WASHINGTON – Saddam Hussein (search) ordered nearly $1 billion -- including $900 million in American money -- to be taken from Iraq's Central Bank (search) just hours before the United States began dropping bombs on Baghdad, U.S. officials confirmed Tuesday.
U.S. government officials said $900 million in U.S. currency was withdrawn, and there were reports that another $100 million in euros also was taken.
The New York Times first reported that Saddam ordered the money withdrawn from the Central Bank and sent his son Qusai (search) to grab the cash in the middle of the night.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Tuesday confirmed that Saddam and his family took $1 billion from the bank.
"We do know from Treasury Department officials in Baghdad that approximately $1 billion was taken from the Iraqi central bank by Saddam and his family just prior to the start of combat," Boucher said.
Boucher noted the numerous discoveries of cash stashed throughout Iraqi cities, but said it wasn't known where this particular "withdrawal" had gone.
There were other reports confirming that Saddam ordered the heist, but they could not confirm that one of his sons was the villain.
The amount of money was so large it had to be hauled away in three tractor-trailer trucks, The Times reported. Apparently some eyewitnesses in the neighborhood saw the trucks back up to the bank and people loading money into them.
It would be one of the largest bank robberies in history -- if it was, in fact, illegal. As Iraq's all-powerful dictator, Saddam may have had the legal right to take the money.
U.S. Treasury Department officials don't know where the money was taken and are still investigating details, including the denomination of the missing U.S. currency.
The heist apparently took two hours and neither of Saddam's sons -- Qusai or Odai (search) -- nor the trucks have been spotted since.
Qusai, Saddam's younger son, and Abid al-Haimd Mahmood, Saddam's personal assistant, organized the removal of the cash, the Times reported, quoting an Iraqi banking official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from Saddam's Baath Party.
"When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it," said the Iraqi official, who held a senior position in a bank under Saddam's government.
The official told the Times that no financial rationale had been offered for removing the money from the bank's vaults, and that no one had been told where the money would be taken.
The Iraqi official said the funds were removed at 4 a.m. on March 18. U.S. Treasury official George Mullinax, who is assigned to help rebuild Iraq's banking system, told the Times that the $900 million was taken by "Saddam Hussein's people."
The Iraqi official said the amount of money that was taken was equal to a quarter of the Central Bank's hard currency reserves.
A few hours later, the U.S.-led bombing of Baghdad began, and the Central Bank was hard hit in the relentless air campaign. One missile dropped straight through the atrium of the bank and gutted the building, Fox News correspondent Jonathan Hunt reported Tuesday.
Looters raided the bank a couple of weeks later, when troops got to Baghdad. But by that time, most of the valuable U.S. currency was gone. A lot of Saddam dinars were still flying around, but those are pretty much worthless now.
Other items that can still be found in the building's rubble included bullet casings and checkbooks.
"There's really nothing left of this place now because the looters really have pretty much taken this place apart," Hunt reported from Baghdad.
There are two other underground levels to the bank. The Marines investigating the looting of the Iraqi National Museum told Fox News that they believe the museum's most valuable treasures may be stored beneath the bank.
The Fox News team in Baghdad reported over the weekend that the Baghdad museum apparently was robbed by professionals, and not looted by a mob.
On the early morning bank theft, a U.S. Army Special Forces officer, Col. Ted Seel, said intelligence indicated that a convoy of tractor trailers crossed the border into Syria, but that the contents of the trucks was unknown, the Times reported.
Mullinax told the newspaper it was possible that much of the money had already been recovered. He said the roughly $650 million found by U.S. forces in one of Saddam's palaces last month might have been from the Central Bank.
The Iraqi official, however, said the money found in the palace most likely belonged to Saddam's oldest son Odai, who was known for hoarding large sums of cash.
Fox News' Jonathan Hunt and Teri Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this story.