1. "Al-Qaeda mastermind Mohammed Atta trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal"
2. Atta "displayed extraordinary effort"
3. "Terrorist behind September 11 strike was trained by Saddam" (By Con Coughlin, Sunday Telegraph, U.K., December 14, 2003)
4. "Does this link Saddam to 9/11?" (By Con Coughlin, Sunday Telegraph, U.K., December 14, 2003)
[Note by Tom Gross]
I attach two articles from yesterday's Sunday Telegraph (UK), published shortly before Saddam's capture, alleging that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the U.S., was trained in Baghdad by the renegade Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal.
The articles are written by my former editor, Con Coughlin, the former foreign editor (and now associate editor) of the Sunday Telegraph. Coughlin is a leading expert on both Saddam and on Middle East terror groups, with a wide range of contacts throughout the region. Many of his "exclusives" have proven correct in the past. He is the author of "Saddam: The Secret Life," among other books.
Abu Nidal, was previously head of the Fatah-Revolutionary Council, killed at least 275 people and wounded over 1000 in dozens of attacks on mainly Israeli, Jewish, American and moderate Arab targets. These include the massacre of 22 Jewish worshipers during Sabbath services at the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul on Sept. 6, 1986 (the same synagogue that was bombed last month); the killing of six people in a grenade attack on the Jo Goldenberg Jewish restaurant in Paris on Aug. 9, 1982; the killing of 19 people and the wounding of 111 at the El Al check-in desks at Rome and Vienna airports on Dec. 27, 1985; the killing of 88 people on a TWA flight from Israel to Greece Oct. 8, 1974; the killing of 32 passengers on board a Pan Am jet at Rome Airport on Dec. 17, 1973.
He also assassinated a number of Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian moderates.
Abu Nidal was based in Baghdad, under Saddam's personal protection, for most of his career. He was murdered in August 2002 in Baghdad, probably on Saddam's orders after falling out with Saddam.
-- Tom Gross
ATTA “DISPLAYED EXTRAORDINAIRY EFFORT”
1. "Terrorist behind September 11 strike was trained by Saddam," (By Con Coughlin, Sunday Telegraph, U.K., December 14, 2003). "Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist. Details of Atta's visit to the Iraqi capital in the summer of 2001, just weeks before he launched the most devastating terrorist attack in US history, are contained in a top secret memo written to Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The handwritten memo, a copy of which has been obtained exclusively by the Telegraph, is dated July 1, 2001 and provides a short resume of a three-day "work programme" Atta had undertaken at Abu Nidal's base in Baghdad. In the memo, Habbush reports that Atta "displayed extraordinary effort" and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be "responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy". [Full article below]
2. "Does this link Saddam to 9/11?" (By Con Coughlin, Sunday Telegraph, U.K., December 14, 2003).
TERRORIST BEHIND SEPTEMBER 11 STRIKE WAS TRAINED BY SADDAM
Terrorist behind September 11 strike was trained by Saddam
By Con Coughlin
Sunday Telegraph, U.K.
December 14, 2003
Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist.
Details of Atta's visit to the Iraqi capital in the summer of 2001, just weeks before he launched the most devastating terrorist attack in US history, are contained in a top secret memo written to Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
The handwritten memo, a copy of which has been obtained exclusively by the Telegraph, is dated July 1, 2001 and provides a short resume of a three-day "work programme" Atta had undertaken at Abu Nidal's base in Baghdad.
In the memo, Habbush reports that Atta "displayed extraordinary effort" and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be "responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy".
The second part of the memo, which is headed "Niger Shipment", contains a report about an unspecified shipment – believed to be uranium – that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria.
Although Iraqi officials refused to disclose how and where they had obtained the document, Dr Ayad Allawi, a member of Iraq's ruling seven-man Presidential Committee, said the document was genuine.
"We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam's involvement with al-Qaeda," he said. "But this is the most compelling piece of evidence that we have found so far. It shows that not only did Saddam have contacts with al-Qaeda, he had contact with those responsible for the September 11 attacks."
Although Atta is believed to have been resident in Florida in the summer of 2001, he is known to have used more than a dozen aliases, and intelligence experts believe he could easily have slipped out of the US to visit Iraq.
Abu Nidal, who was responsible for the failed assassination of the Israeli ambassador to London in 1982, was based in Baghdad for more than two decades.
DOES THIS LINK SADDAM TO 9/11?
Does this link Saddam to 9/11?
By Con Coughlin
Sunday Telegraph, U.K.
December 14, 2003
A document discovered by Iraq's interim government details a meeting between the man behind the September 11 attacks and Abu Nidal, the Palestinian terrorist, at his Baghdad training camp. Con Coughlin reports.
For anyone attempting to find evidence to justify the war in Iraq, the discovery of a document that directly links Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks, with the Baghdad training camp of Abu Nidal, the infamous Palestinian terrorist, appears almost too good to be true.
Ever since four hijacked civilian jets devastated the United States' eastern seaboard on September 11, 2001, there have been any number of reports circulating Western intelligence agencies suggesting that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had close links to al-Qaeda.
Most of the claims relate to meetings between al-Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence to discuss co-operation on matters such as funding, training and equipment.
Prior to the discovery of the document published today by the Telegraph, the most controversial report related to the suggestion that Atta had met Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, a senior Iraqi intelligence officer, in Prague in April 2001.
But while both President Bush and Tony Blair have dropped numerous hints that they believe there was a significant level of co-operation between Saddam and al-Qaeda, their respective intelligence agencies have actively sought to downplay the significance of the relationship, especially the suggestion that Saddam was in any way involved in the September 11 attacks.
To this end America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with the backing of Britain's MI6, have poured scorn on Atta's Prague meeting.
