New details about Ansar's contacts with Al Qaeda come from Rafed Ibrahim Fatah, an Iraqi Arab held by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Mr. Fatah agreed to be interviewed in an interrogation room at a PUK security complex in Sulaymaniyah.
Mr. Fatah says he fled from Baghdad to Iran in the mid-1980s, and was in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Tehran. There, in 1989, he says he met two Iraqi brothers who had returned from mujahideen centers in Pakistan explicitly to make contact with another Kurdish faction, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK), "because there was jihad in Peshawar, [Pakistan], and they were fighting jihad here." The IMK is a broad political party that splintered in recent years; the breakaway extremists first created Jund al-Islam, then changed their name to Ansar.
Fatah says one of the brothers, Abu Ayoub, called himself a "military cadre working for Osama," and visited Iraqi Kurds in northern Iran for two weeks. Fatah made the trip with him, spending most of his time with Abu Ayoub's lower-ranking brother, Najjem, who he said did not attend the "big meetings."
Those ties continued in later years, Fatah says. An Iraqi Kurd called Abu Jaffar also visited from Pakistan twice a year during the 1990s, to recruit jihadis. The Kurdish Islamists, Fatah says, stroking his short salt-and-pepper beard, maintained their own house in Peshawar, like many of Islamic militant organizations in Pakistan.
Fatah himself first traveled to Pakistan in 1989, and even to Afghan training camps of the mujahideen, though he says he didn't have the stomach literally for the hard life of guerrillas.
The Al Qaeda-Kurdish ties appear to have grown closer by the summer of 2000, when Al Qaeda was well established, and Jund al-Islam was taking root in Kurdistan. Fatah was in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when he heard about a high-level delegation of Iraqi Kurdish militants. He says a friend introduced him to Abu Wa'el and two other Jund al-Islam leaders. They were staying in the guest house of a Taliban minister known for his support of Arab jihadists in Afghanistan, and were surprised when Fatah and his Iraqi friend showed up.