Skip to comments.Bound together by a common hatred
Posted on 02/17/2003 5:55:04 PM PST by knak
THE missing piece in the Iraq jigsaw is not weapons of mass destruction. The hunt which occupies the United States is for the bigger prize: linking Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
George Bush, the US president, claims to know "for sure" the two are linked - yet even Tony Blair dares not join him. So far, he says, the evidence just isnt there. But since the 11 September attacks, the evidence has been fast accumulating, from the first sketchy reports of the lead hijacker meeting an Iraqi agent in Prague.
The interview transcript of an al-Qaeda terrorist, intercepted by German police before his attack, shows what level of detail is now becoming known. Al-Qaeda code words are just the start of the new data.
Within weeks, the US may well be able to release its dream dossier - one explaining that Saddam has been supporting, sheltering and encouraging the Islamic fundamentalists with whom the world is now at war.
In April last year, a Jordanian named Shadi Abdullah was arrested by German police after receiving instructions to launch a terrorist attack using "Russian apples" - al-Qaeda code for grenades.
The files, now made public, give an example of how much intelligence the West has gathered. Abdullah was able to provide names and descriptions of al-Qaeda cells in Germany, Italy and the UK, as well as half a dozen code words.
But the picture being assembled in the US centres on four people whose movements and affiliations suggest that Saddam and bin Laden are not the sworn enemies they both make out, and which last weeks bin Laden video release suggested.
The first building block is a non-aggression pact which al-Qaeda and Saddam are understood to have reached in 1993. It was an extension of the deal which bin Laden reached with the House of Saud - he would stay out of their hair and they paid him to focus on the "far enemy" instead.
The first key player is Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi, who, in 1995 was dispatched by bin Laden to ask Saddam for help in poison gas training.
His mission is understood to have been successful - and he returned home with a deal which the CIA is now desperate to prove.
Saddam is suspected of sending a number of trainers from an organisation called Unit 999, one of his secret-police operations, who flew into Kabul and spent months in bin Ladens terrorist camps in Afghanistan.
This deal in itself would be the "smoking gun" which, if demonstrable, would allow Saddam to face the damning charge-sheet levied against the Taleban in Afghanistan.
The next link is Abu Hajer al-Iraqi, an Iraqi who is understood to have served as al-Qaedas chief weapons procurer during the 1990s and as a liaison officer with Iraqi intelligence in the run-up to Operation Desert Fox in 1998.
He moved on to Iraq after working on Sudans chemical weapons programme. He is now in a New York jail, awaiting trial for the 1998 East Africa embassy bombing.
Little information has been released about his story - it could well be up the USs sleeve.
Several pieces of evidence already incriminate Mussaab al-Zarqawi, whose crimes include the suspected assassination of a CIA official in Jordan last year. He controls an organisation called Jund al-Shams, or the Soldiers of the Levant, which has been hiding out in northern Iraq.
He was wounded fighting for the Taleban in Afghanistan, but rather than return to his hideout, he was flown back to Baghdad itself to have his leg amputated. It was the only place, it seems, where he could be sure of good healthcare and political security.
The operation took place last May and al-Zarqawi stayed in Baghdad for two months. During that time, the CIA believes, nearly two dozen Islamic extremists - several with links to bin Laden - converged on Baghdad and established a base of operations there. The Jordanian government got wind of al-Zarqawis stay in Baghdad and asked Iraq to extradite him. Not long after the request was received, he vanished - to the northern enclave of Iraq.
It is northern Iraq which is home to a terrorist group named Ansar al-Islam, created just before the 11 September attacks by the merger of two Kurdish groups in the area.
They are Islamic extremists who control a string of villages on the Iraq-Iran border. Last August, CIA records show they tested ricin on live animals and one Kurd, who was infected with it at a marketplace, then died at home.
The question is whether they defy Saddam or have a pact with his regime. For organisations deemed to be at war with each other, there are several suspicious overlaps.
An Iraqi agent captured by Ansar al-Islam last year claimed to have served as a secret bodyguard to bin Ladens deputy, when he was dispatched to Baghdad on business in 1992. He has been interviewed by Western experts, who say his story holds water.
Intelligence from both the US and the UK centres on such people - where they go, who they saw and where they secured funding. But a trio of terrorists do not make for the hard evidence needed to prove a link.
One place where there is photographic proof is Iraqs centre for hijack training in Salman Pak, a camp 20 miles south of Baghdad on the Tigris river. The last set of United Nations inspectors found the fuselage of an old Tupolev 154 airliner there - and were astonished to see people being trained.
"We were told it was for counter-terrorist training," said Charles Duelfer, the deputy head of the first UN inspections team. "We automatically knocked off the word counter." Spy photographs backed this up - Saddam seemed to be training people how to seize control of a cockpit.
There could be a perfectly excusable explanation for the Tupolev. But James Woolsey, who was CIA director from 1993 to 1995, said the West has spent too long waiting for solid proof.
"We now know there were Islamist terrorists training to hijack aircraft in groups of four or five with short knives," he said last week.
"I mean, hello? If we had seen a fake American battleship in a lake in northern Italy in 1941 and a group of Asian pilots training there, would we have said, Well, you cant prove that they were Japanese?"
Saddam has nothing ideologically in common with al-Qaeda, as British terrorism experts have stressed. However, the same was true of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi and the IRA - yet he still sent the terrorists arms and funding.
Saddam runs an atheist form of dictatorship, more in common with the Nazis Aryan ideal. But this did not stop him doubling the bounty paid to the families of suicide-bombers to £30,000 from £15,000.
Saddam, bin Laden, the Kurdish terrorists and the Hamas in Palestine have one thing in common: an enemy - that is, the US and its allies. This is often all terrorist groups need to bind them together.
Ambiguous evidence is an occupational hazard of intelligence work. But the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda is becoming clearer as more pieces of the jigsaw emerge.
Soon, the picture may be complete.
Al-Qaeda's deadly code
IN April last year, Shadi Abdullah, 26, a Jordanian, was arrested after German police recorded him accepting instructions to carry out a terrorist attack.
The transcript of his police interview, now made public in Berlin, says that he told police the following al-Qaeda codewords:
RUSSIAN APPLE - A hand grenade manufactured in Russia.
SEVEN SEAS - Seven European countries which have abolished internal border controls, thus making undetected passage easier.
MUTE - A gun with a silencer
TOY - Pistol
HONEY - A CD-ROM containing recipes for making explosives
LITTLE GIRL - A forged drivers licence
The noose tightens.
I thought so too. But very long.
September 11, 2001 opened one eye of the sleeping giant. Woe to the folks 'bound by hatred' if that other eye opens and the American public truly turns its attention on the antagonizers.