A link between ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and terror chief Osama bin Laden has been drawn in a United States federal court, backing part of the rationale behind the coalition’s war in Iraq.

The Associated Press reports a federal judge awarded families of two victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks nearly $104 million in damages against Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi government along with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

In the closely watched case, Judge Harold Baer ruled the plaintiffs had shown that Iraq provided material support to bin Laden and his al-Qaida terror network.

In January, Baer granted a default judgment to the plaintiffs after defendants failed to respond to the suit. The default order was issued against the Taliban, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and the Republic of Iraq.

The case was brought on behalf of George Eric Smith, 38, a senior business analyst for SunGard Asset Management and Timothy Soulas, a senior managing director and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald Securities.

Last month, the judge heard evidence presented by the plaintiffs’ lawyers for two days to help him determine damages. In a written decision filed today in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Baer outlined the damages and his conclusion.

While Baer noted the lawyers’ experts provided few actual facts, the Associated Press quotes him as saying the experts’ opinions “provide a sufficient basis for a reasonable jury to draw inferences which could lead to the conclusion that Iraq provided material support to al-Qaida and that it did so with knowledge and intent to further al-Qaida’s criminal acts.”

The judge also wrote that the lawyers relied heavily on “classically hearsay” evidence, including reports of a Sept. 11 hijacker meeting an Iraqi consul to Prague and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s remarks to the United Nations.

In his Feb. 5 address, Powell fleshed out the administration’s claims that Hussein was harboring and aiding terror groups linked to al-Qaida. Powell referred to it as a “sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network.”

“Our concern is not just about illicit weapons but the way they can be connected to terrorists. … Iraq and terrorism goes back decades,” said Powell.

Citing al-Qaida sources, Powell said Iraq’s ties with al-Qaida date back to the early to mid-1990s when bin Laden was based in Sudan and reached an understanding with Saddam that al-Qaida would no longer support activities against Baghdad.

Powell said early al-Qaida ties were forged by secret high-level Iraqi intelligence service contacts, who have met with al-Qaida members, including bin Laden, repeatedly since the early 1990s.

According to Powell, a senior al-Qaida detainee said bin Laden and his top lieutenants in Afghanistan went to Iraq for chemical and biological weapons training. Detainees also say members of the ousted Taliban and al-Qaida fleeing Afghanistan in 2001 sought refuge in Iraq and set up a terrorist training camp in northeastern Iraq.

Since the fall of Baghdad in early April, coalition forces have been combing the bombed-out offices of the Mukhabarat, Iraq’s secret police, searching for a paper trail between Saddam and al-Qaida.

As WorldNetDaily reported, documents recovered apparently provide evidence of a pact between Saddam and bin Laden. According to the documents, Saddam brought a bin Laden aide to Baghdad in early 1998 from Osama’s former base in Sudan to arrange closer ties, and to seek a meeting with the terror kingpin in person

The documents include a letter containing a message from Saddam to be relayed to Osama which would ”relate to the future of our relationship with bin Laden, and achieve a direct meeting with him.”

The meeting, which was based on a common hatred of America and Saudi Arabia, took place a month after bin Laden called for jihad against the Jews and Crusaders. His statement said: ”To kill Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim.”

Less than five months later, bin Laden became a household name in the West, when Washington zeroed in on him for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

The discovery of the documents coincides with the capture of former Mukhabarat head of operations Farouk Hijazi near the Syrian border two weeks ago. Washington has said Hijazi was Iraq’s key link with al-Qaida, and that he traveled to meet Osama in Afghanistan.

James E. Easley, the lawyer who brought the case, described today’s ruling as a “significant victory.”

He told Fox News it was unclear how much of the Iraqi and al-Qaida assets frozen in the U.S. could be available to satisfy the judgment.

Roughly $1.7 billion of Iraqi funds were frozen in 1990.

Plaintiffs in other lawsuits filed on behalf of 9-11 victims against Iraq, al-Qaida and others had their eye on this case because it was the first to reach the damages phase.

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption and abuse, was also granted a default in January on its lawsuit filed on behalf of a surviving 9-11 spouse after Iraq, Afghanistan, bin Laden and others failed to respond to the suit.

The Judicial Watch claim seeks in excess of $210 million dollars in damages.

“We will tirelessly pursue these savage criminals and the tyrants that support them with every available legal tool and forum available,” stated Judicial Watch chairman and general counsel Larry Klayman. “They can run, but they cannot hide.”

The lawsuits rely in part on a 1996 law, entitled the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, that permits lawsuits against countries identified by the State Department as sponsors of international terrorism.

Click for WorldNetDaily’s extensive coverage on the al-Qaida-Iraq link.

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