Threat from terrorist acts ‘not reduced’




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 12 June 2003

The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime has done little to reduce the terrorist threat, or to substantiate US allegations of links between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, counter-terrorist officials say.

“The confronting of the terrorist threat really has to do with other policies than what was done in Iraq,” a senior US official admitted on Thursday.

Before the war, on February 5, Colin Powell, US secretary of state, told the United Nations Security Council that al-Qaeda drew part of its capacity from ties with the Iraqi regime: “Early al-Qaeda ties were forged by secret high-level intelligence service contacts with al-Qaeda.”

He detailed evidence of both Iraqi meetings with al-Qaeda operatives, and links between an alleged al-Qaeda operative – Abu Musab al-Zarkawi – and the regime in Baghdad. He also said a group of al-Qaeda “affiliates based in Baghdad now co-ordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq” for Mr al-Zarkawi’s network. It was from Iraq that “Zarkawi can direct his network in the Middle East and beyond,” he said.

An early target for US bombing during the Iraq war was a camp in north-eastern Iraq, outside Baghdad’s control, occupied by the Ansar al-Islam, a group with known ties to al-Qaeda. Three western intelligence services alleged the group had developed chemical weapons. But Mr Powell also said the group liaised regularly with Baghdad, thereby linking Mr Hussein’s regime with the al-Qaeda network.

However, no evidence linking Ansar al-Islam with the development of chemical weapons or with Baghdad has been found at the camp since it was overrun by US special forces, intelligence sources say. Nor have Mr al-Zarkawi and other alleged Baghdad-based al-Qaeda operatives been traced.

Two senior al-Qaeda – Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda’s former planning chief, and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, its former military chief – have both told US interrogators that the network had no ties with Iraq. “From what has emerged, what they are saying seems accurate,” the official said.

Some intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say that al-Qaeda’s fragmentation before the war in Iraq meant that no specific act against it – such as the overthrow of an alleged ‘state sponsor’ – would destroy it. “The linkage between al-Qaeda’s centre and its local affiliates has fallen away,” said a senior UK official. “Now you also have some very radicalised people who remain incensed by Iraq. They are not cornered yet.”

The attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco last month are seen as signs of this fragmentation, as officials say the former was probably an al-Qaeda operation and the latter organised independently though with some outside assistance.

US officials now accept that groups such as that allegedly led by Mr al-Zarkawi have become more, rather than less, of a threat as a result of the war in Iraq.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.