Al Qaida may have tried to kill Clinton

By MARTIN AROSTEGUI   |   Oct. 18, 2002 at 6:34 PM   |   0 comments

The following story is a re-release of an article that United Press International originally published by on Feb. 6, 2002.

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Al Qaida may have tried to kill former President Clinton, apparently while he was in office, and perhaps planned further attempts on world leaders, United Press International has learned.

Specific references to Clinton were found among handwritten notes and sketches of U.S. Secret Service protective methods recovered from the Shomali compound near Kabul where al Qaida members received specialized training in assassination and hostage taking.

"We have attempted to kill Clinton, but failed," documents in Arabic released exclusively to United Press International Monday state. Although the text indicates the attack was planned around some high-level conference or international summit, it does not mention an exact date. Analysts in Kabul believe the attempt was planned about two years ago.

Nor does the text reveal whether the plan was abandoned or had failed in some other way.

Security experts in Kabul believe Osama bin Laden's group may have been thinking of a second attack on the former president, this time during a golf tournament.

"The documents clearly list how presidential protective details are structured, what they do and what vulnerabilities to look for," said J. Keith Idema, an American civilian adviser to the Afghan United Front, also known as the Northern Alliance, one of the members of the Afghan Interim Administration. Idema has analyzed captured al Qaida records, including graphic terrorist training video tapes recently aired on CBS' "60 Minutes" television program.

"Al Qaida studied the strong points and weak points of Secret Service protection, concluding that streets and open areas are the best locations for a presidential assassination," added the former member of the U.S. Army's elite special forces. An al Qaida assassination manual includes a study of U.S. presidential protection.

"Bodyguards always watch the crowd around the principal, instead of watching him," said one passage that concluded a relaxed, open setting would be the ideal environment for an attack. Another part of the text analyzes the sequence of vehicles in presidential motorcades, noting the heavily armed reaction teams go behind the presidential limousine.

"The terrorists could decide to take out the reaction team's vehicle first in order to isolate the president's car," Idema said.

High-level assassinations using mock-ups of city streets and golf courses were among the operations most frequently practiced at the Shomali camp, which was discovered virtually intact following the collapse of the Taliban regime. The 4-square-mile compound, where al Qaida's most hardened teams trained in urban guerrilla tactics borrowed from Israeli, British and American special forces, was never hit by U.S. airstrikes because satellite intelligence apparently failed to identify it.

Idema observed al Qaida did not train with sniper rifles or silenced weapons, preferring the shock effect of an ambush using heavy-duty weapons, like rocket launchers and machine guns. Their preference for spectacular assaults was demonstrated Sept. 11 when the terrorist network crashed hijacked airliners into the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In one sequence of the al Qaida videos, the group conducts a mock assault on a golf tournament, pulling weapons out of golf bags to fire on a group of "players."

"This was very possibly a preparation for the attempt on Clinton, whose golf weekends were well known," another counter-terrorist expert said. There was no indication in the available documents Clinton specifically was being targeted, however. At the very least, Idema pointed out, the mock assault was indicative "of al Qaida's understanding of the Western mind set. The group knows where our VIPs tend to congregate and are most vulnerable."

Other security experts also noted al Qaida training exercises involved urban hit-and-run ambushes using pickup trucks and motorcycles. One taped sequence shows a two-man team on a motorcycle attacking a moving motorcade with explosives while another team opens fire from the back of an open van.

A new tape Idema uncovered only days ago shows other secret al Qaida training consisted of a mock raid on a simulated U.S. embassy in which the American flag is actually toppled and burned. That tape has not yet been released.

The captured documents also included a codebook apparently used by al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to give instructions to his international network by quoting select phrases from the Koran. For example, "Allah-u-Akbar" -- "God is great" -- uttered at a certain point on a televised videotape, could mean "lie low."

Although al Qaida may be dispersed and under too much pressure to mount a major attack against President Bush or other Western leaders at the present time, the network could be reorganizing into urban guerrilla cells around the world. Terrorism experts said the group could revert to urban guerrilla tactics, such as individual kidnappings, used in the past by such organizations as Italy's Red Brigades or Spain's Basque separatist guerrillas.

In Afghanistan itself, the United States may claim its air war has eliminated al Qaida's strongholds, but in reality, large remnants of the group are hidden throughout the country, often with the assistance of local warlords. Afghan officials also fear al Qaida could use its expertise at penetrating VIP protection to strike closer to home, targeting Afghanistan's Interim Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai or other members of Karzai's cabinet.

Lacking any adequately trained national security service, Karzai relies on the British Royal Marines counter-terrorist unit, the so-called Special Boat Service, for his personal protection. The SBS team, which stays close to Karzai around the clock, arrived in Kabul at the time of the interim government's swearing-in ceremony last December.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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