Powell - Bin Laden's man in Iraq links Saddam, al-Qaida

Thursday, February 6, 2003

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- He's the closest thing to a smoking gun in Washington's intelligence arsenal, a man who could finally and definitively link Saddam Hussein with the world's most notorious terrorist and push reluctant allies to support a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Abu Musab Zarqawi has been linked to the murder of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan and poison plots in a half-dozen European countries. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N. Security Council that Osama bin Laden's man in Iraq sits atop a "sinister nexus" of terror, and that Saddam has been harboring his nefarious group.

"We are not surprised that Iraq is harboring Zarqawi and his subordinates," Powell said. "Ambition and hatred are enough to bring Iraq and al-Qaida together."

Powell made the point to the world body that the al-Qaida operative -- known for his expertise at concocting poison and his fanatic zeal for terrorism -- was a threat to Europe, as well as America and the rest of the world. Some 116 operatives of the cell have been arrested around the world, Powell said.

"Zarqawi and his network have plotted terrorist actions against countries including France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia," he said.

Powell and other U.S. officials say Zarqawi has set up a camp in a corner of northern Iraq controlled by a tiny Kurdish extremist group, Ansar al-Islam. The region is outside Saddam's control, but Powell said the Iraqi president has an agent in the top leadership of Ansar al-Islam, and implied the group would not have offered al-Qaida refuge without Saddam's consent.

In May 2002, Zarqawi received medical treatment in Baghdad after he fled Afghanistan, Powell said. He said that while Zarqawi was in the Iraqi capital, nearly two dozen other extremists converged there to establish a base of operations.

Powell also said Iraq's embassy in Pakistan served as a liaison between al-Qaida and the Iraqi leadership from the late 1990s until 2001, but he did not go into detail. Bin Laden was a guest at the time of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan, and Pakistan was one of just three countries to recognize the Taliban.

The secretary of state's comments were quickly rejected -- both by the Iraqi regime and the leadership of Ansar al-Islam.

'Has never visited'

"Neither I nor anybody in our group has ever seen or met al-Zarqawi, and he has never visited our area," Ansar al-Islam leader Mullah Krekar said at a news conference in Oslo, Norway. Krekar also denied that Saddam held any influence with the group, saying the Iraqi leader is a bad Muslim and "an enemy of me and my people."

And in Baghdad, Iraqi presidential adviser Lt. Gen. Amir al-Saadi said: "We have no relationship with al-Qaida."

Zarqawi, a Palestinian born in Jordan, has been on the world's intelligence radar since 1999, when he allegedly helped orchestrate a failed plot to attack American and Israeli tourists in Jordan using deadly gas. He also is being investigated in Germany for allegedly ordering attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets.

In December, Jordanian authorities identified Zarqawi as having orchestrated the slaying of Laurence Foley, a 60-year-old administrator of U.S. aid programs in Jordan. Foley was killed Oct. 28 outside his home in Amman.

Zarqawi is said to have gained his talent for manufacturing poison -- including the ultra-lethal ricin -- at military camps in Afghanistan run by bin Laden.

The poison surfaced in Britain earlier this year, after authorities arrested a group of Algerians suspected of terrorism. Police found traces of ricin at one of the suspect's apartments.

A senior administration official said recently that U.S. intelligence has indications of connections between the Algerians arrested in Britain and the Ansar al-Islam group, and officials are looking into reports that Zarqawi is also linked to the arrested men.

On Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar mentioned Zarqawi in a speech to parliament, saying some of Zarqawi's alleged associates had been arrested in Spain and Britain since the Sept. 11 attacks. "The problem affects us, and close up," Aznar said.

It will be up to the world's leaders to decide how strong a case the United States made, but Powell laid out a frightening vision of what bin Laden's trained killers could accomplish with Saddam's support.

"Less than a pinch of ricin, eating just this amount in your food, would cause shock followed by circulatory failure," he told the council, adding later, "The nexus of poisons and terror is new. The nexus of Iraq and terror is old. The combination is lethal."

Wednesday developments in the Iraq crisis:

Secretary of State Colin Powell presented tape recordings, satellite photos and statements from informants that he said constituted "irrefutable and undeniable" evidence that Saddam Hussein is concealing weapons of mass destruction. "How much longer are we willing to put up with Iraq's noncompliance before we as a council, we as the United Nations say: 'Enough, enough?'" he told the U.N. Security Council.

Immediately after Powell's presentation, China and Russia, which have the power to veto council resolutions, said the weapons inspections should continue. France, which also has veto power, proposed strengthening weapons inspections, saying force must be a last resort. Britain, the fifth permanent member of the council, said Powell had made a "most powerful" case and that Saddam is "gambling that we will lose our nerve rather than enforce our will."

Iraqi officials dismissed Powell's presentation as a collection of "stunts," "special effects" and "unknown sources."

Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Baghdad does not want war and is ready to cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors.

U.N. inspectors revisited the main site of Iraq's former nuclear weapons, searching the storage facilities at the Al-Tuwaitha complex south of Baghdad. They also paid surprise visits to a food research center, a dairy company and the Laser Institute at Baghdad University.

The Pentagon said it added about 17,000 U.S. National Guard and reserve forces to active duty in the past week, bringing the number to more than 110,000.

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