Shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks, a group of al-Qaida fighters left Afghanistan and set up shop in Iraq as a backup base, according to a report in today’s Los Angeles Times.
Osama 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.
While this base is further evidence of Saddam Hussein’s recent support of al-Qaida, documented by many intelligence sources over the last 10 years, Iraq is attempting to maintain plausible deniability with regard to the bases – suggesting they are outside the control of the government in Baghdad.
While some intelligence sources believe Baghdad maintains liaison with al-Qaida through a senior intelligence officer by the name of Abu Wael, others insist Wael heads Ansar, an al-Qaida affiliate, and actually opposes Hussein.
Within two weeks of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Ansar terrorists attacked security forces of the pro-U.S. Kurdish government. More than 20 Kurds were killed, their throats slit and bodies mutilated, according to the Times report. Sporadic and deadly clashes have ensued.
In April, Ansar tried to assassinate Barham Salih, the prime minister of the eastern sector of Iraqi Kurdistan, reports the Times. Five bodyguards were slain. Ansar, the report says, also tested primitive chemical weapons, including a cyanide gas, on farm animals this year.
“For the Kurds, the 600 to 700 Ansar fighters and the 35 to 100 al-Qaida members are now the most serious threat in Kurdistan, the only Iraqi region not under Hussein’s control – and the only region that would welcome U.S. troops to oust him,” reported the Times. “Fighting broke out again Wednesday when Ansar guerrillas launched a surprise attack on Kurdish security forces, reportedly killing dozens.”
According to Qassem Hussein Mohammed, 36, an Iraqi intelligence agent captured by the Kurds in January, Wael was a major in the Iraqi army who joined Hussein’s top intelligence unit after finishing law school. He eventually became the clandestine link between Hussein’s regime and al-Qaida, he said.
“In 1995, Abu Wael was instructed by Baghdad to go to Afghanistan to be the connection between al-Qaida and Baghdad,” Mohammed told the Times. “He did this five years, until he came back to Kurdistan in 2000.”
Mohammed says he knows the details because he was the courier between Abu Wael and Baghdad – traveling to both Afghanistan and Kurdistan.
Assertions that Iraq is cooperating and supporting al-Qaida are supported by the findings of a new book by a top terrorism expert.
Yossef Bodansky, author of “The High Cost of Peace,” says joint preparations by Hussein, Yasser Arafat and al-Qaida for a new wave of anti-U.S. terror began last spring. The model for the terrorism campaign is Arafat’s Black September Organization of the 1970s.
The initiative for the alliance came from Palestinian Islamists based in Lebanon and Syria, according to Bodansky, the U.S. Congress’ top terrorism adviser. The response from al-Qaida came April 2, says Bodansky.
“A group calling itself the bin Laden Brigades-Palestine issued a statement formally integrating the Islamist and Fatah wave of anti-Israel terrorism into bin Laden’s global jihad,” he writes in his new book. “The bin Laden Brigades announced that their forces were now at the disposal of ‘Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and fighter commander Marwan al-Barghouti’ to fight ‘alongside the Brigades’ fighters and the Islamic factions.’ The statement emphasized that numerous Palestinian factions, specifically including al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, ‘[had] become part of the International Front for Fighting Jews and Christians, led by Osama bin Laden.’ They now ‘[had] found the path of Islam and adopted the line of genuine resistance of the jihad movement and Islamic resistance, that is the path of jihad and martyrdom for the sake of God, and discarded forever the lies of the alleged peace and the myths of negotiations.'”
The anti-U.S. coalition also includes Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
A communique issued on April 2 from the Unified Leadership of the Intifadah – an umbrella organization representing Arafat’s Fatah groups, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other members of the Palestine Liberation Organization – called for attacks on U.S. interests.
“The United States is backing the Israeli assault on the Palestinians,” it said. “Therefore, U.S. facilities, targets and interests throughout the world should be harmed.”
Unit 999 of Iraqi intelligence has helped train both Arafat’s shock troops and bin Laden’s Islamists for suicide operations utilizing weapons of mass destruction. According to Bodansky’s book, some of these terrorists have already “succeeded in infiltrating several Arab countries. They are provided with instructions, secret codes and advanced weapons.”
According to Israeli sources, the Iraqis permitted the terrorist trainees to test chemical weapons in southern Kurdistan.