BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Syrian intelligence officer who appeared on the U.S.-funded Iraqi state television station had a stark message about the insurgency — he'd helped train people to build car bombs and behead people.
"My name is Anas Ahmed al-Essa. I live in Halab. I am from Syria," he said by way of introduction — naming what he said was his home in Syria. Halab is another name for Aleppo, a city north of Damascus (search).
"What's your job?" he was asked by someone off-camera. "I am a lieutenant in intelligence."
Then a second question. "Which intelligence?" The reply: "Syrian intelligence."
And so began a detailed 15-minute confession broadcast by al-Iraqiya TV on Wednesday, in which the man, identified as 30-year-old Lt. Anas Ahmed al-Essa, said his group was recruited to "cause chaos in Iraq ... to bar America from reaching Syria (search)."
"We received all the instructions from Syrian intelligence," said the man, who appeared in the propaganda video along with 10 Iraqis who said they had also been recruited by Syrian intelligence officers.
Syria denied the claims that the detained insurgents had received training in the country or that it was sending armed men to Iraq (search).
"These are unfounded and baseless claims. Syria is keen on Iraq's security and stability. It does not interfere in Iraq's internal affairs," Syria's official news agency, SANA, quoted high ranking security sources as saying.
Al-Iraqiya later aired another round of interviews with men it said were Sudanese and Egyptians who also trained in Syria to carry out attacks in Iraq.
The claims could not be independently authenticated.
An Iraqi special forces commander, Brig. Gen. Abu Al-Walid, said his forces arrested the men in Mosul on Jan. 29, one day before the national elections. He said they included eight Syrians, one Lebanese, 12 Egyptians and 10 Sudanese.
He said the men were found with explosives, weapons and maps for balloting centers in Mosul.
On Thursday, Iraqi police said they arrested four other suspected terrorists during raids in Baghdad — two Syrians and two Iraqis believed to have carried out other attacks.
The videos were broadcast as the Bush administration steps up pressure on Syria to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs by allowing insurgents to cross into the country to fight coalition troops and by harboring former Iraqi regime members. Syria has denied the charges.
Top officials in Iraq's U.S.-backed interim government have called on Syria to hand over former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who fled there after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, which Syria vehemently opposed.
Al-Iraqiya TV can be seen nationwide and is believed to be widely watched by Iraqis — mainly those who cannot afford satellite dishes offering the Persian Gulf-based Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya stations. But the station, which went on the air in May 2003 with help from the Pentagon, is viewed by many Iraqis as an American propaganda tool.
Wednesday was the first time the channel showed someone it claimed was a Syrian intelligence officer.
All those interviewed in the first video apparently were detained in the northern city of Mosul. It was not known where the interviews were made, and no date was provided.
A man identified as one of al-Essa's aides, Shehab al-Sabaawi, said the group used animals for training in beheadings. Al-Essa said it required "at least 10 beheadings" for a member to be promoted to a group leader.
"I had to send a report to Syria about how the operations are going," he said.
Weapons, explosives and equipment were all provided by Syrian intelligence, the man claimed, adding that group members received $1,500 a month.
Al-Essa said money was his motive for accepting an offer by a Syrian intelligence colonel he identified as Fady Abdullah to carry out attacks inside Iraq.
"I was trained on explosives, killing, spying, kidnapping ... and after one year I went to Iraq with Fady Abdullah," al-Essa said.
He claimed he infiltrated Iraq in 2001, about two years before the U.S. invasion, because Syrian intelligence was convinced that American military action loomed.
An unidentified Iraqi officer introduced the video, saying all insurgent groups in Iraq were covers for Syrian intelligence. He named a number of well-known groups, including one which has killed and beheaded foreigners.
Al-Essa claimed to be leader of the al-Fateh Army, a group that had not been heard of previously.
Al-Sabaawi described himself as a former lieutenant colonel in Saddam's army. He said he was recruited at an Iraqi mosque in 2001 by an Iraqi man named Abu Bakr, whom he described as the al-Fateh Army's leader.
"He offered to take us on a training trip to Islamabad," the Pakistani capital, al-Sabaawi said. "He told us that we could develop our skills, give us information about how to make car bombs and carry out kidnappings."
Before returning to Iraq, al-Sabaawi said he spent 11 months in Pakistan. He did not say who trained him there.
After Saddam's fall in 2003, al-Sabaawi said he spent a month in Syria, where he claimed to have received training from Syrian intelligence on how to behead hostages.
"Syrian intelligence officers were supervising our training. We were ready to fight the Americans because any Iraqi and any Muslim can't live under occupation," he said.
Afterward, he crossed the border and carried out attacks against U.S. military targets.
He said the group started by making car bombs targeting American troops and Iraqi National Guardsmen before beginning a campaign of kidnapping and beheading Iraqis.
The Sudanese and Egyptian nationals in the video broadcast later in the day did not belong to al-Fateh, the station said.