Saddam didn’t join al Qaeda, fed files say

No trust in Islamists, henchman told FBI

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, a prominent member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, told the FBI that the dictator “delighted” in the 1998 terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa but had no interest in partnering with Osama bin Laden, declassified documents show.

Saddam did not trust Islamists,” Aziz said, according to handwritten notes of a June 27, 2004, interrogation, although he viewed al Qaeda as an “effective” organization.

The FBI notes are among hundreds of pages of interrogation records of top Iraqi officials - including Saddam - provided to the AP this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. While most of the Saddam records had been previously released, the National Security Archive, an independent research institute at George Washington University, said the FBI had previously refused to declassify Aziz’s records.

The records are from an FBI operation code-named Desert Spider, which sought to compile evidence of the Saddam regime’s war crimes and to test the theory that Saddam and his intelligence services had some form of cooperation with al Qaeda prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The FBI had previously released summaries of its 20 sessions with Saddam, in which he denied any relationship with bin Laden but appeared to acknowledge that some Iraqi officials had met him.

More than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, suspicions Saddam might have secretly collaborated with al Qaeda or other terror groups remains central to the continuing debate over the wisdom of launching the war, which has cost more than 4,400 U.S. lives.

The administration of former President George W. Bush based its case for war in part on fears that Iraq might provide nuclear arms to al Qaeda for use against the U.S.

No nuclear weapons - or any sign of an active nuclear program - have been found in postwar Iraq, and the Aziz interrogation records support arguments that while Saddam viewed the U.S. as his enemy, he was also hostile to al Qaeda and its radical religious ideology.

Saddam considered bin Laden and other Islamic extremists to be “opportunists” and “hypocrites,” Aziz told the FBI, during one of four interrogations in a U.S. detention facility in Baghdad.

“In Aziz’s presence, Saddam had only expressed negative sentiments about UBL,” the interrogation summary said, referring to bin Laden.

Aziz acknowledged, however, that the Saddam regime supported other terrorists, including notorious Palestinian militant Abul Abbas, mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship. American passenger Leon Klinghoffer was killed by the terrorists and his body dumped into the Mediterranean. Abbas was captured in Iraq by U.S. forces in April 2003 and died in custody 11 months later.

Aziz said Baghdad gave Abbas a farm to allow him to generate money for the Palestinian cause. “The farm evolved into a camp where Abu Abbas would train fighters with AK-47s [assault rifles]” provided by the Iraqi government, Aziz said, according to a summary of his May 6, 2004, interrogation.

The interviews, which took place between January and June of 2004, included some lighter moments. A summary of the May 6 session noted that his American interrogators had encouraged him to write a book.

Aziz, 74, who became the international face of Iraq to millions of Americans during the 1991 Gulf War, remains in Iraqi custody after being sentenced to 22 years in prison for crimes linked to his role in the former regime.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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