WASHINGTON – In concluding there was “no credible evidence” of cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaida before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, the commission charged with investigating events leading to 9-11 overlooked more than 10 years of connections and cooperation between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Osama bin Laden’s network, WorldNetDaily has found.
While acknowledging that bin Laden made overtures to Hussein in the mid-1990s while he was in Sudan and again after he went to Afghanistan in 1996, they “do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship,” the commission’s staff said in a report released yesterday. The report also seems to rely heavily on the word of two of bin Laden’s most senior associates who “have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al-Qaida and Iraq” during interrogations.
President Bush, who minimized the bin Laden-Iraq connection as a pretext for the invasion of Iraq, quickly responded to the report by affirming that “numerous contacts” between Iraq and al-Qaida did indeed justify the U.S.-led war on Hussein’s regime.
“There was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaida,” Bush told reporters after meeting with his Cabinet at the White House. “This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaida. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam and al-Qaida.”
Bush added: “Saddam Hussein was a threat. He was a threat because he had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. He was a threat because he was a sworn enemy of the United States of America, just like al-Qaida. He was a threat because he had terrorist connections.”
“The world is better off and America is more secure without Saddam Hussein in power,” the president said.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the four-term U.S. senator from Massachusetts, responded to the report from the commission by saying Bush misled the nation.
“This president failed the test in Iraq,” Kerry, 60, said while campaigning in Ohio yesterday. “When it comes to war and peace, I will tell the truth to the American people.”
Vice President Dick Cheney also said there were clearly ties between Hussein and the al-Qaida terrorists going back to the early 1990s, and he called the New York Times coverage of the story “outrageous.”
“It involves a whole series of contacts, high-level contacts between Osama bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence officials,” he told CNBC. “It involves a senior official, a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service going to the Sudan before bin Laden ever went to Afghanistan to train them in bomb-making, helping teach them how to forge documents.”
Cheney pointed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, still in Iraq today, who, he points out, “is an al-Qaida associate who took refuge in Baghdad, found sanctuary and safe harbor there before we ever launched into Iraq.”
He also noted the link provided by Abdul Rahman Yasin, who mixed the chemicals used in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. He fled to Iraq “and we found since when we got into Baghdad, documents showing that he was put on the payroll and given housing by Saddam Hussein after the ’93 attack; in other words, provided safe harbor and sanctuary. There’s clearly been a relationship,” said Cheney.
“What the New York Times did today was outrageous,” added Cheney. He says the suggestion that there is a fundamental split between what the president said and what the commission reported is preposterous. “What they were addressing was whether or not they [Iraqis] were involved in 9-11. And there they found no evidence to support that proposition. They did not address the broader question of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida in other areas, in other ways.”
In the Zarqawi case, Cheney added: “Here’s a man who’s Jordanian by birth. He’s described as an al-Qaida associate. He ran training camps in Afghanistan back before we went to war in Afghanistan. After we went in and hit his training camp, he fled to Baghdad. Found safe harbor and sanctuary in Baghdad in May of 2002. He arrived with about two dozen other supporters of his, members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was (Ayman) al-Zawahiri’s organization. He’s the number two to bin Laden, which was merged with al-Qaida interchangeably. Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Qaida, same-same. They’re all now part of one organization. They merged some years ago. So Zarqawi living in Baghdad. We arranged for information to be passed on his presence in Baghdad to the Iraqis through a third-party intelligence service. They did that twice. There’s no question but what Saddam Hussein really was there. He was allowed to operate out of Baghdad. He ran the poisons factory in northern Iraq out of Baghdad. … There clearly was a relationship there that stretched back over that period of time to at least May of ’02, a year before we launched into Iraq. He is the worst offender. He’s probably killed more Iraqis than any other man in Iraq today. He is probably the leading terrorist still operating in Iraq today.”
With regard to the reports that Mohammad Atta, the Sept. 11 mastermind, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague April 9, 2001, Cheney pointed out that the 9-11 commission merely found no evidence to confirm the information. Some reports have suggested the commission found that the meeting never took place.
