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Iraqi officer in al Qaeda, papers show
Question of the Day
A senior officer in Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s security services was a member of the terrorist group that committed the September 11 attacks, a member of the commission investigating the suicide hijackings said yesterday.
“There is at least one officer of Saddam’s Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al Qaeda,” said September 11 commission member and former Navy Secretary John Lehman.
Although he stressed that the intelligence “still has to be confirmed,” Mr. Lehman told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the information came from “captured documents” shown to the panel after the September 11 commission’s staff report had been written.
The report, which received heavy news coverage when it was released last week, maintained that Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network had ties with Iraq, but did “not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.”
Mr. Lehman yesterday said the latest development demonstrates the difficulty that the commission has had resulting from tremendous political pressures.
“Everything we come out with, one side or the other seizes on in this election year to try to make a political point on,” he said.
He stressed that the Bush administration “has never said that [Saddam] participated in the 9/11 attack.”
“They’ve said, and our staff has confirmed, there have been numerous contacts between Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda over a period of 10 years,” Mr. Lehman said. “Now there’s new intelligence … because, as you know, new intelligence is coming in steadily from the interrogations in Guantanamo and Iraq, and from captured documents.”
Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste said he hoped the panel would get intelligence “with respect to the individual that John Lehman has talked about.”
Although Mr. Lehman did not give names, a Fedayeen lieutenant colonel has the same name as Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi with al Qaeda ties.
According to published accounts, including the book “The Connection” by Stephen Hayes, Shakir attended a planning meeting for the September 11 attacks in January 2000. The meeting in Malaysia also was attended by two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and by senior al Qaeda leaders.
Mr. Lehman said commission staff members continued to work on the issue and Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean urged the administration to make any new intelligence available to the panel quickly, so that the final report could be modified to take it into account.
“Obviously, if there is any information still that has to do with the subject of the report, we need it, and we need it pretty fast,” Mr. Kean said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
But Mr. Lehman said the intelligence has not been confirmed, and some terror analysts cautioned that the connection might be nothing more than coincidence.
“Shakir is a pretty common name,” said terrorism analyst and author Peter Bergen. “And even if the two names refer to the same person, there might be a number of other explanations. Perhaps al Qaeda had penetrated Saddam’s security apparatus.”
By Orrin G. Hatch
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