Israeli intelligence identifies new explosives route from Sudan

Thursday, June 26, 2003

TEL AVIV Palestinian insurgents have found a new route for importing explosives to the Gaza Strip.

Israeli intelligence sources said Sudan has become a major source for Palestinian weapons, explosives and detonators. They said several Palestinian insurgency groups based in Sudan arrange for shipments of material from Khartoum through Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula.

From Sinai, the sources said, the weapons and explosives are smuggled through tunnels into the Gaza Strip. The sources said the Sudanese route has become a boon for Palestinian and Egyptian arms smugglers over the last year.

The Israeli assertion came as Greece seized a ship with a cargo of 680 tons of explosives and 8,000 detonators in the Ionian Sea. The Comoros-flagged Baltic Sky, monitored by an NATO task force, obtained the explosives and detonators from Tunisia and refueled in Istanbul, Middle East Newsline reported.

The explosives were said to have consisted of industrial-grade ammonium nitrate, which a Khartoum-based company said it ordered for road construction. Greek officials said ammonium nitrate has been used in several major attacks on civilian targets, including the 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia.

Egypt has long known of the weapons route, the sources said. But they said that despite appeals by Israel and the United States, the regime of President Hosni Mubarak has failed to stop the weapons flow.

[On Wednesday, Israeli authorities captured a suspected suicide bomber with a 10-kilogram bomb who was said to have been on his way to an attack in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops killed two suspected insurgents in Khan Yunis.]

The intelligence sources did not detail Palestinian means to fund the weapons procurement. But on Tuesday, Israeli authorities handed down indictments against Islamic leaders that charged that they funneled at least $6.8 million to Hamas members in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The indictment said at least two of the Israeli Muslims were in contact with an Iranian liasion with Palestinian insurgency groups. The liasion was identified as Nabil Mahzoumeh, deported by Israel in 1985.

Greek intelligence chief Pavlos Apostolidis has not ruled out that Al Qaida might have ordered the explosives. But he said the Tunisian shipment appeared too large for any one insurgency group.

"I cannot imagine how Al Qaida could take 680 tons of TNT, but on the other hand we cannot find out what it was intended for," Apostolidis said in a television interview. "So I cannot exclude that Al Qaida or another group close to it was the final destination of the shipment."

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