"They wanted to present themselves as a jihad group, and they were concentrating on Al Qaeda," Fatah says, recalling a conversation that took place in his presence. "They said they had already received money once from Abu Qatada, to elicit more support from Al Qaeda." Abu Qatada is a London-based sheikh who went underground earlier this year, and has been convicted in a Jordanian court of conspiring to attack US and Israeli interests.
Fatah says the delegation said they met Abu Hafas al-Masri, bin Laden's No. 2 and military aide, but that bin Laden rarely met with such groups. Uneasy about being identified by fellow Iraqis in Afghanistan even though analysts say that three of Al Qaeda's top 20 leaders were Iraqis Fatah says that Abu Wa'el and the others talked little about the details of their mission.
One reason they were leery of attracting the attention of fellow Iraqis may have been clandestine support for the Kurdish Islamists from the Baghdad regime. Qassem Hussein Mohamed, a big-boned, mustachioed Saddam lookalike who says he worked for Baghdad's Mukhabarat intelligence for two decades, says that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has clandestinely supported Ansar al-Islam for several years.
"[Ansar] and Al Qaeda groups were trained by graduates of the Mukhabarat's School 999 military intelligence," says Mr. Mohamed, who agreed to be interviewed separately in the Sulaymaniyah interrogation room. As with Fatah, there were no apparent signs that he had been compelled to speak, and Kurdish investigators say they are convinced based on other, confirmable parts of his story that he is a Mukhabarat agent.
"My information is that the Iraqi government was directly supporting [Al Qaeda] with weapons and explosives," he says. "[Ansar] was part of Al Qaeda, and given support with training and money."