However, the tantalising detail provided in the intelligence document uncovered by Iraq's interim government suggests that Atta's involvement with Iraqi intelligence may well have been far deeper than has hitherto been acknowledged.
Written in the neat, precise hand of Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) and one of the few named in the US government's pack of cards of most-wanted Iraqis not to have been apprehended, the personal memo to Saddam is signed by Habbush in distinctive green ink.
Headed simply "Intelligence Items", and dated July 1, 2001, it is addressed: "To the President of the Ba'ath Revolution Party and President of the Republic, may God protect you."
The first paragraph states that "Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian national, came with Abu Ammer (an Arabic nom-de-guerre – his real identity is unknown) and we hosted him in Abu Nidal's house at al-Dora under our direct supervision.
"We arranged a work programme for him for three days with a team dedicated to working with him... He displayed extraordinary effort and showed a firm commitment to lead the team which will be responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy."
There is nothing in the document that provides any clue to the identity of the "targets", although Iraqi officials say it is a coded reference to the September 11 attacks.
The second item contains a report of how Iraqi intelligence, helped by "a small team from the al-Qaeda organisation", arranged for an (unspecified) shipment from Niger to reach Baghdad by way of Libya and Syria.
Iraqi officials believe this is a reference to the controversial shipments of uranium ore Iraq acquired from Niger to aid Saddam in his efforts to develop an atom bomb, although there is no explicit reference in the document to this.
Habbush writes that the successful completion of the shipment was "the fruit of your excellent secret meeting with Bashir al-Asad (the Syrian president) on the Iraqi-Syrian border", and concludes: "May God protect you and save you to all Arab nations."
While it is almost impossible to ascertain whether or not the document is legitimate or a clever fake, Iraqi officials working for the interim government are convinced of its authenticity, even though they decline to reveal where and how they obtained it. "It is not important how we found it," said a senior Iraqi security official. "The important thing is that we did find it and the information it contains."
A leading member of Iraq's governing council, who asked not to be named, said he was convinced of the document's authenticity.
"There are people who are working with us who used to work with Habbush who are convinced that it is his handwriting and signature. We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam's dealings with al-Qaeda, and this document shows the extent of the old regime's involvement with the international terrorist network."
This is the second document published by this newspaper that appears to highlight Saddam's links with al-Qaeda. Earlier this year the Telegraph published details of another Iraqi intelligence document that indicated Saddam's regime was attempting to set up a meeting with Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, who was then based in Sudan.
Intelligence experts point out that a memo such as that written by Habbush would of necessity be vague and short. "Trained intelligence officers hate putting anything down in writing," said one former CIA officer. "You never know where it might turn up."
Certainly the memo's detail concerning Mohammed Atta and Abu Nidal fits in with the known movements of the two terrorists in the summer of 2001. Abu Nidal, the renegade Palestinian terrorist responsible for a wave of outrages in the 1980s, such as the 1985 bomb attacks on Rome and Vienna airports, was based in Baghdad, under Saddam's personal protection, for most of his career.
Having briefly relocated to Libya, Abu Nidal returned to Baghdad at some point in early 2001. At the time it was assumed that Saddam had lured the Palestinian terrorist back to help the Iraqi leader plan a number of terrorist attacks aimed at destabilising American plans to remove him.
In particular, Saddam wanted Abu Nidal to revive his network of "sleeper cells" in Europe and the Middle East to carry out a new wave of attacks. During 2001 Abu Nidal lived in a number of houses in the Baghdad area, including a spacious home in the al-Dora district where he is reported to have met Atta.
The relationship between Abu Nidal and Saddam, however, quickly turned sour, mainly because – as the Telegraph reported at the time – the ageing Palestinian leader was reluctant to accede to Saddam's request to train al-Qaeda fighters in sophisticated terrorist techniques.
Abu Nidal was murdered in August 2002, although the Iraqis tried to claim that he had committed suicide. Habbush appeared at a hastily arranged press conference in Baghdad in an attempt to persuade the sceptical Arab media that Abu Nidal had taken his own life after Iraqi investigators had uncovered a plot to assassinate Saddam.
Although Western intelligence agencies have attempted to trace Atta's movements in the months preceding September 11, there remain several periods during which his precise whereabouts are unknown. Having moved to Florida from Hamburg in 2000, Atta is known to have made at least two trips from the US to Europe in 2001.
In early January he flew to Madrid for a few days. His next confirmed trip was to Zurich in early July. In between, American investigators have concluded from a detailed examination of Atta's credit cards and phone records, that he spent most of the spring and early summer of 2001 in Florida, interspersed by occasional domestic trips. The only confirmed sighting of Atta during this period, however, was on April 26 when he was pulled over for a traffic violation in Florida.
This traffic offence, taken with other evidence collated by FBI agents, is one of the reasons that CIA officials have discounted the report that Atta met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague earlier in the month (the Czech authorities claim Atta was in Prague on April 8). Yesterday the New York Times reported that Ani, who was taken into US custody last July, had told American interrogators that he had not met Atta in Prague.
"The Prague meeting does not appear very convincing," said Lorenzo Vidino, a terrorism analyst at The Investigative Project, a non-profit organisation that investigates international terrorism, in Washington. "But even if that meeting did not take place you have to remember that Atta used a large number of aliases when he travelled. It is not inconceivable that Atta slipped out of the US undetected sometime in the first half of 2001."
The US Congressional report into the September 11 attacks states that Atta used 16 to 17 known aliases, although American intelligence experts concede that there may have been others.
It is entirely conceivable, then, that Atta secretly made his way to Baghdad to undertake training with Abu Nidal a few months before the September 11 attacks. But as long as Saddam and his senior intelligence operatives remain at large, it is impossible to assess just how much they knew about, and were involved in, the planning and execution of the September 11 atrocities.