No Iraq link to September 11 plot, US report finds

Posted in United States | 17-Jun-04 | Author: Julian Borger| Source: Guardian

From L-R are: commission member Jamie Gorelick, commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton
No Iraq link to al-Qaida Sept 11 plot

The US commission investigating the September 11 attacks reported yesterday it had found no evidence that Iraq and al-Qaida cooperated in the plot or had any sort of "collaborative relationship", contradicting persistent claims from the White House.

The finding was presented in a report by the commission on the hijacking plot, which it said was conceived by Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, a Kuwaiti al-Qaida planner now in US custody. He has reportedly told interrogators that his initial plan involved 10 planes, and included on its target list the CIA and FBI headquarters, nuclear power plants and the tallest buildings in California and Washington state.

Mohamed had planned to take part in the hijacking of the 10th plane. He had suggested killing all the adult male passengers and landing the aircraft at an American airport, where the women and children would be released and a press conference staged to denounce US foreign policy.

The al-Qaida leadership scrapped the idea of using the 10th plane to make a public statement, and the failure of some of would-be hijackers to acquire US visas led to further scaling down of the plan.

The report confirmed the judgment of US intelligence officials, who have said that since the fall of Baghdad last April no proof of a significant link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden has been found .

Dick Cheney, the US vice president, revived the allegation at an election campaign appearance on Monday, telling supporters Saddam "had long-established ties with al-Qaida", and George Bush came to his defence on Tuesday, citing the suspected presence in Iraq before the war of an al-Qaida supporter, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

A poll by the University of Maryland in April found 57% of Americans believed Iraq helped al-Qaida before the war and 20% believed Iraq was linked to the September 11 attacks.

But the September 11 commission report found that, although there were reports of contacts between Iraqi officials and al-Qaida while Bin Laden was based in Sudan in the early 90s and later in Afghanistan, "they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship".

"Two senior Bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al-Qaida and Iraq," the report continued. "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaida cooperated on attacks against the United States."

Claims of a link between Saddam and al-Qaida are important during an election campaign in which the Bush administration's justification for invading Iraq is under scrutiny, particularly in the absence of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Bush has previously conceded there was "no evidence" of a link between Saddam Hussein and the September 11 attacks, but White House officials, particularly Mr Cheney, have continued to talk of an al-Qaida connection.

On Tuesday Mr Bush pointed to the reported presence of Mr Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant, in Iraq prior to the invasion. Since the war, he is believed to have directed attacks on coalition troops, and American officials claimed in February to have intercepted a message he sent to al-Qaida leaders asking for their help in the insurgency. However, no conclusive evidence has emerged of his links to the prewar Saddam regime.

Yesterday's commission report suggested that the precise scope of the September 11 plot did not take shape until the last few weeks before the attacks. It alleged that Bin Laden put pressure on Mohamed to bring the date forward.

According to the report, al-Qaida is trying to repeat the devastation of the September 11 attacks through the use of nuclear, chemical, radiological or biological weapons.