No evidence found linking Iraq, al-Qaida

Friday, June 27, 2003


UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. terrorism committee has found no evidence linking Iraq to al-Qaida and did not investigate Bush administration claims of such ties, officials said Thursday.

The terrorism committee has just completed a draft report charting efforts by countries to track and shut down Osama bin Laden's operations. The report notes success in the war on terrorism stemming from the arrests of some top al-Qaida figures.

But it also notes the group has been able to reconstitute support and benefit from loopholes in order to continue acts of terror worldwide.

Nowhere in the 42-page draft is there any mention of Iraq or claims that it served as a safe haven for al-Qaida.

"Nothing has come to our notice that would indicate links between Iraq and al-Qaida," said Michael Chandler, the committee's chief investigator.

The committee first heard of alleged ties during Secretary of State Colin Powell's February presentation to the Security Council ahead of the Iraq war.

"It had never come to our knowledge before Powell's speech and we never received any information from the United States for us to even follow-up on," said Abaza Hassan, a committee investigator.

U.S. diplomats said Powell had laid out all the evidence to the council.

"We know that Iraq provided some training to al-Qaida in chemical weapons development and we also know there were clear contacts between them that can be documented," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission here.

Powell insisted in his presentation that Saddam Hussein's regime was allowing a senior al-Qaida member named Abu Musab Zarqawi to operate from Baghdad. Zarqawi has been indicted for the murder of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan on Oct. 28, 2002.

The alleged connections were cited by the administration as one of the key reasons for going after Saddam.

But the committee saw no need to investigate Zarqawi's movements. "We have concentrated our efforts where clearly al-Qaida was active," Chandler said. The Jordanian indictment against Zarqawi doesn't refer to him as having been a member of al-Qaida.

The committee is investigating al-Qaida activity in Iran however.

The United States has said senior al-Qaida figures are in Iran and officials were investigating whether they were linked to a May attack in Saudi Arabia.

Chandler, who visited the Iran-Afghanistan border in October, said he had been satisfied then with steps the Iranians were taking. "They captured some people coming across the border and handed those people over to their countries of origin."

But he said recent reports on al-Qaida activity there merited another look.

In poring over attacks and incidents in the last year, including a Chechen attack on a Moscow theater, the committee has come to believe in a link between al-Qaida and Chechen separatists.

For the first time, it added the name of a Chechen to its list of al-Qaida members.

The inclusion of former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was a victory for Russia, which has long insisted on a relationship between Chechen rebels and bin Laden's group.

Countries are forbidden from doing business with individuals on the list and are required to report any activities conducted in their names.

The decision is recognition of the "direct connection" between a Chechen rebel leader and "the avant-garde of international terrorism," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement in Moscow.

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