“The notion that there is no relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida just simply is not true,” Cheney asserted.
Yossef Bodansky, author of “Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America,” written and published well before the Sept. 11 attacks, documents numerous contacts and meetings between bin Laden’s agents and agents of Hussein. In addition, Bodansky, the U.S. Congress’ top terrorism adviser, said the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida predated the Sept. 11 attacks by a decade, and continued thereafter.
CIA reports of Iraqi-al-Qaida cooperation number nearly 100 and extend back to 1992, according to WorldNetDaily sources.
According to a Dec. 9, 2002, report in the Los Angeles Times, shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks, a group of al-Qaida fighters left Afghanistan and set up shop in Iraq as a backup base. Bin Laden’s jihadists established such a base in town of Al Biyara and nearby mountain villages where Kurdish militants had begun imposing the strict Islamic rule much like Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime, according to the Times report.
Last year the London Guardian reported the deadly poison ricin discovered at a makeshift lab in a north London apartment was linked to a group of Algerian extremists with ties to al-Qaida and Iraq.
The Associated Press reported a senior U.S. official traveling in Europe said men arrested in the alleged ricin plot were linked to Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group in northern Iraq with ties to al-Qaida and possibly to Saddam Hussein’s regime. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Four men were arrested in the apartment raid Jan. 5 and charged with attempting to develop a chemical weapon.
Ansar al-Islam is led by an Iraqi Kurd named Nejmeddin Faraj Ahmad (also known as Mullah Krekar) who trained with bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Senior al-Qaida leaders fled Afghanistan for Iraq and received safe harbor before Hussein was overthrown by U.S. forces, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
On Jan. 27 of last year, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said terrorist detainees from Afghanistan had implicated Iraq in providing training and support to al-Qaida.
Fleischer said the U.S. knows Iraq has supported al-Qaida in the past and there have been “contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of the al-Qaida organization, going back for quite a long time.”
“We know, too, that several of the detainees, particularly some of the high-level detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al-Qaida and chemical weapons development,” said Fleischer. “There are contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida. We know that Saddam Hussein has a long history of terrorism in general. And again, if you are waiting for the smoking gun, the problem is, when you see the smoke coming out of the gun, it’s too late; the damage has been done.”
Perhaps more interesting is the contention of terrorism expert Laurie Mylroie, author of “The War Against America.” She says senior al-Qaida operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in Pakistan, is not the man he claims to be. He is actually an Iraqi intelligence agent – a fact that would serve as smoking-gun evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the terror of Sept. 11.
Mylroie, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, explains that Mohammed was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, March 1, 2003, and has been providing interrogators with critical information about al-Qaida operations and ongoing attack plots, according to U.S. officials.
As the operational leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network, Mohammed is said to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and is thought to have planned the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings and the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
Mylroie maintains Mohammed is a Pakistani Baluch, along with Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The two collaborated with a third Baluch in 1995, Abdul Hakam Murad, in an unsuccessful plot to bomb 12 U.S. airplanes. The plot, called “Project Bojinka,” involved ramming a fuel-laden airliner into the Pentagon.
Baluchs are Sunni Muslims who live in the desert regions of eastern Iran and western Pakistan – Baluchistan – and have longstanding ties to Iraqi intelligence. Wafiq Samarrai, former chief of Iraqi military intelligence who defected to the West in 1994, explains that Iraqi intelligence worked with the Baluch during the Iran-Iraq war.
Mylroie said Mohammed, Yousef and Murad, are part of a tight circle.
Their identities are based on documents from Kuwaiti files that predate Kuwait’s liberation from Iraqi occupation. These documents form the basis of Mylroie’s false-identity theory. When Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1990 and 1991, it used some Kuwaiti files to create false identities for key agents, according to Mylroie.
There is evidence Yousef’s file was tampered with. The front pages of his passport, including his picture and signature, are missing. Extraneous information was also inserted: the notation that Yousef and his family left Kuwait on Aug. 26, 1990 – during Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait – and traveled through Iraq on their way to Pakistani Baluchistan in Iran.
