- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

An Iraqi intelligence official met secretly with one of the airline hijackers a year ago, raising the likelihood of Iraqi government involvement in last week's terrorist attacks in the United States, officials said yesterday.
The unidentified Iraqi intelligence official met with Mohamed Atta, whom U.S. officials believe to have been the leader of a terrorist cell linked to Islamic terrorist Osama bin Laden. Atta traveled regularly between the United States and several countries, including Germany and Spain.
Atta is believed to have been aboard the first commercial airliner that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
Intelligence officials said information about the meeting was obtained within the past several days. It indicated Mr. Atta had met secretly about a year ago with an official of the Iraqi intelligence service.
A meeting between Atta and the head of Iraq's intelligence service was first disclosed by CBS News.
Atta traveled on an Egyptian passport but was believed to have been a United Arab Emirates national. At one point, he was registered as a student at the Technical University in Hamburg, Germany.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney said on Sunday that no evidence of Iraqi state sponsorship had emerged. Yesterday, however, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested that a foreign government may have aided the terrorists who conducted the suicide attacks, which killed up to 6,000 people at the Pentagon and in New York City.
"I know a lot, and what I have said as clearly as I know how is that states are supporting these people," Mr. Rumsfeld said when asked about evidence of state sponsorship.
Pressed for further details, Mr. Rumsfeld paused several seconds and then said: "I think I will leave that to the Department of Justice they and the FBI and the intelligence-gathering agencies."
He noted that he was "in a different business" from intelligence and law- enforcement agencies that gather evidence.
The disclosure of Atta's meeting with an Iraqi intelligence official comes amid reports that Iraq and Iran have begun to disperse their military forces in anticipation of U.S. military attacks.
The militaries in both countries were observed last week sending ground forces out of known bases as a precaution against attack.
U.S. intelligence has received other reports that associates of bin Laden are linked to foreign intelligence services.
A classified CIA report from the late 1990s, obtained by The Washington Times, showed that bin Laden met secretly with an Iranian intelligence official at a residence in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
The CIA viewed the meeting as an indication that Iran was at least exploring some type of support for bin Laden's terrorist activities.
Some officials sought to play down the Atta-Iraqi intelligence meeting.
"There's lots of little bits and threads and hints and nuggets out there. However, is there some compelling evidence of state sponsorship? Not at this time. Are we looking at that? Sure, among a thousand different things," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism official, said the Iraqi government's motive in helping bin Laden's organization is that it would be an indirect way for Saddam Hussein to attack the United States. "It's 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend,'" Mr. Cannistraro said.
Mr. Cannistraro said that if the meeting is confirmed, "it's the first footprint" indicating Iraqi involvement in last week's terrorist attacks
"This could mean that bin Laden had some state sponsorship," Mr. Cannistraro said. He noted that the October 2000 terrorist attack on the guided missile destroyer USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, also may have had a foreign state sponsor.
Iraq is one of the nations on the State Department's list of "state sponsors" of international terrorism. Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey has said the sophistication of the attacks on American soil indicates potential Iraqi support.

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