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Monday, November 24, 2003

Challenge, Chapter 8: The End, The Beginning

In the final paragraphs of his Weekly Standard article, Stephen Hayes notes that the Feith memo really just skims the surface of the contacts between Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaeda. Hayes notes another possible connection:

The memo contains only one paragraph on Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, the Iraqi facilitator who escorted two September 11 hijackers through customs in Kuala Lumpur. ... Other intelligence reports indicate that Shakir whisked not one but two September 11 hijackers--Khalid al Midhar and Nawaq al Hamzi--through the passport and customs process upon their arrival in Kuala Lumpur on January 5, 2000. Shakir then traveled with the hijackers to the Kuala Lumpur Hotel where they met with Ramzi bin al Shibh, one of the masterminds of the September 11 plot. The meeting lasted three days. Shakir returned to work on January 9 and January 10, and never again.

In this case, the US has intelligence reports of Iraq providing material assistance specifically to allow the people who perpetrated 9/11 to travel unmolested. For what purpose? Why would Iraq go to the trouble of doing that, unless it was to assist al-Qaeda in its plans to attack American assets? Hayes continues:

Shakir got his airport job through a contact at the Iraqi Embassy. (Iraq routinely used its embassies as staging grounds for its intelligence operations; in some cases, more than half of the alleged "diplomats" were intelligence operatives.) The Iraqi embassy, not his employer, controlled Shakir's schedule. He was detained in Qatar on September 17, 2001. Authorities found in his possession contact information for terrorists involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1998 embassy bombings, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and the September 11 hijackings. The CIA had previous reporting that Shakir had received a phone call from the safe house where the 1993 World Trade Center attacks had been plotted.

Shakir, it seems, has several connections to attacks on US interests, not just 9/11. So where is Shakir now? You're not going to believe this, but Iraq and Amnesty International [!] got him sprung:

The Qataris released Shakir shortly after his arrest. On October 21, 2001, he flew to Amman, Jordan, where he was to change planes to a flight to Baghdad. He didn't make that flight. Shakir was detained in Jordan for three months, where the CIA interrogated him. His interrogators concluded that Shakir had received extensive training in counter-interrogation techniques. Not long after he was detained, according to an official familiar with the intelligence, the Iraqi regime began to "pressure" Jordanian intelligence to release him. At the same time, Amnesty International complained that Shakir was being held without charge. The Jordanians released him on January 28, 2002, at which point he is believed to have fled back to Iraq.

So not only did this Iraqi operative have numerous connections to al-Qaeda, but the government of Iraq leaned on Jordan to have him returned. Apparently, no one knows where Shakir is now, but it seems rather obvious that he's not welcoming the US military in Baghdad.

Stephen Hayes has demonstrated repeated and substantiated ties between Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaeda. So where is the mainstream media? Where are the investigative reporters? Finally, one major US newspaper is taking this seriously, although only in its op/ed pages. William Safire writes in today's NY Times:

Deniers derogate as "cherry picking" Feith's intelligence summary available to senators: "The Czech counterintelligence service reported that the Sept. 11 hijacker [Mohamed] Atta met with the former Iraqi intelligence chief in Prague, al Ani, on several occasions. During one of those meetings, al Ani ordered the IIS [Iraq Intelligence Service] finance officer to issue Atta funds from IIS financial holdings in the Prague office."

If true, that would implicate Saddam's regime in the murder of 3,000 Americans. Though the C.I.A. can confirm two Atta trips to Prague, in 1994 and 2000, it cannot confirm the two other visits the Czechs reported, including one on April 9, 2001, with Saddam's top European agent, al-Ani, then vice consul in Prague. C.I.A. chief George Tenet testified that the meeting reported by the Czech service was "possible," but the F.B.I. floated hints that car rental records showed Atta to be traveling between Virginia and Florida that week.

Enter the writer Edward Jay Epstein in the liberal online journal Slate: "All these reports attributed to the FBI were, as it turns out, erroneous. There were no car rental records in Virginia, Florida, or anywhere else in April 2001 for Mohamed Atta, since he had not yet obtained his Florida license." You cannot rent a car without a driver's license.

Let's see who else picks up the ball and runs with it.

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10:23 AM in War on Terror | Permalink


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