Jewish World Review June 3, 2004 / 14 Sivan, 5764

Jack Kelly

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Taking the edge off a blockbuster story — why? | ABC News knows how to bury a lede. On its website May 25th, ABC ran a story by Martha Raddatz on Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born al Qaida operative who beheaded Nick Berg.

Zarqawi, who has been directing al Qaida operations in Iraq, was behind the plot to attack the U.S. embassy and Jordanian government buildings in Amman with poison gas, according to the confessions of conspirators.

Raddatz revealed that the State Department's Office of Counter-Terrorism wants to increase the reward for information leading to Zarqawi's capture from $10 to $25 million, the same as Osama bin Laden.

"He is foreign fighter enemy No. 1," Raddatz quoted an unidentified U.S. official as saying.

In her penultimate paragraph Raddatz wrote: "In late 2002, officials say, Zarqawi began establishing sleeper cells in Baghdad and acquiring weapons from Iraqi intelligence officials."

In late 2002, Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq. If his regime were supplying sanctuary and weapons to a top al Qaida terrorist, it is kind of hard to maintain — as many in the news media now do — that there is "no evidence"

of a connection between Saddam and al Qaida.

The discovery in February that Ahmed Hikmat Shakir was a lieutenant colonel in the Fedayeen Saddam makes it more difficult still to describe Iraq-al Qaida linkages as a "myth," because an Ahmad Hikmat Shakir was among those present at an al Qaida meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January of 2000, where the 9/11 attacks were the foremost topic on the agenda.

Shakir accompanied Khalid al Mihdar, one of the 9/11 hijackers, to the meeting. Two other hijackers — Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi — also attended.

Shakir was arrested briefly in Qatar six days after 9/11. A search of his person and his apartment uncovered phone numbers for the safe houses used by the 1993 bombers of the World Trade Center. "Also found was information pertaining to a 1995 al Qaida plot to blow up a dozen commercial airliners," the Wall Street Journal reported May 27.

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It's possible that the Ahmed Hikmat Shakir who was a lieutenant colonel in the Fedayeen Saddam and the Ahmed Hikmat Shakir who attended the Kuala Lumpur summit are not the same guy, but that's not the way to bet.

Czech officials maintain that on April 8, 2001, 9/11 hijack leader Mohammed Atta met in Prague with Ahmad Samir al-Ani, second consul for the Iraqi embassy in the Czech republic, and a suspected intelligence officer. (The Czechs expelled al-Ani on April 22, 2001 because they thought the meeting with Atta was connected with a plan to bomb the headquarters of Radio Free Europe, a plot uncovered when al-Ani's predecessor defected.)

Al-Ani was captured by U.S. forces in Baghdad last July. He denies having met with Atta. The CIA told Congress it has no record of Atta having traveled from the United States to Europe in April, 2001, but acknowledges it has no idea of his whereabouts from April 4 (when he checked out of the Diplomat Inn in Virginia Beach and cashed an $8,000 check) until April 11. Atta could have traveled on a false passport, CIA Director George Tenet acknowledged. Columnist Deroy Murdock noted that in February, Spanish police arrested two Algerians on suspicion of having furnished false passports to, among others, Atta and al Qaida operative Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard has found enough additional bits of evidence of ties between Iraq and al Qaida to write a book about them. (The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America.)

That such ties existed was once the conventional wisdom among journalists. "ABC News has learned that in December, an Iraqi intelligence chief named Faruq Hijazi...made a secret trip to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden," the network said in a broadcast Jan. 15, 1999.

In his report on that meeting, NPR's Mike Shuster said: "Some experts believe bin Laden might be tempted to live in Iraq because of his reported desire to obtain chemical or biological weapons."

But that was before it became the conventional wisdom that it is more important to defeat President Bush than it is to win the war on terror.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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