Bin Laden’s dangerous Mideast links

As Western security agencies intensify their search for possible cells of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terrorist group, reliable Arab diplomatic sources in Athens said yesterday that the network could have a very different and far more dangerous dimension. They claim that bin Laden’s network is not made up only of illegal, dissident groups but has managed to infiltrate the military, the secret services and even government circles of Arab states, including the two leading countries of the Arab world, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. According to these sources, the heart of bin Laden’s network is not in Afghanistan but in the country of his birth, Saudi Arabia. It is well known that bin Laden, a member of the Saudi economic elite, enjoyed close ties with the royal family during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He clashed with the family when King Fahd allied himself with the United States in the Gulf War and after the bomb attack against US forces in Riyadh in November 1995. What is not known is that bin Laden never severed his ties with the strongest member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Abdullah, who, in effect, is ruling the kingdom as Fahd has been confined to a wheelchair. Abdullah, the crown prince, is not favored by Washington because of his disapproval of the US military presence but also because of his strong anti-Israeli position on the Palestinian issue. Well-informed diplomatic sources of another Arab country say that Abdullah kept in touch with bin Laden through the Saudi secret service chief, Prince Turki, who disappeared in late August. The danger of a clash between the more pro-Western and the extreme Islamist sides led the royal family to divide the armed forces between the regular military and the national guard, so that no one heir to the throne could completely control the armed forces. The sources said that bin Laden managed to exploit these divisions, gaining a strong foothold in the armed forces. Bin Laden is also said to have a foothold in the armed forces and intelligence services of Yemen and Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak is said to have refused any Egyptian participation in the US campaign out of fear of a palace coup. The four-day barrage by Laliotis and government spokesman Dimitris Reppas against Gerakis – accompanied by hints that a cabal of prosecutors and judges is working in cahoots with ND against the government – prompted 60 prosecutors yesterday to call an emergency meeting of their union on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

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