Saddam Hussein ordered the training of al-Qaida members two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to an independent Iraqi weekly.

The Fedayeen, under the command of Saddam’s late son Uday, directly supervised 100 al-Qaida fighters who were split into two groups, reported Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, citing an Iraqi officer identified by the initial L.

One group went to Al-Nahrawan and the second to Salman Pak, near Baghdad, where they were trained to hijack airplanes, the officer said in an article translated by the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute.

According to the testimony of Iraqi military defector Sabah Khalifa Khodada Alami, Iraqi intelligence had a Boeing 707 fuselage at Salman Pak used to train groups how to hijack planes without weapons. His claims were consistent with commercial satellite photos showing the fuselage. Saddam’s regime insisted to U.N. inspectors Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces.

The Iraqi weekly, quoting the anonymous officer, said senior Fedayeen officers visited the al-Qaida fighters almost daily, “especially during the final days when they transferred them, late at night in two red trucks that belonged to the Ministry of Transportation, to an undisclosed destination.”

“I witnessed that with my own eyes because on that day I was the duty officer,” he said.

The officer recalled one day a Land Cruiser belonging to Saddam’s personal security force, Al-Amn Al-Khass, arrived, and a senior officer, one of Saddam’s personal bodyguards, stepped out.

After a two-hour meeting with a select group of officers at the Special Forces school, the officer said “we were informed that we would have dear guests, and that we should train them very well in a high level of secrecy – not to allow anyone to approach them or to talk to them in any way, shape or form.”

About 100 trainees arrived a few days later, he said, a mixture of Arabs, Arabs from the Saudi peninsula, Muslim Afghans and other Muslims from various parts of the world.

The training, he said, was under direct supervision of a major general he identified only by his initials, M. DH. L, who he said now serves as a police commander in one of the provinces.

Most left Iraq after completion of their training, but others stayed through the last battle in Baghdad against coalition forces earlier this year.

The officer said he remembers the leader of the group was a Saudi cleric named Muhammad “who was a fervent and audacious individual and did not require much training.”

“He was highly skilled, and could fire accurately at a target while riding a motorcycle,” the Iraqi officer said. “Additionally, he used to deliver fiery sermons calling for jihad and for fighting the Americans anywhere in the world.”

Surprisingly, he continued, “this man’s picture, alongside the commander of the Special Forces school, was televised several times before the beginning of the war and the fall of the former regime.”

At the beginning of the Iraq war this year, the officer said, “we were surprised to see the same people whom we had trained return to the Special Forces school and with them 100 additional individuals. The high command asked us to retrain them and to divide them into several groups to be deployed in various areas in Iraq.”

“Truth be told,” he said, “most of these individuals competed to go to war and to the front lines. Therefore, under pressure they participated immediately in extremely fierce battles that astonished the Iraqis and the Americans.”

On April 5, about 100 of the foreign trainees were sent to the 11th company division on the front lines in Nasiriya.

“And for the sake of history,” he said, “I will say that this division’s endurance was due to some formidable fighters, the commanding officer and members of al-Qaida who fought with intensity and brutality that are seldom matched, while they were praising Allah: Allahu Akbar [Allah is great] … Allahu Akbar. …”

These battled, which took place for 17 days, forced coalition troops to withdraw and re-enter from the industrial areas of Nasiriya, he noted.

Others went to al-Kifl, he said, and participated in “extremely brutal battles.”

“Not many of them retreated and they sacrificed their lives to Apache [helicopter] fire, amid the admiration of the Iraqis and the Americans themselves,” he said. “The proof is that some of them blew themselves up in the midst of American forces.”

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