Evidence continues to accumulate that Saddam Hussein governed a terrorist state whose behavior merited his ouster by the 33-member, U.S.-led Coalition. Documents recently released by the Cybercast News Service detail Baathist Baghdad’s terror ties, thus reinforcing a key rationale for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
CNS’s Scott Wheeler first reported on 42 pages of records reputedly from the Iraqi Intelligence Service that were captured by U.S. troops in Iraq. An anonymous senior U.S. official, who Wheeler considers reliable, gave CNS the typed and handwritten Arabic-language papers from 1993.
The memos and letters between Saddam Hussein’s office and top IIS leadership include numerous examples of collaboration between Baghdad and anti-American Islamic terrorists. If accurate, they provide damning proof of Hussein’s philanthropy of terror. Highlights, with anomalies in grammar and punctuation intact, include the following:
According to CNS’ English-language translation, a January 18, 1993, letter signed by “the president’s secretary” instructs “Comrade Ali al-Reeh Al-Sheik/a member of The Arabian Bureau-Ba’ath party leadership” that “it’s decided that the party should move to hunt the Americans who are on Arabian land, especially in Somalia, by using Arabian elements, or Asian (Muslims) or friends. Take the necessary steps.”
About nine months later, Islamic forces loyal to Mohamed Farah Aideed, an al-Qaeda-supplied warlord, killed 18 U.S. soldiers in the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu, Somalia.
An 11-page memo marked “Top secret, personal & Urgent” and dated January 25, 1993, lists “parties that are related to our system.” Signed by Abdel Sattar, “the director of the intelligence system,” the document outlines Baghdad’s relationships with 11 militant Islamic organizations. As the document states: “they have elements scattered whole over Arabian lands and are expert in executing the mentioned/the required missions.” These terrorist groups include:
–”Abo Nedhal [Abu Nidal] organization.” The ANO committed at least 407 murders, including grenade and gun attacks on Rome’s and Vienna’s international airports on December 27, 1985. These simultaneous assaults killed 19 travelers, five of them American. An ANO bomb also exploded over the Ionian Sea in a TWA jet between Israel and Athens. The September 8, 1974, blast killed all 88 aboard, including 11 Americans.
“The movement believes in political violence and assassinations,” the IIS memo continues. “We have relationships with them since 1973, currently they have a representative in the country, monthly helps are given to them (20 thousand Dinars) in addition to other supports.” In 1993, just this financial assistance would have equaled $80,000 annually at the official exchange rate of 3 dinars to the dollar.
–”Al-Jehad w’Al-Tajdeed.” This “secret Palestinian organization,” the memo says, “believes in armed struggle against US & Western interests, it also believes that Mr. President (May Allah save him) is leading the believers against the unbelievers camp.” The document adds that a representative of the group “visited the country two months ago and showed the readiness of his organization to execute operations against U.S. interests anytime.”
Bruce Tefft, a retired CIA counterterrorist experienced in Iraqi issues, told CNS that he believed the Tajdeed organization likely included Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged mastermind behind today’s anti-Coalition attacks in Iraq. Zarqawi is suspected of personally decapitating American entrepreneur Nicholas Berg last May. The group’s website “posts Zarqawi’s speeches, messages, claims of assassinations, and beheading videos,” Tefft said. “The apparent linkages are too close to be accidental,” he continued. This connection could be “one of the first operational contacts between an al-Qaeda group and Iraq.”
–Egyptian Islamic Group. The memo explained that “our system met with Sheikh Ali Othman Taha the vice chairman of the National Islamic Front in Sudan.” Among other things, “we agreed with him on the…Reopening of the relationship with ‘Al-Jehad Al-Islamy.’ This appears to be the Egyptian Islamic Group, “currently led by Dr. Omar Abdel Rahman,” the record continues. “[T]he organization is considered as the most violent in Egypt, they assassinated ‘Anwar Al-Sadat,’” among other crimes.
Egyptian imam Omar Abdel Rahman, better known as the Blind Sheik, inspired the February 26, 1993, World Trade Center attack and a 1994 conspiracy to bomb New York City landmarks, for which he was arrested and convicted. According to The 9/11 Commission Report, Rahman was spiritual leader to both the Egyptian Islamic Group and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a former leader of EIJ, later merged it with al Qaeda.
“Iraq’s contact with the Egyptian Islamic Group is another operational contact between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” Tefft explained to CNS.
The documents include a five-page roster with names, nationalities, and details on 92 people who “finished the course at M14,” apparently a terrorist training regimen at an Iraqi intelligence institution. Some of these militants later conducted attacks. These foreign trainees, nearly all of whom graduated on November 24, 1990, included one Libyan, two Jordanians, two Moroccans, three Egyptians naturalized as Iraqis, three Eritreans, six Tunisians, nine Lebanese, nine Syrians, 20 Sudanese, and 35 Palestinians. This record indicates that Amer Asa’ad Melhem Mahmood and Mohammed Hasan Al-Howshary, both Palestinians, were arrested and detained at Athens Airport for two weeks while on “a mission outside the country.”
