Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Bomb-Builder, 'Out of the Shadows'

Syrian Linked to Al Qaeda Plots Describes Plan to Attack Cruise Ship in Turkey

By Karl VickWashington Post Foreign ServiceMonday
February 20, 2006
Page A01

ANTALYA, Turkey -- Right up to the hot August night his apartment exploded, Louai Sakka's neighbors took him for a newlywed. The lanky Syrian was not seen much in the corridors of the high-rise residential complex where he lived in this sunny resort city, but he spent time nuzzling an attractive young brunette and sipping beer beside the pool.

His real identity began to emerge shortly after 3 a.m. on Aug. 4, when the windows of Apt. 1703 blew out, showering the parking lot with the contents of the kitchen and bits and pieces of the massive bomb Sakka had been painstakingly assembling in the living room. Sakka, who escaped the inferno only to be arrested two days later, turned out to be a senior operative for al Qaeda and intimately linked to major terrorist plots in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, where he had worked beside Abu Musab Zarqawi, a longtime confederate.

He showed up in Antalya last summer with tens of thousands of dollars in cash and a face altered by plastic surgery. After his arrest, he told investigators he had planned to die steering a yacht laden with explosives into a cruise ship he believed was filled with U.S. soldiers and which was already approaching across the turquoise Mediterranean.

The attack, just 48 hours away when the chemicals ignited, was intended to crown a wide-ranging career in terrorism. Sakka played a role in the so-called millennium plot to attack hotels in Amman, Jordan, on Dec. 31, 1999. Turkish prosecutors also describe him as the planner of the 2003 truck bombings that killed 57 people in Istanbul, financed with $160,000 in al Qaeda funds.

Between attacks, according to his attorney, Sakka provided false passports and other means to help Islamic militants through the web of paths that U.S. military officials call rat lines. The routes crisscross Turkey to and from Afghanistan, Chechnya and, since 2003, Iraq, where Sakka traveled after the Istanbul bombings. Insurgents say Louai al-Turki, as he was known there, played a prominent role in major attacks on U.S. bases and commanded insurgent forces in Fallujah when it served as the militants' headquarters..........

Southern Serbia: The second Kosovo?

Can Karpat, AIA Turkish and Balkan Section

It seems as though the Albanians of southern Serbia are “blackmailing” the Serbian authorities: Their demand for political and territorial autonomy will be more radical only if Serbia manages to divide Kosovo at the end of status negotiations. In this case, the Presevo Valley will be the compensation for northern Kosovo. Will Serbia face a second Kosovo? How further will the Serbian land disintegrate?

The dissatisfaction of the Albanians living in the three towns of Southern Serbia, Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja does not date from yesterday. A 1946 decision by the Yugoslav government to separate these three municipalities from Kosovo and place them under direct Serbian Republic jurisdiction was the beginning of the ethnic tension. In 1974 when Kosovo had been granted autonomy the status of these three towns did not change. In March 1992, during the period of the nationalist fire igniting the former Yugoslavia, the Albanians held an unofficial referendum in which they voted nearly unanimously to re-attach the Presevo Valley to Kosovo. The Albanians of southern Serbia are culturally and economically identical to those of Kosovo. The two Albanian communities speak the same dialectic (Gheg) and they have close relations with one another. Besides, this neighbourhood with Kosovo makes the assimilation of the Albanians of southern Serbia very problematic. In fact, there are not much Serb in the area to be assimilated with. Except Medvedja, the Albanians form the majority: in Presevo 90 percent of the population and in Bujanovac 54.5 percent (2002 census). In sum, nearly 70.000 Albanians live in the region. In 2000, the general dissatisfaction turned into an open unrest. The Liberation Army of Presevo-Medvedja-Bujanovac (UCPMB) made its first appearance during the funeral of two Albanians killed by the Serbian police in Dobrosin (a village near Bujanovac) on the 30th of January 2000. The Albanian insurgency was to last for 16 months.......