Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (search) gave terror lord Usama bin Laden's thugs financial and logistical support, offering Al Qaeda (search) money, training and haven for more than a decade, it was reported yesterday.
Their deadly collaboration — which may have included the bombing of the USS Cole (search) and the 9/11 attacks — is revealed in a 16-page memo to the Senate Intelligence Committee (search) that cites reports from a variety of domestic and foreign spy agencies compiled by multiple sources, The Weekly Standard (search) reports.
Saddam's willingness to help bin Laden plot against Americans began in 1990, shortly before the first Gulf War, and continued through last March, the eve of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, says the Oct. 27 memo sent by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.
Two men were involved with the collaboration almost from its start.
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim — who's described as the terror lord's "best friend" — was involved in planning the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Another terrorist, Hassan al-Turabi, was said by an Iraqi defector to be "instrumental" in the relationship.
Iraq "sought Al Qaeda influence through its connections with Afghanistan, to facilitate the transshipment of proscribed weapons and equipment to Iraq. In return, Iraq provided Al Qaeda with training and instructors," a top-level Iraqi defector has told U.S. intelligence.
The bombshell report says bin Laden visited Baghdad in January 1998 and met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
"The goal of the visit was to arrange for coordination between Iraq and bin Laden and establish camps in Nasiriyah and Iraqi Kurdistan," the memo says.
Though the bombing of the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000 was an Al Qaeda job, the secret memo says the CIA believes "fragmentary evidence points to possible Iraqi involvement."
The relationship between Saddam and bin Laden continued to grow in the aftermath of the Cole attack when two Al Qaeda terrorists were deployed to Iraq to be trained in weapons of mass destruction and to obtain information on "poisons and gases."
CIA reporting shows the Saudi National Guard went on a "kingdom-wide state of alert in late December 2000 after learning Saddam agreed to assist Al Qaeda in attacking U.S./U.K. interests in Saudi Arabia," the memo says.
And the report contains new information about alleged meetings between 9/11 mastermind Mohamed Atta and former Iraqi intelligence chief Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani in the Czech Republic.
Even some Bush administration officials have been skeptical about a purported meeting in April 2001.
But the secret memo says Atta met two other times in Prague with al Ani, in December 1994 and June 2000. It was during one of these meetings that al Ani "ordered the [Iraqi Intelligence Service] finance officer to issue Atta funds from IIS financial holdings in the Prague office," the memo says.
The memo says the relationship between Saddam and bin Laden went forward even after 9/11.
Both sides allegedly reached a "secret deal" last year in which Iraq would provide "money and weapons" and obtain 90 Iraqi and Syrian passports for Al Qaeda members.
Al Qaeda associate Abu Maseb al Zarqwari also helped set up "sleeper cells" in Baghdad starting in October 2002.
The memo was sent to Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) of the Senate Intelligence Committee.