Mylroie points out people don’t provide authorities with itineraries when crossing a border.
She concludes Yousef is an Iraqi agent who assumed the identity of Abdul Basit Karim, a Kuwaiti who disappeared during Iraq’s occupation. Records show Yousef entered the U.S. on an Iraqi passport in the name of Ramzi Yousef, but fled on a passport in the name of Abdul Basit Karim.
According to Mylroie, the New York FBI – particularly its director, Jim Fox – believed that the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was an Iraqi intelligence operation.
The Los Angeles Times uncovered critical family ties between Mohammed and Karim.
“What little is known about the sister [of Mohammed],” the paper reported, “includes one compelling piece of information: She is thought to be the mother of Abdul Karim Basit, better known as Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.”
Mylroie deduces that Mohammed would know if someone was falsely passing himself off as his nephew, and therefore, must be an Iraqi operative as well.
According to documents, Mohammed was born in Kuwait to Pakistani parents on April 19, 1965. That puts Mohammed just under 38 years of age. Mylroie suggests the graying sideburns and heavy jowls in Mohammed’s arrest photo circulated by federal agents belong to someone substantially older than 38.
For what it’s worth, the connection between bin Laden and Hussein has also been proven in a court of law to the satisfaction of a federal judge.
Judge Harold Baer awarded families of two victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks nearly $104 million in damages against Hussein and his Iraqi government along with bin Laden and the Taliban. Baer ruled the plaintiffs had shown that Iraq provided material support to bin Laden and his al-Qaida terror network.
In January, 2003, 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, bin Laden, 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 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Baer outlined the damages and his conclusion.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Hussein actually stepped up his support of al-Qaida terrorists, according to WorldNetDaily’s U.S. military sources. In October 2002, Hussein welcomed dozens of al-Qaida operatives to Iraq, where they were provided with new identities linking them with prominent Iraqi families.
Among the senior al-Qaida operatives in Iraq are Othman Suleiman Daoud, an Afghan national. Daoud was believed based in the Sunni Triangle, north of Baghdad, the focus of the insurgency against the U.S. military.
Another al-Qaida leader in Iraq is Faraj Shaabi, a Libyan national. The sources said Shaabi spent most of the last decade in Sudan until he was ordered by bin Laden to transfer to Iraq.
Meanwhile, last year, a 16-page top secret government memo to the Senate Intelligence Committee revealed bin Laden and Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, as well as financial and logistical support, and may have included the bombing of the USS Cole and the Sept. 11 attacks.
The memo, dated Oct. 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was written in response to a request from the committee as part of its investigation into prewar intelligence claims made by the administration. The memo cites reports from a variety of domestic and foreign spy agencies including the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources.
The memo reports Hussein’s willingness to help bin Laden plot against Americans began in 1990, shortly before the first Gulf War, and continued through his overthrow. It says bin Laden sent ”emissaries to Jordan in 1990 to meet with Iraqi government officials.” At some unspecified point in 1991, according to a CIA analysis, ”Iraq sought Sudan’s assistance to establish links to al-Qaida.”
The primary go-between throughout these early stages was Sudanese strongman Hassan al-Turabi, a leader of the al-Qaida-affiliated National Islamic Front.
A defector reported that ”al-Turabi was instrumental in arranging the Iraqi-al-Qaida relationship.” The defector said Iraq sought al-Qaida influence through its connections with Afghanistan, to facilitate the transshipment of proscribed weapons and equipment to Iraq. In return, Iraq provided al-Qaida with training and instructors.
Another man, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim – who’s described as the terror lord’s ”best friend” – was involved in planning the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
The CIA believes ”fragmentary evidence points to possible Iraqi involvement” in the bombing of the USS Cole in Oct. 2000, according to the memo.
Two members of al-Qaida were sent to Iraq following the attack on the USS Cole, to be trained in weapons of mass destruction and to obtain information on ”poisons and gases.”
