Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s name and photograph have suddenly become front-page items in both the United States and Europe, ever since Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his speech to the U.N. Security Council, identified Zarqawi as an al Qaeda terrorist working out of Baghdad. European antiterrorist experts in Germany and France, who have arrested many of Zarqawi’s followers in their countries, have vigorously denied any knowledge of a link with Iraq, but their many denials conceal facts they are suddenly reluctant to proclaim: The Zarqawi story is not limited to Iraq, and the terror network of which he is a crucial link extends from many Middle Eastern countries throughout Europe, and into the United States.
No doubt there is a connection between Zarqawi and Iraq — director of Central Intelligence George Tenet was not sitting right behind Powell to endorse a fantasy — but that is only a small part of the story. Zarqawi’s footprints lead unerringly to Iran, whence he has directed murderous operations in Jordan and Western Europe. And one doesn’t need anonymous sources to prove it: It’s on the record in Germany and Italy, at a minimum. One large body of evidence is available from the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, Germany, in connection with the trial of one Shadi Abdallah.
Abdallah is a 27-year-old Jordanian who went to Pakistan in 1999 for religious studies. En route he stopped in Mecca where he was recruited into the terrorist universe by Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Abdallah Al-Halabi. Following Al-Halabi’s instructions, he traveled to Pakistan and was taken to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he went to a military training camp. After nearly three weeks of training he was injured, and transferred to a hospital and subsequently to bin Laden’s apartment complex, where he was befriended by Osama himself. In short order he became one of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and then was introduced to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in Kabul. Zarqawi explained to him that the goal of his organization, Al Tawhid, was the overthrow of the Jordanian monarchy, and he invited Abdallah to go to Jordan to participate in the organization. Abdallah declined, and Zarqawi sent him to Germany in mid-2001 (Abdallah had lived there previously) to organize terror attacks against Jews and Americans. Arrested by German authorities late last year, Abdallah turned state’s evidence against his comrades, and his testimony is quite recent; his latest interrogation dates to last September.
According to Shadi Abdallah’s testimony (much of it confirmed by intercepts and other human sources), Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi is based in Iran, and the head of Zarqawi’s German operation — known variously as Ashraf, Noor, Noureddine, or Hamada — came directly from Iran at the beginning of 2002. Iranian connections abound: Terrorists routinely entered Europe with false passports obtained in Iran. Information often came via telephone calls from Iran. Important orders came via courier from Iran, as did money and forged documents. And, on at least three known occasions, the head of Zarqawi’s German operation traveled to Iran to meet with Zarqawi in order to get instructions.
The German information, of which this is only a miniscule part, shows the Iranian regime up to its neck in terrorist operations all over Europe, but the German authorities do not seem to have uncovered the link to Iraq. That information has probably not been shared with them, at least prior to Powell’s speech.
A similar pattern emerges from Italy, where antiterrorist operations have rounded up significant numbers of Arab terrorists (most recently in Naples in late January). Top terrorist leaders were recorded in many conversations with their superiors in Iran (and the Italian documents thoughtfully provide the telephone numbers). Perhaps the most significant of the terrorists arrested in Italy is Abdelkader Mahmoud Es Sayed, an Egyptian active in Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman Al Zawahiri, the chief deputy to Osama bin Laden.
Es Sayed worked in Milan at a mosque which he turned into “the most important European station for the activities of the Egyptian terrorist organizations Al Jamaa Al Islamiya and (Islamic) Jihad.” His contacts ranged from people in the United States to the man he addressed on the telephone as mawlana (“our master”), Rifaai Ahmad Taha Mousa, the “emir” of Jamaa Islamiya. Once again, the telephone call was between Italy and Iran, where the emir was located. An additional detail is worthy of note: The two discussed the movements of couriers between Iran and Italy, some carrying written letters, others carrying verbal messages from Iran to the operatives in Europe. Es Sayed’s home was found to contain detailed travel instructions to Afghanistan, invariably crossing Iranian territory, along with the interesting command that if a traveler were asked his native country, he should say he was Iraqi, whatever the nationality of his passport.
Es Sayed was even on good terms with Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass of Syria, who gave him telephone numbers for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, telling Es Sayed “talk to them…call them…they know you.” And Es Sayed was also in close contact with Saudis who were using business “cover” to obtain advanced technology for military and paramilitary operations.
European security services routinely share this sort of information — this too is abundantly documented in the transcripts and analyses of the German and Italian governments — so they know that the various organizations work intimately with one another, and find support from several of the regimes I have called the “terror masters.” Their outspoken skepticism about an Iraqi connection is disingenuous; at a minimum they should be saying, “we don’t have the Iraqi information, but we do know quite a bit about Iranian and Syrian connections.” But they do not say this because they know that this information would compel them to act on an even broader scale. For the moment at least, they have chosen to dawdle and obstruct action, hoping to avoid being targeted and seeking to cash in on their oil contracts with the terror masters.
Indeed, even if they choose to reject the evidence of an Iraqi link, they should be insisting on action against the regimes in Tehran and Damascus that they know are behind terrorists in their own countries who have planned attacks with conventional explosives and chemical and biological weapons. Their silence suggests that the Europeans have been intimidated, and while they are defending themselves from terrorist operatives on the ground, they are reluctant to undertake the broader campaign that would strike at the sources of Islamic terrorism itself.
The same goes for the Bush administration. It is understandable that Secretary Powell focused very tightly on Iraq in his speech to the U.N.; that is the issue of the day. But the war against terrorism is only just beginning, and the terrorist armies arrayed against us are working together, thanks to the support of many regimes. I fear we will be forced to come to grips with this unpleasant reality sooner than we wish: The regimes in Tehran, Damascus, and Riyadh cannot permit us to win an easy victory in Iraq, and they hope to deploy their terrorist surrogates against us on a massive scale.
Knowing what they know about the terrorists, the Europeans should be joining with us to take rapid and vigorous action. Some have, but the resistance of the French and the Germans bespeaks a combination of fecklessness and opportunism that will shame them for generations to come.
This, too, we must not forget.
— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen, Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, can be reached through Benador Associates.