While these papers contain even more incriminating data, can they be trusted? After the Dan Rather forgery fiasco, responsible journalists have become increasingly skeptical about unusual records.
CNSnews.com’s Wheeler “obtained documents from a long-standing, reliable source who had provided unassailed information for articles previously published,” Managing Editor David Thibault explained in an October 4 posting, as Wheeler’s article appeared. The news organization had two people independently translate the Arabic documents into English. While there were no handwriting samples or originals on watermarked IIS stationery to authenticate these photocopies, experts CNS cited said “the documents comport with the format, style and content of other Iraqi documents from that era known to be genuine,” Thibault added.
“They make sense,” said Laurie Mylroie, a Middle Eastern scholar and adviser on Iraq policy to the 1992 Clinton campaign. “This is what one would think Saddam was doing at the time.”
Tefft, the CIA veteran, said, “based on available, unclassified and open source information, the details in these documents are accurate…”
A former United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspector who insisted on anonymity, added, “This is fairly typical of that time era. [The Iraqis] were meticulous record keepers.”
Walid Phares, a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, reviewed these documents for the October 16 issue of World magazine, a conservative publication. Phares believes these papers “establish irreversible evidence that there were strategic relations between the Baathist regime and Islamist groups that became al-Qaeda.” He continued, “This is a watershed. This is big.”
I asked Edward Jajko for a fifth opinion. Jajko–the curator emeritus of the Middle East Collection of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University–inspected copies of Arabic- and English-language documents that CNS shipped me.
Jajko was concerned about some of the differences between the Arabic he read and what he saw in English.
“It seems to be a quick and dirty translation by someone who knows Arabic but does not have a solid command of English,” Jajko e-mailed me. For instance, several references to the “Islam Clerks Society” should have read “Islam Clerics Society.” There is no place called “Blojestan,” although the territory of Baluchistan does exist.
In almost every case, Jajko’s translations proved more damning than CNS’s. For instance, CNS’s translators wrote of Abdel Fattah Abdel Leteef Fakhory: “[H]e was among the leaders in the western bank system, he is a peculiar man, and he had executive elements directly connected to him.”
Jajko–who was Yale University Library’s near-east bibliographer from 1970 through 1982, before his 19 years at Hoover–said this passage more accurately reads: “He was one of the leaders of the western region [possibly the West Bank in Israel]. Operationally speaking, he is considered to be in a class by himself.” Jajko added: “As for his having ‘executive elements,’ that could suggest that he knows how to run a shop; but it in fact means that he has underlings whom he can deputize to do his killing or other jobs.”
Jajko disputed several references to “martyrs” believing instead that the proper word is “volunteers.” “Significant difference,” he said, “since the ‘martyrs’ referred to are, in fact, alive.”
Translation aside, did Jajko find the documents legitimate? Absent signed originals on official stationery, he said it is hard to tell. However, he noted that “the language and style are straight, pure, thudding bureaucratese consistent with Iraqi official documents. Iraqis in the Saddam years were compulsive record keepers…Papers like these were churned out by the billions.”
Jajko said he does not have “a good explanation for why most of these documents are in manuscript. They are not drafts, since they are addressed and signed, and some even have notes indicating that they were read by others. Was the sanctions regime so effective that they couldn’t replace their typewriter ribbons? Were they unable to repair old typewriters? I am frankly puzzled. The answer could be very simple–that preparing the documents by hand was the best way to preserve the need-to-know system and prevent extra copies from proliferating.”
If these documents are reliable, what do they mean?
“Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this particular batch of documents is real, straight from the camel’s mouth authentic intel material from downtown Baghdad,” Jajko said. “It shows training of non-Iraqi Arabs, all of whom have Muslim names, by the way, and their deployment for unstated operations in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and elsewhere during Desert Storm, and the subsequent recognition and honoring of those operatives by the Iraqi presidency.”
“The material,” Jajko continued, “shows a discussion of attempts to attack or subvert the Egyptian government, using Egyptian Islamic Jihad and perhaps other internal agents. While Egypt seems to be taken off the target list by Saddam, there seems to have been serious discussion of possible operations. Of course, the US is targeted, not at home but abroad, as on the very first page, with the targeting of Americans in ‘Arabian land, especially in Somalia.’ The material shows Iraqi support for organizations and individuals identified as terrorist, with finances, training, and materiel, and the use of those organizations and individuals against the US and its coalition in Desert Storm.”
Thus, five different experts who have reviewed these records agree that, if valid, Saddam Hussein’s government cavorted with anti-American terrorists and furnished them strategic direction and the resources to conduct anti-American and anti-allied operations.
These documents are not an exhaustive archive tracing the history of Saddam Hussein’s generous guidance of militant Islam. Instead, these records create a snapshot of the Baathist regime’s beneficence toward Islamic extremists between January and April 1993. These papers offer a brief glimpse of a far darker picture.
–Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.