- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

From combined dispatches
A former Iraqi intelligence official accused of having links to al Qaeda has been captured by U.S. forces, American officials said yesterday. The announcement came a day after the surrender of Saddam Hussein loyalist Tariq Aziz, for years the regime's most public face.
Farouk Hijazi, who most recently served as Iraq's ambassador to Tunisia, was once a senior official in the Mukhabarat, Saddam's intelligence service.
Although Hijazi was not on the most-wanted list, he is "the biggest catch so far," former CIA Director James Woolsey told CNN. "We know this man was involved with al Qaeda."
In December 1998, while ambassador to Turkey, Hijazi traveled to Afghanistan and met with Osama bin Laden, according to U.S. officials who cite the meeting as evidence of an Iraqi link to al Qaeda.
Iraqi officials denied Hijazi met with bin Laden. The main exile group that opposed Saddam the Iraqi National Congress contends Hijazi was the key link between Saddam's regime and bin Laden's terrorist organization.
The Washington Times reported last week that Hijazi had been tracked in Syria, having arrived in the capital, Damascus, on a commercial jetliner. Syria denied he was in the country.
Mr. Aziz, who had been Saddam's deputy prime minister, was being questioned yesterday, a day after surrendering to U.S. forces.
American officials hope Mr. Aziz and Hijazi will give up information about the fate of Saddam and the status of any illegal weapons programs.
Mr. Aziz was the only Christian in Saddam's inner circle, most of whom were Sunni Muslims. Fluent in English, Mr. Aziz served as foreign minister during the 1991 Persian Gulf war and was a frequent spokesman for Iraq.
Bishop Emmanuel Delly whose Chaldean Christian congregation in Baghdad includes Mr. Aziz's wife expressed some sympathy with Mr. Aziz.
"He was a good man; like all of us, he was only doing his duty," Bishop Delly said yesterday.
Residents of a well-off Baghdad neighborhood where some of Mr. Aziz's relatives live said the family had not been seen for about three weeks, but that some of the clan returned Thursday.
On the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted members of the former government, Mr. Aziz was ranked No. 43. Hijazi perhaps because of his diplomatic status was not on the list.
Mr. Aziz was detained by U.S. special operations personnel after surrendering Thursday, and "is currently being questioned by coalition forces," said Maj. Randi Steffy, a U.S. Central Command spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency said yesterday that up to half a million Iraqis could go back to their country many after decades in exile as a result of the fall of Saddam's government.

Staff writer Bill Gertz contributed to this report in Washington.

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