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Anthrax Mail: Significance of the Mailing Dates

Anthrax Letters: The Significance of the Mailing Dates


By Ross Getman

The anthrax mailing were on the date of the Camp David Accord and the related assassination of Anwar Sadat (Armed Forces Day). Expert Michael Scheuer, formerly head of the CIA's Osama Bin Laden unit, once said that Al Qaeda does not plan attacks around important dates, so far as the CIA can glean. But Mr. Scheuer should take Ayman at his word when he says he at least plans his messages around anniversaries.

For example, Zawahiri issued messages in 2004 on the third anniversary of 9/11 and then in 2005 on the third anniversary of the transfer of prisoners to Guantanamo. He said: "These days we are marking three years since the transportation of the first group of Muslim prisoners was sent to the Guantanamo prison ... " The Vanguards of Conquest did the same thing in the late 1990s. Just as his thinking on weaponizing anthrax was gaining traction in emails in the Spring of 1999 to Al Qaeda's military commander, Egyptian Atef, the Vanguards invoked an anniversary relating to the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and issued a statement marking its 20th anniversary on April 1, 1999. The group said at the time the statement reiterating its enmity toward the US and Israel was issued to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the treaty in March 1979. Signed on March 26, 1979, the Egypt-Israel peace treaty was a direct result of the Camp David Peace Accords, signed in September 1978.

The first round of letters was sent to ABC, CBS, NBC, the New York Post, and the publisher of the National Enquirer and Sun. Letters were sent to Senators Daschle and Leahy in a second batch, using a much more highly refined product. The letters to the news organizations were mailed -- coincidentally or not -- on September 17 or September 18, either the day the Camp David Accord was signed in 1978 or the next day when it was approved by the Israeli knesset. Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheik, in the early 1980s, said: "We reject Camp David and we regret the normalization of relations with Israel. We also reject all the commitments that were made by the traitor Sadat, who deviated from Islam." He continued: "As long as the Camp David Agreement stands, this conflict between us and the government will continue."

At the time of the anthrax mailings, the Camp David Accord still dominated Zawahiri's thinking. In October 2001, in Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet, Al-Zawahiri argued that the Camp David Accord sought to turn Sinai into a disarmed area to serve as a buffer zone between Egypt and Israel. He cites the peace treaty between the two countries, particularly issues related to the armament of the Egyptian Army inside Sinai. He claims that Egypt has restored Sinai formally but it remains in the hands of Israel militarily. Al-Zawahiri cites many examples about the US flagrant support for Israel, including the US pressure on Egypt to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at a time when Israel publicly declares that it will not sign the treaty because of its special circumstances.

Despite this, Zawahiri says, the United States sympathizes with Israel and overlooks its actions. This means that the United States has deliberately left the nuclear weapons in the hands of Israel to threaten its Arab neighbors. Al-Zawahiri argues in his book that the western states have considered Israel's presence in the region a basic guarantee for serving the Western interests.

Taking into account the fact that there was no mail postmarked with a Trenton postmark on Columbus Day, October 8, the letter to Senator Tom Daschle postmarked October 9 may actually have been mailed October 6. (The FBI, of course, may know the date it was mailed based on information that has not been disclosed.) Some press reports, however, suggest that they are considering that the mailing may have been at anytime during the October 6-October 9 period. October 6 was the day Anwar Sadat was assassinated for his role in the Camp David Accord. President Sadat was assassinated on the national holiday called "Armed Forces Day." He was killed during an annual holiday parade which marks the day, October 6, 1973, that Egypt made a critical successful surprise attack on Israel during the 1973 war. The assassination was a crime of opportunity following the arrest of a large number of jihadists in the preceding months -- the assassin, who was in the military and asked to be in the parade, was upset that his brother had been detained and tortured. Kamal Habib, founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and writer for the Islamic Assembly of North American ("IANA") quarterly magazine, who spent 10 years in prison in connection with the assassination, told academic Fawaz Gerges: "It was not a well-coordinated operation, and it succeeded by a miracle."

In his Fall 2001 Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet, Zawahiri explained that the US support for Israel (at Egypt's expense) was well-illustrated by the historic 33-day airlift to Israel after this October 6 attack. He argues that the US support for Israel made the difference between success or failure for Egypt. Al-Zawahiri describes how the United States shipped weapons, ammunition, and tanks to Israel for 33 days, with the goal being to compensate Israel for its war losses and to swiftly upgrade the combat capabilities.

He explained in his Fall 2001 book: "The animosity to Israel and America in the hearts of islamists is indivisible. It is an animosity that has provided the 'al-Qa'dia' and the epic of jihad in Afghanistan with a continuous flow of 'Arab Afghans.'" Regarding the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Zawahiri adds: "Whoever examines the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty will realize that it was intended to be a permanent treaty from which Egypt could not break loose. It was concluded in an attempt to establish on the ground, by force and coercion, a situation whereby it would be difficult to change by any government hostile to Israel that comes after Al-Sadat."

Complicating consideration of the issue somewhere, on October 5, 2001, the shura member of EIJ and former head of Bin Laden's farm in the Sudan, Mahjoub, had his bail denied on October 5. A threat letter had been sent in late January 2001 threatening use of mailed anthrax had been sent to the immigration minister signing his security certificate upon the announcement of his bail hearing. A study published in September 2001 showed that the anthrax simulant leaked from the pores in the envelope and immediately dispersed throughout the room upon opening.

The 2005 bombing in Egypt at a Sinai resort was on July 23, which is Revolution Day, a national holiday in Egypt celebrating the Egyptian revolution. It commemorates the 1952 overthrow of King Farouk's monarchy, led by Gamal Abdel Nassar. Perhaps a holiday weekend was chosen in order to maximize the number of casualties. The bombing last year at Taba resort in Egypt was on October 7.

Whatever else his faults, Ayman Zawahiri is not the type of man who forgets an anniversary.

*************

Mr. Getman maintains the website http://www.anthraxandalqaeda.com

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