- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) American intelligence officials suspect that Arab terrorists linked to al Qaeda tested biological weapons at a small facility in northern Iraq, a U.S. official said yesterday.
U.S. intelligence agencies had reason to believe the facility, in a part of northern Iraq not controlled by Saddam Hussein, was a kind of laboratory for chemical- and biological-weapons activity that included testing on barnyard animals and at least one man, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials believe the terrorists tested a biological toxin known as ricin, a deadly poison made from the castor-bean plant.
The Pentagon has reviewed taking military action because any time there is intelligence about production of weapons of mass destruction all options are considered, a U.S. counterterror official said in Washington.
The Bush administration considered a covert military operation against the facility in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, but President Bush did not approve military action, ABC News' "World News Tonight" reported yesterday.
Citing unidentified intelligence officials, ABC News said that as U.S. surveillance of the weapons facility intensified, Bush administration officials concluded it was too small and crude to be worth risking American lives and the outcry among allies that might follow any U.S. action inside Iraq.
At the White House, a National Security Council spokesman refused comment.
"As a matter of policy, we don't discuss whether something was or was not briefed to the president," spokesman Michael Anton said in Washington. "We don't discuss military targeting whether something is, was or might be a military target."
The official who privately discussed U.S. knowledge of the facility said it was operated recently by a small number of people connected to terrorists in Ansar al-Islam, an Arab organization with links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network. The official would not say whether the facility was still in operation.
U.S. intelligence agencies have no evidence that Saddam is linked to the operation, the official said.
The revelations put the White House in an uncomfortable position, with the president promising to almost every audience he addresses that his administration will prevent America's enemies from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
"With the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology, freedom's enemies could attain catastrophic power. And there's no doubt that they would use that power to attack us and to attack the values we uphold," Mr. Bush told a group of conservative leaders from the International Democrat Union at a White House dinner in June.

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