And according to the CIA, in December of 2000, the Saudi National Guard went on alert after learning Saddam agreed to ”assist al-Qaida in attacking U.S./UK interests in Saudi Arabia.”
The report also contains information about meetings between the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks Mohamed Atta and former Iraqi intelligence chief Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani. The memo says the men met several times in the Czech Republic city of Prague and Iraq authorized the transfer of funds to Atta.
More evidence of the connection was found when Iraq was liberated.
Documents found last year in the bombed-out headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Iraq’s secret police, show Hussein 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.
Al-Qaida was based in Sudan until 1996, when its leadership moved to Afghanistan after the Sudanese government bowed to pressure from the U.S. to expel bin Laden’s terror network.
The paper trail indicates the meeting, which was based on a common hatred of America and Saudi Arabia, apparently went so well it was extended by a week and ended with arrangements being discussed for bin Laden to visit Baghdad.
The documents include a letter containing a message to be relayed to the terrorist leader that would ”relate to the future of our relationship with bin Laden, and achieve a direct meeting with him.” The documents do not make clear whether the hoped-for meeting between Iraqi officials and bin Laden took place.
The 1998 visit described in the documents took place less than five months before 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 later that year.
The discovery of the documents coincides with the capture of former Mukhabarat head of operations Farouk Hijazi near the Syrian border. Washington has said Hijazi was Iraq’s key link man with al-Qaida, and that he traveled to meet bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Also last year, documents seized by Spanish investigators and turned over to U.S. authorities show an alleged terrorist accused of helping the Sept. 11 conspirators was invited to a party by the Iraqi ambassador to Spain under his al-Qaida pseudonym.
Yusuf Galan, who was photographed being trained at a camp run by bin Laden, is now in jail in Madrid. The indictment against him, drawn up by investigating judge Baltasar Garzon, claims he was “directly involved with the preparation and carrying out of the attacks … by the suicide pilots on 11 September.”
Evidence of Galan’s links with Iraqi government officials came to light as investigators pored through more than 40,000 pages of documents seized in raids at the homes of Galan and seven alleged co-conspirators.
While the skeptics are sure to persist – especially in an election year – it is worth noting that Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism official promoting a book critical of the Bush administration and insisting Hussein had no connection to al-Qaida, believed in the link in 1999.
He defended President Clinton’s attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant by revealing the U.S. was “sure” it manufactured chemical warfare materials produced by Iraqi experts in cooperation with bin Laden.
Clarke told the Washington Post in a Jan. 23, 1999, story that U.S. intelligence officials had obtained a soil sample from the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, which was hit with Tomahawk cruise missiles in retaliation for bin Laden’s role in the Aug. 7, 1998, embassy bombings in Africa.
The sample contained a precursor of VX nerve gas, which Clarke said when mixed with bleach and water, would have become fully active VX nerve gas.
Clarke told the Post the U.S. did not know how much of the substance was produced at El Shifa or what happened to it.
“But he said that intelligence exists linking bin Laden to El Shifa’s current and past operators, the Iraqi nerve gas experts and the National Islamic Front in Sudan,” the paper reported.
More recently, he seems to have forgotten his earlier position, insisting in an interview on “60 Minutes” earlier this year: “There is absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al-Qaida ever.”
Just last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that recently translated documents captured by U.S. forces provide new evidence of a direct link between Hussein’s regime and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Rosters of officers in Saddam’s Fedayeen list Lt. Col. Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, who was present at the January 2000 al-Qaida “summit” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at which the 9-11 attacks were planned, the paper reported.
The Fedayeen was the elite paramilitary group run by Saddam’s son Uday, which was deployed to do much of the regime’s dirty work.
The U.S. has never been sure Shakir was at the Kuala Lumpur meeting on behalf of Saddam’s regime or whether he was an Iraqi Islamist on his own, the Journal notes. While the paper cautioned it is possible the Shakir listed on the rosters is not the Iraqi of the same name with proven al-Qaida connections.
Reported accounts of the al-Qaida planning summit said Shakir had a job at the Kuala Lumpur airport he obtained through an Iraqi intelligence agent at the Iraqi embassy.
