Thursday, January 06, 2005

Kuwaiti 'cell' planned to hit joint exercise; 'Two to three' still held

This from teh Kuwait Arab Times

KUWAIT CITY (Agencies): Staunch US ally Kuwait uncovered a cell in its army that was plotting to attack American and other foreign forces in the country, the defence minister said Tuesday, amid suspicions the group could be linked to al-Qaeda. “It was the coalition forces and certainly the American army targetted because it is the largest,” Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah told AFP. “The number of those (still) arrested are two to three people,” he said, a day after Kuwait announced it was questioning an undisclosed number of soldiers planning to attack “friendly forces” in the country. Kuwaiti authorities are investigating “suspicions” that the soldiers could be linked to al-Qaeda, the minister said, declining at this stage to associate the suspects with the terror network.

“As long as it is under investigation, we cannot say this. No, I don’t say al-Qaeda (for sure) as long as there is an interrogation going on,” the minister said when asked if the group had links to al-Qaeda. Kuwaiti military personnel detained last week for plotting attacks against US troops had planned to strike during joint exercises, a security source said on Tuesday. “The group had intentions to attack foreign forces during training with the Kuwaiti army,” the source said. “They are now being interrogated by military intelligence.” Army Chief-of-Staff, Yousef Abdelrazzak al-Mulla, told Reuters military intelligence officials were questioning “no more than five soldiers”. “If any have proven links to the case then they will be referred to a martial court,” he said, adding those released had resumed their duties.

US embassy spokesman Mark Stroh told Reuters: “We are aware of the arrests and have been in close touch with the Kuwaiti authorities.” Kuwait has been cracking down on Islamic militants opposed to the presence of US forces in the country. Diplomats say sympathy for Saudi-born al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is on the rise among Kuwaiti youth. US forces and civilians in Kuwait, which served as the main launchpad for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, have been the target of a number of brazen attacks, two of them fatal. A US Marine was killed and another wounded in an attack by two Kuwaiti gunmen on Failaka island, east of the capital, in October 2002. The two assailants were subsequently killed.

Two US soldiers travelling on a highway south of Kuwait City in a civilian vehicle the following November were wounded when a Kuwaiti policeman shot them at point blank range. A Kuwaiti has been sentenced to life in prison for killing an American civilian contractor and wounding another in a highway ambush in Jan 2003 near a US army camp north of Kuwait City. Four US soldiers were slightly wounded when shots were fired at their vehicles in Dec 2003. The assailant was arrested. Twenty-two members of a group accused of recruiting fighters for Iraq are currently on trial in Kuwait. Around 25,000 US soldiers are stationed in Kuwait. But the country is also the main transit point for the coalition forces travelling to and from Iraq.

British, Polish, Japanese, Hungarian and South Korean soldiers are among coalition troops who are based in desert camps in Kuwait for as long as a week on their way into and out of Iraq. A Kuwaiti security source told AFP Monday that the soldiers’ arrests followed the extradition from Syria of a Kuwaiti who was heading for Iraq to fight American forces there. Al-Rai Al-Aam newspaper claimed the group was planning to attack US forces during the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast around Jan 21. Quoting security sources, it said members of the group had links with former servicemen who fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya and were dismissed from the Kuwaiti army.

In a Dec 16 audiotape, a voice attributed to terror chief Osama bin Laden called on his fighters to strike oil installations in the Gulf, as well as Iraq. Kuwait on Friday raised its state of alert almost to the maximum, boosting security around the country in the biggest show of force since the US-led Iraq war in March 2003. Armoured vehicles, with mounted machine-guns, and heavily armed security units stood guard at almost every government building, key installations and potential Western targets. The US embassy warned Dec 15 it had “credible information that terrorist groups” were preparing to carry out attacks in the country in the near future.

The Saudi branch of the al-Qaeda network said on Tuesday that it had sought to kill the interior minister and his son in a car bomb attack last week targeting his ministry in Riyadh, according to a statement posted on the Internet. “The Al-Muqrin squad (of al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula) prepared a difficult operation to kill Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, and his son,” said the statement, whose authenticity could not be confirmed. Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz is Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, while his son, Mohammad bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, is assistant interior minister for security affairs. Prince Nayef was outside Saudi Arabia when suspected al-Qaeda militants carried out twin suicide bombings in the capital last Wednesday targeting the interior ministry and a special forces base. Authorities said the blasts killed only the five suicide bombers although an unspecified number of people were injured.


BERLIN: Around 70,000 people have been trained in camps run by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, mainly in Afghanistan, a senior German police officer told a court on Tuesday. Testifying at the retrial of Mounir El Motassadeq, a Moroccan man accused of involvement in the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the officer said that the militants had received weapons training and religious instruction. Motassadeq, who is charged with complicity in the murder of some 3,000 people in the suicide hijackings and membership of a terrorist organisation, has acknowledged undertaking training in Afghanistan.

MELBOURNE: Australia is setting up rapid response teams able to deploy to airports across the country as part of measures to boost security against terror threats, the justice minister said Tuesday. The four teams will be based in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane and be ready to fly to any of the country’s 146 regional airports if needed, Justice Minister Chris Ellison said. “This will enhance greatly regional aviation security in Australia,” Ellison said. “This initiative is part of a wider package which includes joint training exercises, the strengthening of cockpit doors and providing, on demand, hand-held metal detectors for regional airports.

“It’s very important that our skies in Australia are not only safe but secure and of course this extends beyond just our capital cities,” he said. The scheme will cost 20.7 million Australian dollars ($16.1 million) over five years, he said. The first eight-member team began work in Melbourne on Tuesday and all four will be functioning by July, with members including bomb experts and bomb detector dogs, Ellison said.

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