Skip to comments.No Question About It - Saddam and the Terrorists
Posted on 09/19/2003 7:02:00 AM PDT by Peach
September 19, 2003, 9:00 a.m. No Question About It Saddam and the terrorists.
When President Bush stated that "we've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th" attacks, his critics quickly spun this into "Saddam Hussein had no links to terrorism." This was despite the fact that in the same breath the president had said, "there's no question that Saddam Hussein had al Qaeda ties." According to Editor & Publisher, the story got little play, though it is certain to come back to haunt the president during the election campaign when Democrats seek to wedge the Iraq and al Qaeda issues. Thus, it is useful to review the bidding on the known facts of the relationship between the two.
While it is still debatable to what degree Saddam Hussein supported the global terrorist network, it is becoming increasingly clear that Iraq provided terror groups with some forms of logistical, intelligence, transportation, training, weapons, and other support. The emerging evidence points to the conclusion that al Qaeda had a cooperative relationship that is, a strategic alliance with Iraq. The conventional wisdom has been that this could not have been the case because bin Laden, an Islamic fanatic reactionary, and Saddam, a secular Baathist modernizer, could never align or cooperate. On a personal level, they probably hated each other. If intelligence analysts approach their task with the premise that a relationship could not exist, they will lack the analytical framework necessary to piece together the clues that could demonstrate that it did. Maybe an Elvis Presley/Richard Nixon-type photo of the two would convince them, but not much else.
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 101 But the premise is facile. The principle that drove Iraq and al Qaeda together is one of the oldest in international-relations theory the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The motive for their alliance was a common hatred for the United States and Israel. Ideology seldom determines wartime-alliance structures, and for both Saddam and Osama the 1990s were wartime. The Iraq/al Qaeda combination is as reasonable as the temporary strategic alliance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, or Syrian and American troops fighting side by side during Operation Desert Storm. (Note that it is hard to distinguish Syria from Iraq ideologically, and Baathist solidarity was certainly not a motivating factor in the relationship between the two countries.) Moreover, despite their personal dislike for each other, Saddam Hussein was the only state leader openly to praise bin Laden's attacks on the U.S. (if not bin Laden himself).
Saddam Hussein showed no reluctance to support terrorism per se during his career. The fact that he gave money to the families of Palestinian suicide terrorists and had a close working relationship with the PLO was well known, and something he admitted. The Iraqi regime maintained a terrorist training camp at Salman Pak near Baghdad where foreign terrorists were instructed in methods of taking over commercial aircraft using weapons no more sophisticated than knives (interesting thought that). Saddam also harbored Abu Nidal and other members of his international terror organization (ANO) in Baghdad. Abu Nidal died under suspicious circumstances in Baghdad in August 2002, an apparent multiple gunshot suicide. Abd-al-Rahman Isa, ANO's second in command based in Amman, Jordan, was kidnapped September 11, 2002, and has not been heard from since. Coalition forces did recently apprehend ANO member Khala Khadr al-Salahat, the man who reputedly made the bomb for the Libyans that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. He was hiding out in Baghdad. Another bomb maker, Abdul Rahman Yasin, was also a Baghdad resident. He was one of the conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who had fled there after being detained briefly by the FBI. Recent document finds in Tikrit show that Iraq supplied Yasin with both money and sanctuary. The 1993 WTC attack was masterminded by Yasin's associate Ramzi Yousef, who received financial support from al Qaeda through Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a key 9/11 planner.
There is also the case of Abu Zubayr, an officer in Saddam's secret police who was also the ringleader of an al Qaeda cell in Morocco. He attended the September 5, 2001 meeting in Spain with other al Qaeda operatives, including Ramzi Bin-al-Shibh, the 9/11 financial chief. Abu Zubayr was apprehended in May, 2002, while putting together a plot to mount suicide attacks on U.S. ships passing through the straits of Gibraltar. He has allegedly since stated that Iraq trained and supplied chemical weapons to al Qaeda. In the fall of 2001 al Qaeda refugees from Afghanistan took refuge in northern Iraq until they were driven out by Coalition forces, and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, an al Qaeda terrorist active in Europe and North Africa, fled from Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has reportedly been sent back to Iraq to coordinate al Qaeda activities there.
Iraq made direct payments to the Philippine-based al Qaeda-affiliated Abu Sayyaf group. Hamsiraji Sali, an Abu Sayyaf leader on the U.S. most-wanted terrorist list, stated that his gang received about one million pesos (around $20,000) each year from Iraq, for chemicals to make bombs. The link was substantiated immediately after a bombing in Zamboanga City in October 2002 (in which three people were killed including an American Green Beret), when Abu Sayyaf leaders called up the deputy secretary of the Iraqi embassy in Manila, Husham Hussain. Six days later, the cell phone used to call Hussain was employed as the timer on a bomb set to go off near the Philippine military's Southern Command headquarters. Fortunately, the bomb failed to detonate, and the phone yielded various contact numbers, including Hussain's and Sali's. This evidence, coupled with other intelligence the Philippine government would not release, led to Hussain's expulsion in February 2003. In March, ten Iraqi nationals, some with direct links to al Qaeda, were rounded up in the Philippines and deported as undesirable aliens. In addition, two more consulate officials were expelled for spying.
