ARRESTS IN YEMEN
The Yemeni Ministry of Defense announced on April 6 that it was preparing charges against 172 Yemenis accused of being part of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, along with being involved in terrorist activities in Yemen. The announcement came in the form of an unidentified source from the ministry of defense, quoted on the ministry’s website (UPI, April 6). Additionally, a Yemeni government weekly, 26th of September, also reported on the upcoming prosecutions, noting that the suspects will face courts “in the coming days” (26th of September, April 6). The report, however, did not set an exact date for the actual trials. These latest arrests come after 23 inmates escaped from a high security prison in the capital of Sanaa on February 3; among the escapees, 13 were al-Qaeda suspects who were involved in the terrorist attacks on the USS Cole in 2000 and the French oil tanker MV Limburg that was attacked in the Gulf of Aden in 2002 (Terrorism Focus, February 7). Since the escape, six of the 23 fugitives have surrendered (Yemen Observer, April 3).
MOROCCAN AUTHORITIES FOIL AL-QAEDA PLOT
Moroccan authorities have arrested nine al-Qaeda suspects who were allegedly part of a plot to attack targets in Morocco, France and Italy (al-Jazeera, April 4). According to Morocco’s state news agency, MAP, “The nine suspects, arrested and brought before Rabat appeals court recently, are accused of setting up a criminal gang in view of preparing and carrying out terrorist attacks within the framework of collective plot” (MAP, April 3). According to the pro-government newspaper al-Alam, a Tunisian by the name of Mohamed Benhedi Msahel left his home in Italy and traveled to Algeria and Morocco to recruit militants. The plot included attacks on a train station in Milan, the destruction of a church in Bologna, and attacks on the French intelligence services in Paris and the U.S. Consulate in Rabat (al-Jazeera, April 4). The proposed attacks on Italy follow repeated warnings to Rome that it is being targeted by al-Qaeda due to its support of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Italian authorities recently confirmed that they prevented a terrorist attack that was to involve explosions on the Milan metro system, in addition to an attack on the San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, which has a painting depicting Prophet Muhammad burning in hell (ANSA, April 6). The attacks were timed to coincide with the Italian elections that took place on April 9 and 10 (Terrorism Monitor, March 23).
AL-QAEDA OPERATIVES INFILTRATE GAZA
Israeli and Palestinian authorities contend that al-Qaeda is attempting to conduct operations from the occupied territories, primarily in the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities allege that 10 operatives affiliated with al-Qaeda have moved into Gaza to begin preparations for attacks on Israel (Haaretz, April 5). The Israeli newspaper Haaretz states that sources in the Palestinian Authority believe that the terrorists moved into Gaza through the Rafah Terminal from Egypt; it is suspected that the 10 operatives are in the cities of Khan Yunis and Rafah. According to al-Hayat, Jordanian security officials recently told the paper that there is “a definite presence” of al-Qaeda terrorists in Gaza who are planning to attack “sensitive” targets (al-Hayat, April 4). Haaretz reports that the al-Qaeda operatives who entered through the Rafah Terminal were trained in explosives and large-scale attack strategy at camps in Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan (Haaretz, April 5). In another recent incident, on April 6 Israeli soldiers arrested a Palestinian who was accused of being recruited by al-Qaeda to conduct operations in the West Bank; the arrest took place in the village of Hizma (ynetnews.com, April 7). These latest reports come after Israel charged two Palestinians from the West Bank—Azzam Abu al-Ades and Bilal Hafanawi—as members of al-Qaeda on March 21. The prosecutions mark the first time that Israel has charged anyone with being a member of al-Qaeda. The two suspects were apprehended in December 2005 while crossing the Allenby Bridge into the West Bank from Jordan. Authorities contend that the militants were making preparations to attack economic targets in Israel, and possibly the French Hill section of Jerusalem.
PAKISTANI CLERIC ASSASSINATED IN SOUTH WAZIRISTAN
On April 2, tribesmen discovered the body of Maulvi Zahir Shah, a cleric who ran the Mazahirul Uloom Madrassah in Tajori in the Lakki Marwat district of the NWFP (Dawn, April 2). The cleric had been kidnapped on March 30. His body—found in Srarogha village in South Waziristan Agency—had a note attached that said he had been murdered due to his links with Americans (Dawn, April 2). According to the Associated Press, a local government official stated that Shah was involved in assisting authorities in running an FM radio station that included programs critical of militants (AP, April 3). The assassination follows a strategy by insurgents to kill all known pro-government clerics so that other clerics refrain from cooperating with the government (Terrorism Monitor, March 23). Another cleric recently killed is Maulana Sibghatullah, assassinated on March 22 in South Waziristan after the once pro-Taliban cleric distanced himself from the organization (Dawn, March 23).