Al-Qaida offshoot threatens PA heads

Death threats distributed on leaflets; Abbas' home in Ramallah cordoned off.

abbas angry 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
abbas angry 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority officials here expressed deep concern over the weekend about reports that al-Qaida was planning to assassinate top PA leaders. The threats have prompted PA security forces to take strict measures to guarantee the safety of the leaders, including PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, whose villa in Ramallah has been completely cordoned off. The latest measures were taken after a hitherto unknown group calling itself al-Tawhid and Jihad [Unification and Holy War] distributed leaflets in the Gaza Strip threatening to kill a number of senior officials belonging to Abbas's Fatah party. This is the first time that the group, which is believed to be headed by Jordanian arch-terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, has issued a leaflet in Gaza, indicating that al-Qaida elements had begun operating in the area. Radical Palestinian groups have generally avoided issuing direct death threats against PA leaders, but PA leaders say that with the recent disclosure that al-Qaida has managed to establish cells in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they feared that its members would target Abbas and other Fatah leaders. The leaflet specifically mentioned the names of five Abbas loyalists who it said would soon be "slaughtered" as apostates: Muhammad Dahlan, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Samir Mashharawi, Nabil Amr and Abu Ali Shaheen. "We hereby declare that we have begun operating in Palestine," the leaflet said, heaping praise on Zarqawi and al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. "We have deiced to revive the sunnah [one of the sources of Islamic jurisprudence] of slaughter against these people to avoid dissension." Zarqawi's followers are believed to be behind a spate of gruesome killings of foreign nationals in Iraq over the past three years. Most of the victims had their throats slashed in front of cameras. An Hamas spokesman denied any connection to the threats, saying they did not believe that al-Qaida had set up cells in Gaza. "Hamas does not have any links with al-Qaida," said PA cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad. Other Hamas leaders claimed that Fatah was planning to assassinate some of their members, pointing out that Fatah gunmen had issued threats against senior Hamas representatives in the past few weeks. Muwafak Matar, a senior Fatah activist in the Gaza Strip, strongly condemned the threat as an attempt to spark civil war in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "Why are the Zarqawis of Palestine focusing their efforts on issuing threats to kill Palestinians?" he asked. "Why now and what's their goal?" He added: "Doesn't the Palestinian citizen have the right to shout, 'Enough is enough' We have reached the red line of tensions and restraint." Dahlan, who has been accused by Hamas of spearheading a US-led conspiracy to bring down the new Hamas cabinet, warned against attempts by "suspicious elements" to liquidate PA officials. "They are seeking to spread confusion," he said. "We are taking these threats very seriously and we even know the identity of those behind them." Dahlan also attacked the Hamas cabinet for forming a new security force in the Gaza Strip consisting of "militiamen and masked gunmen." Several Hamas-linked Web sites have been waging a merciless hate campaign against Dahlan over the past few weeks, accusing him of conspiring with Israel and the US and financial corruption. One of the sites claimed that Dahlan recently bought a tower in Dubai for $100 million, while another quoted him as having ridiculed Islam and the Koran. Other Web sites have openly called for the execution of Dahlan for his alleged role in combating Hamas and Islamic Jihad when he served as commander of the Preventive Security Force between 1994 and 2003. One of Dahlan's aides told The Jerusalem Post that he was seriously considering suing the Web sites that had published the inflammatory material. "They are spreading lies and rumors and this is very dangerous," he said. "We have appealed to the Ministry of Information to interfere to stop this despicable campaign." A senior PA official revealed that tough security measures had been taken around Abbas's residence here. Scores of heavily armed officers belonging to Force 17, the PA's "presidential guard," have blocked all roads leading to the villa and those living within the vicinity are now required to present special ID cards enabling them to move around freely. The official said the decision to beef up security around Abbas's residence was taken in the wake of threats by Hamas and other groups to assassinate PA leaders. "We are taking these threats very seriously, especially in the wake of the growing tensions between Hamas and Fatah and the ongoing incitement against President Abbas and his staff," he said. PA security sources claimed that an underground tunnel leading to Abbas's other villa in Gaza City was recently discovered by chance. They said a number of suspects were being questioned. One source said it was still not clear whether the underground tunnel was to be used by people who wanted to harm Abbas or Dahlan, whose office is located across the street.