UK spies reject al-Qaida link

Intelligence MI5 and MI6 dismiss Iraq terror 'evidence'

Richard Norton-Taylor
Thursday October 10, 2002
The Guardian

British intelligence agencies are dismissing claims by the Bush administration that there are links between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The claims are being used by President Bush to press his case against Saddam Hussein, amid growing unease among Americans of the prospect of a US military invasion of Iraq, especially without British participation.

The allegations have already sparked off a dispute in the US over the way information and speculation by the CIA is being used by the Bush administration for its own ends.

Both MI5 and MI6 have been deeply concerned about unsubstantiated claims made by senior members of the Bush administration, notably Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, about the threat posed by al-Qaida. They say the claims could be counter-productive since they are plainly misleading.

Mr Rumsfeld claimed last month that American intelligence had "bulletproof" evidence of links between al-Qaida and the Iraqi regime. He later added: "But they're not photographs. They're not beyond a reasonable doubt." This week Mr Bush suggested that al-Qaida leaders were in close contact with Baghdad.

British intelligence sources firmly reject such claims. Asked whether President Saddam had links with al-Qaida, one well-placed source replied: "Quite the opposite."

The clear message from British intelligence is that far from allying himself with al-Qaida terrorists, the Iraqi leader is distancing himself from them.

British sources interpret the murder in Baghdad of the former Palestinian terrorist leader, Abu Nidal, in August as evidence of President Saddam's concern about accusations he is harbouring terrorists, especially one whose loyalty he could not rely on.

British intelligence sources also dismiss claims by Washington hawks that Mohamed Atta, believed to be the ringleader of the September 11 terrorists, met an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague on several occasions.

They also dismiss claims that Ramzi Youssef, convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre, was in fact an Iraqi agent who studied in Swansea.

Last October Paul Wolfowitz, the hawkish US deputy defence secretary, sent James Woolsey, a former CIA director, to Swansea, in search of evidence to back up the theory. He returned empty-handed.

An alliance between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein makes little sense, say British sources, since Iraq's secular regime would not appeal to al-Qaida fundamentalists.

Al-Qaida, the sources add, have paid little or no attention to the Palestinian struggle despite attempts by Bush administration officials and Republican politicians to establish a link between Palestinian extremists, al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein.

The sources also dismiss attempts by the Israeli government - seized on by CIA officials - to link Iranian-backed Hizbullah extremists in the Lebanon with al-Qaida.

They also say there is no evidence that al-Qaida fighters who fled from Afghanistan and are now reported to be in north-eastern Iraq have links with Baghdad.

· A German prosecutor said yesterday that Iraq had obtained equipment for the manufacture of a new supergun, capable of delivering atomic, biological or chemical munitions.

Hubert Jobski, senior prosecutor in the south-west city of Mannheim, said machinery used for drilling the barrels of large guns was shipped to the Middle East in 1999 and 2000. It was sent initially to Jordan, but then delivered to Iraq, said Mr Jobski.

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