- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

Did Mohamed Atta meet an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague five months before he slammed a Boeing 767 into World Trade Center? Fresh evidence bolsters the view the attack on America might have had Ba’athist fingerprints.

Edward Jay Epstein, best-selling author of 12 books on politics and history, has followed “the Prague Connection” since its outlines emerged in autumn 2001. Peruse his findings at edwardjayepstein.com.

Mr. Epstein and other Prague-Connection proponents believe Mohamed Atta met on April 8, 2001, with Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, consul at Iraq’s Czech Embassy between March 1999 and April 21, 2001. Mr. Al-Ani, a suspected intelligence officer, allegedly handled several agents, maybe including Atta.

According to his May 26, 2000, Czech visa application — completed in Bonn, Germany — Atta called himself a “Hamburg student.” He studied urban planning at Hamburg-Harburg Technical University, where he set up an Islamic club in 1999.

Atta apparently had pressing business in Prague. With his visa pending until May 31, Atta nonetheless flew to Prague International Airport May 30 and remained in its transit lounge about six hours before flying back to Germany. Czech officials believe he may have met someone there. On June 2, he returned to Prague by bus on Czech visa number BONN200005260024. He stayed some 20 hours, then flew to Newark on June 3.

On April 4, 2001, the FBI says, Atta departed Virginia Beach’s Diplomat Inn with fellow hijacker Marwan Al-Shehhi and cashed a SunTrust check for $8,000. Atta wasn’t seen in America again until April 11.

Atta next was observed April 8 by an informant of BIS (Czech intelligence) who reported Mr. Al-Ani met an Arabic-speaking man in a restaurant on Prague’s outskirts. Atta returned to America the following day.

BIS found Mr. Al-Ani’s appointment calendar in Iraq’s Prague Embassy, presumably after Saddam Hussein’s defeat. Mr. Al-Ani’s diary lists an April 8, 2001, meeting with “Hamburg student.” Perhaps Mr. Al-Ani and a young scholar analyzed 19th-century German philsopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Or maybe Al-Ani saw Atta and discussed more practical matters.

Czech officials jettisoned Mr. Al-Ani from Prague on April 22, 2001, for plotting to blow up Radio Free Europe’s headquarters there, also home to Radio Free Iraq. American forces arrested Mr. Al-Ani last July 2 in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, he denies meeting Atta.

It is well known that June 18, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet told the Congressional Joint Inquiry into the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that the CIA could not “establish that Atta left the U.S. or entered Europe in April 2001.” But Mr. Tenet also admitted, “It is possible that Atta traveled under an unknown alias.”

Spanish police last February arrested Algerians Khaled Madani and Moussa Laour on suspicion of furnishing false passports to, among others, al Qaeda operatives Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mohamed Atta.

Why do U.S. spooks seem so cool to the Prague Connection? Embracing it could pinpoint a great, big, unconnected dot. As then-Czech foreign minister and intelligence coordinator Jan Kavan told Mr. Epstein, it could be embarrassing “if American intelligence had failed before September 11 to adequately appreciate the significance of the April meeting.”

Additional records extracted from the Mukhabarat’s Baghdad headquarters indicate Saddam Hussein’s intelligence operatives have known Atta’s boss for years.

“The following is a summary of the main activities and opportunities of the working party, following the orders issued by Excellency on April 1,1992” (Jan. 4, 1992). So reads a March 28, 1992 document marked “Top Secret” by the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The 11-page, Arabic language document — translated into English and shared by a U.S. Senate source — describes Ba’athist espionage from Tunisia to Kuwait.

Under “Saudi front/M4,” the document says, “Contacted and continued relations with (4) of our old sources which still live in Saudi Arabia, and they are… d- Saudi Osama Bin Ladin/ he is well-known Saudi businessmen [sic] founder of Saudi opposition in Afghanistan, had connection with Syrian division.”

Absent surveillance footage of Saddam Hussein driving Mohamed Atta to the Portland, Maine, airport en route to American Airlines Flight 11, war critics and Bush-bashers refuse to believe Iraq’s deposed dictator might have been involved in September 11. Still, Ba’athist files keep yielding clues that the carnage of September 11 might not have caught Saddam Hussein totally by surprise.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Va.

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