UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. terrorism committee has found no evidence linking Iraq (search) to Al Qaeda (search) 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 Usama bin Laden (search)'s operations. The report notes success in the war on terrorism stemming from the arrests of some top Al Qaeda 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 Qaeda.
"Nothing has come to our notice that would indicate links between Iraq and Al Qaeda," 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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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 and deliberately stayed away from investigating Iraq. "There are other committees in the United Nations that deal with Iraq," Chandler said. "We have concentrated our efforts where clearly Al Qaeda was active."
One of the places it is looking into is Iran.
The United States has said senior Al Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda and Chechen separatists.
For the first time, it added the name of a Chechen to its list of Al Qaeda 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.