Tuesday, September 6, 2005

MOSUL, Iraq — A terrorist captured near the Syrian border last month had a computer “thumb drive” that contained planning information about the July 7 suicide bombings in London, according to a U.S. military officer.

Col. Robert Brown, commander of the 1st Brigade 25th Infantry Division in Mosul, said that the man was captured north of Qaim in western Iraq and that authorities had connected him to the al Qaeda terrorist network.

It is the first evidence of a link between the London bombs and terrorists in Iraq, but fits with other evidence of a growing presence in Iraq by al Qaeda, which has taken responsibility for the British attacks.

Qaim, a Euphrates River border town, fell under the control of fighters claiming allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization Monday, according to tribal members, officials, residents and others quoted yesterday by the Associated Press.

The sources said members of the group led by terror chief Abu Musab Zarqawi had killed U.S. collaborators and imposed strict Islamic law, posting a sign at an entrance to the town declaring, “Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Qaim.”

Col. Brown declined to discuss the specific nature of the information on the thumb drive — a miniature data storage device that plugs into a computer’s USB port — but said it indicated al Qaeda involvement in the attacks on London’s bus and subway system.

“I don’t think anyone’s done a good enough job explaining” the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, he said.

The Arabic language satellite channel Al Jazeera last week aired parts of a videotape in which al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, took responsibility for the blasts, thought to have used a potent but easily manufactured homemade explosive called TATP.

The same video carried a recorded statement by one of the four British Muslims who killed themselves and 52 others in the near-simultaneous attacks. The London bomber also cited his admiration for Zarqawi.

Bashar al-Naher, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, told The Washington Times that he had not heard about the Mosul discovery but said, “This does not surprise me. We are noting a pattern of involvement by [Iraqi hard-liners] in terrorist plots abroad.”

The U.S. Central Command estimates that about 100 to 150 “foreign fighters” enter Iraq each month. These men are responsible for the great majority of suicide bombs, the most devastating weapon the insurgents and terrorists have in their arsenal.

Most such attacks are coordinated by Zarqawi’s group, which calls itself al Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi claims allegiance to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but little is known about the level of direct cooperation between the groups.

Shaun Waterman of United Press International and Paul Martin of The Washington Times contributed to this report.

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