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Alleged Al Qaeda Ties Questioned: Experts Scrutinize Details of Accusations Against Iraqi Government
Fair Use Statement

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Source: Common Dreams

Alleged Al Qaeda Ties Questioned: Experts Scrutinize Details of Accusations Against Iraqi Government

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 7, 2003; Page A21

Foreign government officials, experts in terrorism and a few members of Congress raised questions yesterday about the Bush administration's description of the connections between the Iraqi leadership and the al Qaeda terrorist network.

One of the most powerful disclosures made by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council Wednesday concerned a terrorist organization run by Abu Musab Zarqawi, 36, a Jordanian-born Palestinian. Powell described Zarqawi as an "associate" and "collaborator" of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Several experts described Powell's presentation as very strong in public relations terms, but they questioned the details of his description of the Zarqawi group and its relationship with Baghdad. A Washington terrorism expert who asked not to be identified said President Bush's depiction of Zarqawi yesterday as "a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner" raised similar questions.

Senior administration officials said that, although Zarqawi has ties to bin Laden's group, he is not under al Qaeda control or direction. "They have common goals," one intelligence analyst said, "but he [Zarqawi] is outside bin Laden's circle. He is not sworn al Qaeda."

Another senior administration official said Zarqawi started out as a Palestinian terrorist whose first known operation was carried out with Jordanians who had come together during the fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The operation was an attempt in late 1999 to blow up the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman, Jordan, which was frequented by Israeli and American tourists.

In his U.N. address, Powell said Zarqawi's network represents a potentially "more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network" than the connections Baghdad previously had with terrorist groups such as the Palestine Liberation Front, which it had supplied with money, small arms and explosives. Powell said Zarqawi has a "cell" in Baghdad from which associates "coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq for his network."

Senior U.S. officials, contacted by telephone yesterday, said that, although the Iraqi government is aware of the group's activity, it does not operate, control or sponsor it.

Zarqawi's network, Powell said, maintains a camp in northeastern Kurdish Iraq -- territory not controlled by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- that is within a small enclave ruled by an Islamic fundamentalist group called Ansar al-Islam. Powell said Baghdad has an "agent" in "the most senior levels" of Ansar, implying a special relationship with the Hussein government.

A senior government official said U.S. intelligence has no direct knowledge of what the "agent" does. "He may be spying on the Ansar group. He may be a liaison with Baghdad," the official said. "Saddam Hussein likes to keep an eye on such groups."

Ansar is at war with the Kurdish groups in northern Iraq that are protected by the United States. "We used to say there was no connection [between Hussein and the Zarqawi group]," said a senior foreign official supportive of the administration's Iraq policy. "You've got this camp of nutters up there in Kurdistan. Now there are some more indications of more connections, but what they mean and where they lead" are not clear.

The exiled former head of Ansar, Mullah Krekar, told the Guardian newspaper of London yesterday that he has no links with Iraqi leaders. "I am against Saddam Hussein," he said from his home in Oslo. "I want [Iraq] to change into an Islamic regime."

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) asked Powell why no military action has been taken against the Ansar camp since U.S. officials became aware of it in August. Noting that he was in Kurdistan last summer, Biden said there were reports at the time that an attack against the camp was planned.

Powell responded that there had been intelligence monitoring of the camp. "It's been occupied and unoccupied since last summer," he said. As for why no military action has been taken, Powell told Biden that he could not talk about "specific military contingency plans."

Powell said the United States has been "tracing individuals who have gone in there and come out of there," a surveillance effort that enabled him "to make the presentation that I made yesterday." The tracing of those individuals and the testimony of one detainee helped Powell connect Zarqawi's network to plotted terrorist attacks in Europe during his U.N. presentation.

In his remarks at the White House after meeting with Powell yesterday, Bush said Zarqawi's network "was caught producing poisons in London."

However, senior administration officials said a connection with Zarqawi "is still being investigated," a statement echoed by London law enforcement officials quoted in British newspapers.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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