Among the al-Qaida operatives in attendance were the two who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon – Khalid al Midhar and Nawaz al Hamzi – and Ramzi bin al Shibh, the operational planner of the 9-11 attacks.
Also in attendance was Tawfiz al Atash, a high-ranking Osama bin Laden lieutenant and mastermind of the USS Cole bombing.
Shakir left Malaysia four days after the summit finished, Jan. 13, 2000, then turned up in Qatar, where he was arrested Sept. 17, 2001, four days after the attacks.
A search uncovered phone numbers of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers’ safe houses and contacts and information related to a 1995 al-Qaida plot to blow up a dozen commercial airliners over the Pacific.
But Shakir, inexplicably, was released after a brief detention and flew to Amman, Jordan, where he was arrested again. The Jordanians released him, however, with the OK of the CIA, after pressure from the Iraqis and Amnesty International.
He was last seen returning to Baghdad.
The information supports other journalists who have uncovered a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida, including Jayna Davis, author of “The Third Terrorist: The Middle Eastern Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing.”
In her book, Davis suggests the Sept. 11 attacks possibly could have been prevented if evidence of an Iraqi and al-Qaida link to the OKC bombing had been pursued.
Davis writes that in November 1997, Hussain Hashem Al-Hussaini – a former Iraqi Republican Guardsman whom multiple eyewitnesses identified as McVeigh’s elusive accomplice, John Doe 2 – confided to his psychiatrist that he was anxious about his airport job because “if something were to happen there, I [Al-Hussaini] would be a suspect.” At the time, Al-Hussaini was employed at Boston Logan International Airport, where two of the four 9-11 suicide hijackings originated.
She also reveals court records that suggest one of bombers Timothy McVeigh’s and Terry Nichols’s accused Middle Eastern handlers had foreknowledge of the 9-11 plot.
In addition, Davis discusses information she first uncovered eight years ago – that Nichols learned the macabre genius of terrorist bomb making under the training of Philippines-based al-Qaida explosives expert Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
In February, columnist and author Jonathan Schanzer wrote in the Weekly Standard of his meeting in a Kurdish prison with Abdul Rahman al-Shamari, who claims he worked for a man who was Hussein’s envoy to al-Qaida.
In the interview, al-Shamari confirmed he was involved in assisting Ansar al Islam, an al-Qaida affiliate responsible for attacks against Kurdish and Western targets in northern Iraq. Weapons, “mostly mortar rounds,” were supplied to the terrorists, the prisoner told Schanzer.
Besides weapons, al-Shamari says, Saddam’s secret police, the Mukhabarat, helped the terror group financially “every month or two months.”
In December, Geostrategy-Direct reported Iraqi officers interrogated by the United States and coalition officials said Saddam, through Saudi contacts, had invited al-Qaida insurgents to form suicide and other units to stop the U.S. military in March.
Saddam’s contacts with al-Qaida, the officers told interrogators, preceded the Sept. 11 attacks. They said Saudi envoys arranged for al-Qaida insurgents to enter Iraq and begin training in camps around Baghdad.
The al-Qaida insurgents were trained at two camps – Nahrawan and Salman Pak – under the supervision of the Fedayeen Saddam.
Officers said the Salman Pak training included ways to hijack airplanes. Training was conducted under the supervision of an unidentified Iraqi general who is currently a police commander. They said many of the al-Qaida insurgents left Iraq after their training stint.
The London Telegraph reported last December the discovery of a secret memo to Hussein that gives details of a visit by Atta to Baghdad just weeks before the 9-11 attacks. Information obtained by Iraq’s coalition goverment indicated Atta was trained in Baghdad by Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal.
“We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam’s involvement with al-Qaida,” said Dr Ayad Allawi, a member of Iraq’s ruling seven-man presidential committee, according to the London paper.
“But this is the most compelling piece of evidence that we have found so far,” he said. “It shows that not only did Saddam have contacts with al-Qaida, he had contact with those responsible for the September 11 attacks.”