had carried out the attack on the Police Training Academy, Manawan, Lahore, the bombing of the Nato transport terminals on the Ring Road in Peshawar and other assaults.

"By naming the group as Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade, its founders apparently wanted to honour the late Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian from Jordan who was among the first Arab nationals who volunteered to join the Afghan jihad against the forces of the then Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He gave up his teaching job at the Islamic University in Islamabad and shifted to Peshawar to facilitate the Arab nationals who had been motivated by him to fight in Afghanistan.

"Abdullah Azzam is also credited with convincing Osama bin Laden, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Omar Abdur Rahman and others to come to Peshawar and take part in the Afghan war against the Soviet forces and Afghan communists. He was killed along with his two young sons in a bomb explosion in Peshawar in the late 1980s and all of them were buried at the Jalozai camp for Afghan refugees some 30 kilometres from Peshawar.

"Amir Muawiya did not explain the kind of links the Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade had with al-Qaeda or the identity of the leader of the group. He also did not say as to how many Arab nationals were members of this group. It was not possible to confirm the claims of this largely unfamiliar group." ( End of the "News" report)

6. Did the terrorist or terrorists, who carried out the attack on the Pearl Continental Hotel and now on the Japanese tanker, come from the same organisation, namely, the TTP or were they co-ordinated by the same command and control, namely that of Al Qaeda----either from Pakistan's North Waziristan or Yemen? That is a question, which needs looking into.

7. The modus operandi of launching a suicide attack with a boat filled with explosives used against the Japanese tanker resembles the MO used earlier by Al Qaeda for attacks on US naval ship USS Cole in Aden in October 2000 and a French tanker Limberg off Aden in October 2002.An Al Qaeda suicide bomber rammed the American destroyer Cole in the port of Aden, killing 17 American sailors. Limburg, was attacked in a similar manner on October 6,2002, a few miles off the coast of Aden, and one Bulgarian crewman was killed.

8.The French tanker, carrying crude oil from Iran to Malaysia, was in the Gulf of Aden off Yemen to pick up more oil. It was sailing under charter for the Malaysian oil company Petronas. An explosives-filled dinghy rammed the starboard side of the tanker and detonated. The vessel caught fire and oil leaked into the Gulf of Aden. Local forensic experts found traces of TNT on the tanker. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack. A statement attributed to bin Laden in jihadi web sites said: " By exploding the oil tanker in Yemen, the holy warriors hit the umbilical cord and lifeline of the crusader community, reminding the enemy of the heavy cost of blood and the gravity of losses they will pay as a price for their continued aggression on our community and looting of our wealth."

9. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was suspected to have been responsible for the attack. He was earlier suspected in the attack on USS Cole too.On February 3, 2006, Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeiee, who had been sentenced to death for the Limburg attack, and 22 other suspected or convicted Al Qaeda members escaped from jail in Yemen. Jamal al-Badawi, who organised the USS Cole bombing, was also among the escapees.Thirteen of the 23 escapees had been convicted for their role in the Cole and Limburg bombings. On October 1, 2006, al-Rabeiee and Mohammed Daylami were shot dead by Yemeni security forces in the capital Sanaa where they were hiding after escaping. One of the escapees was arrested. There was no information regarding the whereabouts of the remaining 20 escapees. There is a possibility that some of the escapees might have played a role in the attack on the Japanese tanker.

10. The attempt to blow up an American plane over Detroit on December 25,2009, the failed attempt to cause an explosion in Times Square in New York on May 1,2010, and the failed attack on the Japanese tanker have one common feature---- all the three were well-planned and well-strategised attacks that failed due to poor execution by the terrorists deputed and not due to the vigilance of the intelligence and security agencies. If the attacks had succeeded, the consequences might have been severe.

11. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was involved in the Detroit attempt. The TTP in the New York attempt. Who was involved in the Hormuz attempt? (8-8-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )