Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Intelligence Brief: Aqaba Attack

Drafted By: Erich Marquardt

The August 19, 2005 attack on two U.S. warships at the port of Aqaba in Jordan raises concern that the ongoing insurgency in Iraq could, in the future, have a destabilizing effect on the region. Jordanian intelligence believes that the main perpetrators of the attack had come over the border from Iraq, smuggling weapons in a vehicle. The attack raises the specter of future attacks by militants who are veterans of the insurgency in Iraq, similar to the way that fighters involved in the Afghan struggle against the Soviet Union joined together to take on select Muslim rulers and the countries that supported them.

Attempted Attack on U.S. Warships in Jordan

On August 22, Jordanian authorities arrested Mohammed Hassan Abdullah al-Sihly, a Syrian whom they believe was heavily involved in planning the August 19 attacks. Authorities think that the other three came across the border from Iraq. Two of the three were thought to be al-Sihli's sons and the third was the possible ringleader of the attacks, an Iraqi known as Mohammed Hamid Hussein. The three from Iraq apparently used forged identification documents to make their way into Jordan from the al-Karameh border crossing with Iraq.

In addition, authorities think that a Jordanian blacksmith may have assisted the militants in organizing the attack by having a role in the setup of the rocket launches that would be used to target the U.S. warships.

It is believed that the men smuggled seven Katyusha rockets from Iraq into Amman in a Mercedes equipped with an additional gas tank, which was used to hide the rockets. Once in Jordan, the militants rented a flat about eight kilometers (five miles) from the port of Aqaba.

On the day of the attack, three Katyusha rockets were launched at two U.S. military warships that were at the port, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Ashland. The rockets overshot the warships, hitting a Jordanian military warehouse and killing its guard; another rocket landed in Eilat in Israel, but did not cause any major casualties. While the rockets missed the U.S. warships, it was a very close call and could have caused a lot of damage to the U.S. ships, and also would have grabbed major media attention.

Since the launching of the rockets was controlled by a timing device, the militants were able to be removed from the scene when the attack was executed. Because of this, the three Iraqis were able to leave Jordan and escape into Iraq.

Attack Directed from Guerrillas in Iraq

But the key moment of the investigation came when authorities stated that the cell was directed by an unknown insurgent group in Iraq. The Jordanian government concluded that the militants were "in constant touch with their organization in Iraq during preparation for the attack."

In an Internet statement, the Brigades of the Martyr Abdullah Azzam immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks; however, it is not clear whether the organization actually had a role. The group has laid claim to attacks in the past such as the July 2005 attacks in Sharm al-Sheikh Egypt that killed more than 80 people.

Then, on August 23, Al-Qaeda in Iraq -- which is led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- claimed that it had perpetrated the attack. The Internet claim of responsiblity read, "God has enabled your brothers in the military wing of Qaeda in Iraq to plan for the Aqaba invasion a while ago. After finishing the preparations and deciding on the targets, your brothers launched the attacks." Al-Zarqawi, who is the United States' second most wanted terrorist, is originally from Jordan and is wanted by officials there.

The Bottom Line

While Jordanian authorities investigate which group was responsible for the attack, the importance of the incident was that it involved militants who originated in Iraq. In the past, Islamist militants have used their military experience in a country to achieve their political and strategic objectives. In Afghanistan, veterans from the insurgency against the Soviet Union later formed various militant groups, the most prominent being al-Qaeda.

The prolonged failure to stabilize Iraq will result in members of the insurgency using their military experience to land political and strategic blows in countries neighboring Iraq. These blows could be aimed at the United States -- as seen in the Aqaba attacks -- or at governments that regularly suppress Islamists, such as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.


Post a Comment

<< Home