Confirming that Operation Iraqi Freedom is an integral part of the war on terror, soldiers of the 7th Marine Regiment destroyed a suspected terrorist camp early Sunday en route to Baghdad. Located a mile east of the Tigris River, the Salman Pak base was exactly where U.S. terrorism experts and Iraqi defectors said it would be.
Ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, Clinton Iraqi policy adviser Laurie Mylroie, former Iraqi nuclear chief Khidir Hamza and émigré Iraqi army colonel Sabah Khodada are among those who say that Saddam Hussein used Salman Pak to instruct terrorists in bomb making, assassination, and hijacking (see “The 9/11 Connection”). Key to this objective was an airplane fuselage in which Islamic extremists honed their air-piracy skills. Initial reports from the camp vindicate those suspicions.
”The rusted shell of an old passenger jet sat out in a field, its tail broken off,” an Associated Press dispatch reported Sunday. “Good for hijacking practice, U.S. Marines speculated Sunday as they examined an Iraqi training base about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad.”
The AP’s Ravi Nessman added: “The passenger plane’s sun-bleached fuselage lay alone in a large, barren field. A fire engine sat at one intersection. Elsewhere, the twisted metal wreck of a double-decker bus stood near three decrepit green and red train cars.” These latter details bolster charges that Salman Pak also showed terrorists how to seize buses and trains.
The Marines shelled then entered Salman Pak — named after a 7th Century Persian convert to Islam who was the prophet Mohammed’s barber — after it was discussed by Egyptian and Sudanese fighters caught elsewhere in Iraq.
As the U.S. Army’s stoic and crisp Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told reporters Sunday, “The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their inferences to the type of training that they received, all of these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak.”
American GIs also searched the facility’s buildings.
“We’re trying to find anything of intel value, to see how they train and possibly their terrorist tactics,” Gunnery Sergeant Scott Stalker — the 7th Marines’ 28-year-old intelligence chief from Baypoint, California — told the AP.
As soldiers press on to victory, analysts now will sift through Salman Pak and its papers to find dots to connect to terrorist activities and groups, possibly including al Qaeda. A key question for them is whether the September 11 conspirators practiced their hijacking chops at this base.
“We’ll pull documents out of it and see what the documents say, if there’s any links or indications,” General Brooks said. “We’ll look and see if there’s any persons that are recovered that may not be Iraqi. All of that is detailed and deliberate work that happens after the fact.”
— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.