- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (UPI) — The Iraqi Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, "played the role of liaison" to the al Qaida terror network from the late 1990s until 2001, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N. Security Council Wednesday.

Addressing a special session of the panel on Iraq, Powell — quoting an al Qaida source — said that in 1996, the network's leader Osama bin Laden met a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence in Khartoum, Sudan, and the Iraqis maintained this link even after bin Laden moved to Afghanistan in 1995.

Quoting a defector — one of Saddam Hussein's former intelligence chiefs now in Europe — Powell said Saddam sent his agents to Afghanistan sometime in the mid-1990s to provide training to al Qaida members on document forgery. "From the late 1990s until 2001, the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan played the role of liaison to the al Qaida organization," he added.

Although it is the first time that a senior U.S. official has openly spoken about the activities of the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agents have long been aware of its involvement with subversive activities and terrorist groups. Wednesday a senior Pakistani official said that country's intelligence agencies knew that the Iraqis were using their embassy as a conduit to maintain links with al Qaida.

"The Iraqi embassy was a constant headache for us… They were funding religious militants, particularly anti-Shiite groups." Such groups have been responsible for the murders of thousands of members of Pakistan's Shiia minority.

In the late 1970s, Pakistani police raided the Iraqi embassy and recovered a large cache of weapons Iraq was supplying to pro-Soviet insurgents in Pakistan's southern province of Balochistan.

But Iraq's involvement with al Qaida was first publicly established in 1996 when Pakistani and U.S. intelligence agents arrested Ahmed Yusuf Ramzi, a terrorist later convicted for masterminding the first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.

He lived in Islamabad's Shalimar neighborhood, less than a block away from the official residence of the Iraqi ambassador.

Pakistani and U.S. intelligence sources later said that the Iraqis helped Ramzi hide after his escape from New York following the first WTC bombing.

Ramzi, who allegedly maintained a close link with the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad, was caught only after his roommate, a South African Muslim called Ishtiaque Parker, tipped off the U.S. Embassy there. Parker was later moved to the United States under the witness protection scheme to save him from al Qaida terrorists.

Although Ramzi was arrested, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment, intelligence officials say they still do not know who he really was.

Recently, a London-based Arabic newspaper As-Sharq al-Ausat reported that Ramzi also used the names Raashid Yusuf, Raashid al-Iraqi, Kemal Ibraheem, Ali Muhammad al-Balooshi, and Abd-ul-Baasit Mahmood Abd-ul-Kareem who was listed as a Pakistani national.

Even though the final name the American investigators decided on was Ramzi Ahmed Yusuf, the judge who sentenced him to life imprisonment used one of the above, Abd-ul-Baasit Mahmood Abd-ul-Kareem as his real name. "And under this name he was not Pakistani but Iraqi," the newspaper said.

In press interviews with him in prison before he was convicted he said he was a "citizen of Islam" and spoke very good Arabic. And the Arabs he lived with in New York before the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 when he fled to Pakistan said he spoke Iraqi Arabic and used the given name Raashid. They called him Raashid the Iraqi.

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