The most intriguing potential link is reflected in documents found by Toronto Star reporter Mitch Potter in Baghdad in April, 2003. The documents detail direct links between al Qaeda and Saddam's regime dating back at least to 1998, and mention Osama bin Laden by name. The find supports an October 2001 report by William Safire that noted, among other things, a 1998 meeting in Baghdad between al Qaeda #2 Ayman al Zawahiri and Saddam's vice president, Taha Yasin Ramadan. Other reports have alleged bin Laden himself traveled to Iraq around that time, or at least planned to. Former Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, Farouk Hijazi, now in custody, allegedly met with bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks.
THE ATTA CASE The alleged meeting between 9/11 team leader Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence agents in Prague, Czech Republic (CR) is a unique case in that the Czechs have been more adamant about proving it than the United States. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross held a press conference on October 26, 2001, revealing the details of the Prague connection. According to Czech police, visa records indicate that Atta visited Prague twice in 2000. His first confirmed visit was while he was in transit from Hamburg to Newark, New Jersey, June 2-3, 2000. The German newspaper Das Bild reported on October 25, 2001 that according to unnamed FBI sources, Atta met with Iraqi diplomat Ahmad Samir al-Ani in a cafe in Prague on June 2. Another report has it that Atta did not leave the airport terminal since he lacked a visa. Later that summer Atta flew back to the CR. He stayed one night in the Prague Hilton, and may have spent a brief period of time in the town of Kutna Hora, 35 miles north of Prague, under the name Mohammed Sayed Ahmed. During his second visit, he allegedly met with Ahmed Hedshani, the former Iraqi ambassador to Turkey.
The more controversial part of the story is the alleged meeting between Atta and al-Ani in the Iraqi embassy in Prague in the spring of 2001. Atta was identified based on photographs published after the 9/11 attacks by an informer who was at the embassy at the time and had met Atta, though said he was "not 100 percent sure" it was him. The Czech counterintelligence service (BIS) gives it a 70 percent probability. Al-Ani was expelled from the Czech Republic in April 22, 2001, for "activities which conflicted with his status." He was allegedly plotting an attack on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which was also supporting Radio Free Iraq.
But if they met, why? It is unlikely they were discussing the alleged RFE/RL operation, since Atta had more important things to do and the Iraqis did not need his help with that one anyway. They might have been discussing the 9/11 attacks, but there is no evidence to support that claim. The article in Das Bild raised another, more intriguing possibility: The Iraqis were supplying Atta with anthrax spores for use in attacks on the United States. The anthrax attacks had commenced shortly before the article was published, and the idea seemed plausible at the time. In fact, it still does the anthrax used in the attacks was weapons grade, the attacks originated from areas near where the hijackers had been active, and two years of investigation have not turned up the presupposed domestic perpetrator. At some point, you would think Occam's Razor would come into play.
The U.S. Justice Department disputes most of the above. At the time of the alleged 2001 meeting, Atta had been residing in the United States for some time and was under tight surveillance. Because the U.S. has no independent evidence that the 2001 meeting occurred, and since Atta was apparently being watched closely, Justice concluded that the meeting could not have taken place. Yet, it came and went in a day or so. If Atta was under such a high degree of scrutiny, one wonders why the FBI did not know more about him or what he was up to. (Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz also denied the meetings took place.) The affair has been a matter of contention between the U.S. and CR. Interior Minister Gross, BIS chief Jiri Ruzek, and Jan Klas, chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the BIS, have stated that thus far they have seen no evidence to challenge their conclusions. Clearly, the essential person to talk to is al-Ani. He was reportedly apprehended by U.S. forces on July 2, 2003, though where he was caught, where he is now, and what he has had to say about the alleged meetings, are all unanswered questions.
Last June, former CIA Director James Woolsey said that "there were enough connections [between al Qaeda] and Iraq and Iraqi intelligence that we ought to be looking at this very hard, as we capture files and people and hard disk drives in Iraq and so on, and see what we can turn up." There are more open-sourced links than those noted here I would refer readers to Appendix A of Richard Miniter's Losing Bin Laden for some more noteworthy incidents and possible evidence of collusion. As I have noted before, Saddam Hussein had means, motive, and opportunity to be involved with global terrorism, and al Qaeda in particular. Much remains to be revealed, and one hopes the administration is compiling a dossier to make the case in detail and beyond doubt. The president has stated that there is no question these ties existed, and it is frustrating that something unquestionable keeps being questioned so persistently.
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Very good point in an excellent synopsis.
I think the reason they don't is because it's spook-world stuff. Consider the story about the nice people in the Phillipines. The Filipinos merely kicked them out of the country, but we're not told what happened to them after that -- I doubt we'd be dumb enough to just let them get lost in the crowd.
Or the Atta meeting in the Csech Republic, which the US is allegedly not pursuing. Really? Or is it just a matter of not pursuing it publicly?
Personally, I think there's a whole lot of stuff going on in the shadows. I hope we get to hear about it some day.