More Evidence of Saddam-al Qaeda Ties

An al Qaeda document newly released by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) of the United States Military Academy provides an extraordinary new connection to a previously reported order by Saddam Hussein to support al Qaeda attacks upon US forces in Somalia.  It corresponds with other documents that show Saddam Hussein was using Islamic terrorists as proxies to attack US interests. The document was part of a US Army report on al Qaeda in Africa. That study contends that although al Qaeda managed to train other Islamic fighters in Africa, it did the organization no long term good, as it failed to bend the region to al Qaeda doctrine.

The al Qaeda document is entitled The Ogaden File: Operation Holding (Al-Msk). Its' name refers to a tribal region of Ethiopia extending into Somalia (Ogaden) and ‘al-Msk' is an acronym for the Mission to hold Somalia and Kenya. The file is a personal log about a group of al Qaeda terrorists sent to Somalia in 1993 to provide military training to local Islamic militants. Islamic fighters trained by al Qaeda would later kill 18 Army Special Forces soldiers in what has become know as the Battle of Mogadishu which was portrayed in the popular movie Black Hawk Down. The US government confirmed the involvement of al Qaeda and Usama bin Laden in a 1998 indictment against him for the Somali attacks.

The al Qaeda document itself provides a fascinating look at training operations of an expeditionary nature in hostile territory. It lists several terrorists who subsequently became high ranking al Qaeda leaders (most were later killed or captured by US forces). Many of them were Egyptians with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) terror group led by al Qaeda number two man Ayman al Zawahiri. The log was written by an al Qaeda terrorist named Saif al-Islam al Masri who was known to be a leader of al Qaeda in Somalia and an EIJ leader. He is now in US custody.

Saif writes that on the 20th of January, 1993 he and his men were ordered to drop everything (marriage plans, travel) and report to a man named Abu Hafs in Peshawar, Pakistan. This deployment to Somalia heralded a major escalation of al Qaeda activities in Africa. Abu Hafs is also known as Mohammed Atef. Mohammed Atef was the number two man in the EIJ under Ayman al Zawahiri and also part of Usama bin Laden's inner circle. He was included in the 1998 indictment for attacking US forces in Somalia and was considered the number three man in al Qaeda. He was killed by US forces shortly after 9/11.

Saif describes how he and his men were ordered by Atef to go Somalia and set up training camps. The fighters they trained would ultimately grab power in Somalia, only to be driven out by Ethiopian and American Special Forces action last year.

The date of Atef's order for them to go to Somalia is very significant because it corresponds with an order by Saddam Hussein to do just that. A different set of documents, provided by the Cyber News Service (CNS) in 2004 and reported on here, are purported to be from a cache of documents captured in Iraq. CNS stated they were given to them by a member of the Iraqi Survey Group. Those documents - which have not yet been verified by the US government but do match secret information from other known Saddam documents and have been confirmed by several experts - are memorandums between Saddam and his intelligence service.

Saddam Hussein ordered his intelligence service to "hunt the Americans" in Somalia via Afghan mujahideen proxies including the EIJ on January 18th, 1993 just two days before EIJ leader Atef ordered his best men to Somalia. The CNS memoranda also show that Saddam's intelligence service was meeting with the leader of the EIJ (almost certainly Ayman al Zawahiri) to give him the assignment.

Saddam wanted his intelligence service to work with mujahideen (Islamic fighters) displaced from Afghanistan in 1992, which likely also included Usama bin Laden's followers, the EIJ (the two groups would officially merge together to become al Qaeda) and another associated terror leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The order provided funding to the mujahideen and drew precedent from operations with the EIJ against the Egyptian government because it sided with the UN coalition against Iraq in the Gulf War.

This new al Qaeda document, when combined with the CNS documents, provides a sequential timeframe for the events and the human linkages to carry out the order from Saddam to his intelligence service to Ayman al Zawahiri to Mohammed Atef and then to his terror trainers.

The revelation about Mohammed Atef comes just days after former CIA Director George Tenet caused a political and media stir with the release of his new book At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. Tenet devotes a portion of the book to discussing al Qaeda-Saddam ties. In it he writes about the case of Ibn Sheikh al Libi, "a senior military trainer for al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan." Al Libi told his interrogators that

"a militant known as Abu Abudullah had told him'ida leader Mohammed Atef had sent Abu Abdullah to Iraq to seek training in poisons and mustard gas."

Al Libi would later recant his testimony and become a flash point in the debate over pre-war intelligence. Tenet notes the controversy and says it is unclear if al Libi was lying with the initial report or his recantation. Tenet writes,

"Another senior al-Qa'ida detainee told us that Mohammed Atef was interested in expanding al-Qa'ida's ties to Iraq, which, in our eyes, added credibility to [al-Libi's initial] reporting."

This new evidence may provide more insight into why Saddam was making his military officers watch Black Hawk Down just prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He may have been shoring up their courage by reminding them of what he considered his previous defeat of the American army.

Ray Robison is a former army officer, a former member of the ISG, and co-author of the new ebook Both In One Trench: Saddam's support to the Global Islamic Jihad Movement and International Terrorism