Iraq regime linked to terror group
Secret Iraqi files detail contacts with Africa group linked to Al Qaeda.
BAGHDAD AND WASHINGTON
A cache of files recovered from the bombed-out headquarters of Iraq's intelligence agency shows Saddam Hussein's regime had links to an Islamist terror group in Africa - and had corresponded about opening a Baghdad training camp for the group.
The documents, pulled by a reporter from a tangle of wires and shredded paper, may be important evidence of the relationship between the Hussein regime and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network - something the Bush administration has long sought to prove.
They also reveal of the daily problems and intense anger of the terrorists' world. In one document written in English in a sloping, almost schoolboyish, hand, a terror leader in Uganda vows to attack the US and its allies without rest.
"We should deliberately drive panic into them and their bases and their interests. We do this in Africa, you do this in the Middle East, Gulf, and Asia," writes Bekkah Abdul Nassir, self-described chief of diplomacy of the Allied Democratic Forces guerrilla group, to his Iraqi contacts.
The headquarters of Iraq's intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, is located in the upscale Mansour district of Baghdad. Or was, rather, as US bombs have shattered the building, and looters have carted off most of its contents.
What's left is the detritus of tyranny, a mess of discarded dossiers and half-shredded files containing everything from a collection of magazine clippings on Mr. bin Laden to some details of apparent Iraqi espionage in China, Italy, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam, among other nations.
Perhaps the most interesting and complete file left untouched deals with the apparently longstanding relationship between the Iraqi intelligence service and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) of Uganda.
Over a period of several months in 2001, a high-level ADF member outlined his group's progress to an Iraqi chargé d'affaires based in Nairobi, Kenya. Bekkah Abdul Nassir's letters, each 10 to 15 pages long, were all written in English, and were then meticulously translated into Arabic - presumably by Hussein's security apparatus.
The letters, whose authenticity couldn't be verified by the Monitor, retain cover sheets imprinted with the Mukhabarat's eagle insignia - a symbol also stamped liberally throughout the documents themselves.
There is nothing in the letters that documents Iraqi payments, weapons shipments, or other material support. No operations, past or planned, are discussed. But they contain an interesting air of implied fellowship.
"We in the ADF forces are ready to run the African mujahideen headquarters. We have already started and we are on the ground, operational!" reads one.
The ADF is a terrorist insurgent group that was formed in the early 1990s to undermine the Ugandan government. In the mid-1990s, when bin Laden was based in Sudan, he reached out to make contacts with groups like ADF.
"Osama's main purpose [at that time] was to create an Islamist network throughout Africa," says Rohan Gunaratna, an international expert on terror and author of "Inside Al Qaeda." "Members of ADF came to both Sudan and later to Afghanistan to train, and the leader of this group, Sheikh Jamil [Mukulu], was close to Osama."
Dr. Gunaratna goes on to say that up to now, "the links between Al Qaeda and its associated groups and the Iraqi regime are based on assessment and not hard information. This recovery will provide lines of inquiry to the intelligence community into the Iraqi-Al Qaeda connection."
If there is a theme to the correspondence, it might be the efforts of the ADF and its leaders to become a more important player in world terrorism. The letters chronicle the African group's efforts to obtain Iraqi funding for an "international mujahideen team whose special mission will be to smuggle arms on a global scale to holy warriors fighting against US, British, and Israeli influences in Africa, the Middle East, and Far East," according to one.
In a letter from April 2001, Mr. Nassir vows that his group will "vet, recruit, and send youth to train for the jihad" from a center in Baghdad, which he describes as a "headquarters for the international Holy Warrior network."
The ADF leader, who says his operatives are already "on the ground working in Baghdad," also outlines his group's "actions to paralyze and control the hostile intelligence actions of the CIA, Pentagon, Mossad, and MI6."
In another letter, dated March 14, 2001, Nassir writes to Iraqi charge Fallah Hassan Al Rubdie that "team ADF" will be led to Baghdad by its leader Sheikh Jamil Mukulu.
It is not clear from the correspondence whether such an international center for jihad was ever set up in Baghdad, or if the Iraqis ever sent direct funding to the ADF.
But one other letter does discuss agreement on an "appropriate budget," implying either that money figures were indeed discussed at some point, or that ADF officials thought they soon would be.
The March 14 letter goes on to boast of the group's activities. "We are in secret diplomatic contact with several African governments, African diplomats, policymakers, and researchers," it says.
The ADF claims to already have a list of enemy forces in its regions, which it will provide to Iraq so that "we can take concrete actions against these Western bases."
The group is busy recruiting, training, shifting weapons and ammunition and "creating new and confusing guerrilla routes," according to the letters.
Simultaneous attacks on the "US/British/Israeli sponsored regimes of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi" will gain the group tactical advantage, Nassir claims.
"The fall of [these] regimes is in the horizon," he writes his Iraqi contact.
The US has long stated its belief in a connection between Hussein's Iraqi regime and terrorists. Publicly released evidence to this effect, however, has not convinced many critics that solid ties between Hussein and Al Qaeda exist.
Contacted for reaction to the letters detailed in this article, a US official said, "we don't have anything to substantiate links between the ADF and Al Qaeda."
The role of Iraq's Nairobi-based diplomat in the correspondence is unlikely to surprise anyone in the US government, however.
Prior to overthrowing the Hussein regime, the US asked several foreign countries to expel some Iraqi diplomats because the US suspected they had links to terrorists.
In testimony before the House International Relations Committee this past March, Ambassador Cofer Black, coordinator for counterterrorism at the US State Department, discussed potential Iraqi-terrorist links.
"We have strong indications that Iraqi intelligence officials are assuming stronger authority over Iraqi diplomatic missions overseas," Mr. Black said. "This activity is of particular concern, especially in light of additional indications that Baghdad may instruct its representatives overseas to take actions against Western interests."
Cities mentioned as possible sites for ADF action in the documents include Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, Kampala in Uganda, Kinshasa in Congo, Harare in Zimbabwe, Lusaka in Angola, and Pretoria, Durban, and Johannesburg in South Africa.
"We in Africa provide our contribution toward this effort," concludes Nassir.