One of the most unreported stories concerns Saddam Hussein's connection to various terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. This has been lost in a lot of the arguments over weapons of mass destruction. Some of it is due to skepticism about any claim made by the American government. Another part is due to an insistence on a court-room level of proof - an impossible standard for intelligence agencies to meet in most cases. That said, evidence is emerging of the Saddam Hussein regime's connections to terrorism. The regime openly handed out checks to the families of Palestinian murder-suicide bombers. It also harbored the terrorist Abu Nidal - until the terrorist's reported suicide. Abu Abbas, the mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking (during which a wheelchair-bound American citizen was killed), also was in Iraq when captured.
Within weeks of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Czech intelligence reported that ringleader Mohammed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. This report was one of the most publicized - and contested - in the run-up to the liberation of Iraq. On one occasion, the New York Times reported that Czech President Vlacav Havel had called to disavow the report - and Havel's spokesman promptly labeled the New York Times report a "fabrication". An editorial that labeled the Czech informant a drunk was rebutted within days. This controversy distracted from another link: An Iraqi who attended the January 2000 summit in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia after escorting at least one of the hijackers who flew the airliner into the Pentagon. That Iraqi, Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, had contact information for the safe houses used in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and a 1995 al-Qaeda plot to destroy airliners over the Pacific when he was taken into custody in Qatar. Shakir was later released by the Qatari government, but taken into custody by Jordan until pressure from Amnesty International resulted in his release.
But the most interesting evidence is from documents. One of these, which mentioned bringing in an envoy from bin Laden to Baghdad to discuss "the future of our relationship", was recovered by a Toronto Star reporter in April, 2003, shortly after the fall of Saddam's regime. Other documents have been leaked to various outlets. One, discovered during Operation Iraqi Freedom, was an al-Qaeda manual on chemical warfare that mentioned numerous Iraqi officials. Other documents showed how Saddam's regime trained numerous terrorists, including the Algerian-based GSPC, the Sudanese Islamic Army, and Ansar-al-Islam, which carried out operations in Kurdistan. Over two million documents are currently held by CENTCOM, most of which are unclassified. FOIA requests have been denied, despite the fact the documents are unclassified. Only 50,000 have been examined, most dealing with weapons of mass destruction. The rest have been lying around, indexed in a database known as HARMONY.
The documents on terrorism that have leaked carry enough evidence that tie Saddam Hussein to a number of terrorist groups, some of which have lengthy track records of attacks on the United States. The additional documents could shed additional light on these connections. There is a chance the apparent connections to terrorism are all a misunderstanding, but there is a better chance the author will get a date with the actress who stars in a prime-time series that has usually won its timeslot. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)