June 1, 2004 | The New York Daily News Service

Beware of the Terrorist Moles

Last week's dire warning from Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller was deadly clear: Al Qaeda is alive and well and planning a large-scale attack in the U.S. and/or on American interests overseas this summer or fall.

As we saw in this weekend's terror attack in Saudi Arabia, U.S. targets are not all that terrorists have in their sights. Al Qaeda, particularly, is determined to penetrate internal security and defense agencies in the Mideast, carry out a series of sensational attacks from Pakistan to Morocco, then exploit the mayhem that follows to topple regimes.

According to intelligence sources I interviewed while researching a report for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the plan is already underway in Iraq, where Al Qaeda is licking its chops in anticipation of the U.S. handing control over to a new Iraqi regime.

There are also striking examples in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. As my sources tell it, three Yemeni midrank military officers were arrested recently and charged with being Al Qaeda members. The three – Navy Lt. Hussein ali-Hussein, Engineering Corps Capt. Kassem Aliwa abd al-Wahad and Army Capt. Badr Salem ali Saleh – were nabbed while trying to flee aboard a ship leaving the same Red Sea coast where Al Qaeda agents tore apart the U.S. destroyer Cole in 2000.

The three military moles reportedly fessed up under interrogation – never a gentle process in the Arab world – and named others. As a result, says my source, “several dozen” Yemeni military officers are now under investigation, and Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih has warned his senior commanders that this may only be the tip of the sand dune.

Al Qaeda also has apparently infiltrated a number of nongovernmental agencies. Among them, the Yemen Women's Rights Organization. My source explains: “Because of Islamic society's strict taboo on body searches for women, Al Qaeda finds women ideal couriers.”

The situation in Saudi Arabia seems worse. Though Saudi officials frequently cloud or completely deny the facts, intelligence shows that two Saudi Air Force pilots, Lt. Safr al-Shahrani and Major Sayyaf al-Bishi, were arrested last year on suspicion of having Al Qaeda ties and of planting missiles in the Al Qawiza area south of Jeddah Port. Their reported plan: attack U.S. military vessels.

There are also reports that the Al Qaeda terrorists whose suicide bomb killed 35 people in Riyadh last year were secretly helped by members of the Saudi National Guard, the same force that supposedly protects the Saudi Royal Family. In Khobar this weekend, the terrorists reportedly wore Saudi Army fatigue uniforms. Did they steal them? Or were they supplied to them by somebody within the national guard?

There are similar reports of internal infiltration coming from Sudan and Pakistan. It's clearer than ever that America and her allies must stop Al Qaeda at all costs.