Saddam's Ambassador to al Qaeda
An Iraqi prisoner details Saddam's links to Osama bin
Laden's terror network.

By Jonathan Schanzer
The Weekly Standard
March 1, 2004

based terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi asking the
al Qaeda leadership for reinforcements reignited the
debate over al Qaeda ties with Saddam Hussein's fallen
Baath regime. William Safire of the New York Times called
the message a "smoking gun," while the University of
Michigan's Juan Cole says that Safire "offers not even one
document to prove" the Saddam-al Qaeda nexus. What
you are about to read bears directly on that debate. It is
based on a recent interview with Abdul Rahman
al-Shamari, who served in Saddam's secret police, the
Mukhabarat, from 1997 to 2002, and is currently sitting
in a Kurdish prison. Al-Shamari says that he worked for a
man who was Saddam's envoy to al Qaeda.

Before recounting details from my January 29 interview,
some caution is necessary. Al-Shamari's account was
compelling and filled with specific information that would
either make him a skilled and detailed liar or a man with
information that the U.S. public needs to hear. My Iraqi
escort informed me that al-Shamari has been in prison
since March 2002, that U.S. officials have visited him
several times, and that his story has remained
consistent. There was little language barrier; my Arabic
skills allowed me to understand much of what al-Shamari
said, even before translation. Finally, subsequent
conversations with U.S. government officials in
Washington and Baghdad, as well as several articles
written well before this one, indicate that al-Shamari's
claims have been echoed by other sources throughout

When I walked into the tiny interrogation room, it was
mid morning. I had just finished interviews with two
other prisoners--both members of Ansar al Islam, the
al Qaeda affiliate responsible for attacks against Kurdish
and Western targets in northern Iraq. The group had
been active in a small enclave near Halabja in the
Kurdistan region from about September 2001 until the
U.S. assault on Iraq last spring, when its Arab and Kurdish
fighters fled over the Iranian border, only to return after
the war. U.S. officials now suspect Ansar in some of the
bloodier attacks against U.S. interests throughout Iraq.

My first question to al-Shamari was whether he was
involved in theoperations of Ansar al Islam. My translator
asked him the question in Arabic, and al-Shamari nodded:
"Yes." Al-Shamari, who appears to be in his late twenties,
said that his division of the Mukhabarat provided weapons
to Ansar, "mostly mortar rounds." This statement echoed
an independent Kurdish report from July 2002 alleging
that ordnance seized from Ansar al Islam was produced
by Saddam's military and a Guardian article several weeks
later alleging that truckloads of arms were shipped to
Ansar from areas controlled by Saddam.

In addition to weapons, al-Shamari said, the Mukhabarat
also helpedfinance Ansar al Islam. "On one occasion we
gave them ten million Swiss dinars [$700,000]," al-
Shamari said, referring to the pre-1990 Iraqi currency. On
other occasions,the Mukhabarat provided more than that.
The assistance, he added, was furnished "every month or
two months."

I then picked up a picture of a man known as Abu Wael
that I had acquired from Kurdish intelligence. In the
course of my research, several sources had claimed that
Abu Wael was on Saddam's payroll and was also an al
Qaeda operative, but few had any facts to back up their
claim. For example, one Arabic daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat,
stated flatly before the Iraq war, "all information indicates
[that Abu Wael] was the link between al Qaeda and the
Iraqi regime" but neglected to provide any such information.
Agence France-Presse after the war cited a Kurdish
security chief's description of Abu Wael as a "key link to
Saddam's former Baath regime" and an "intelligence agent
for the ousted president originally from Baghdad." Again,
nothing was provided to substantiate this claim.

In my own analysis of this group, I could do little but
weakly assertthat Wael was "reportedly an al Qaeda
operative on Saddam's payroll."The best reporting on
Wael came from a March 2002 New Yorker article by
Jeffrey Goldberg, who had visited a Kurdish prison in
northern Iraq and interviewed Ansar prisoners. He spoke
with one Iraqi intelligence officer named Qassem Hussein
Muhammed, whom Kurdish intelligence captured while he
was on his way to the Ansar enclave. Muhammed told
Goldberg that Abu Wael was "the actual decision-maker"
for Ansar al Islam and "an employee of the Mukhabarat."

"Do you know this man?" I asked al-Shamari. His eyes
widened and he smiled. He told me that he knew the man
in the picture, but that his graying beard was now
completely white. He said that the man was Abu Wael,
whose full name is Colonel Saadan Mahmoud Abdul Latif
al-Aani. The prisoner told me that he had worked for Abu
Wael, who was the leader of a special intelligence
directorate in the Mukhabarat. That directorate provided
assistance to Ansar al Islam at the behest of Saddam
Hussein, whom Abu Wael had met "four or five times."
Al-Shamari added that "Abu Wael's wife is Izzat al-Douri's
cousin," making him a part of Saddam's inner circle.
Al-Douri, of course, was the deputy chairman of Saddam's
Revolutionary Command Council, a high-ranking official in
Iraq's armed forces, and Saddam's righthand man.
Originally number six on the most wanted list, he is still
believed to be at large in Iraq, and is suspected of
coordinating aspects of insurgency against American
troops, primarily in the Sunni triangle.

Why, I asked, would Saddam task one of his intelligence
agents to workwith the Kurds, an ethnic group that was
an avowed enemy of the Baath regime, and had clashed
with Iraqi forces on several occasions? Al-Shamari said
that Saddam wanted to create chaos in the pro-
American Kurdish region. In other words, he used Ansar
al Islam as a tool against the Kurds. As an intelligence
official for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (one of the two
major parties in northern Iraq) explained to me, "Most of
the Kurdish fighters in Ansar al Islam didn't know the link
to Saddam." They believed they were fighting a local jihad.
Only the high-level lieutenants were aware that Abu
Wael was involved.

Al-Shamari also told me that the links between Saddam's
regime and the al Qaeda network went beyond Ansar al
Islam. He explained inconsiderable detail that Saddam
actually ordered Abu Wael to organize foreign fighters
from outside Iraq to join Ansar. Al-Shamari estimated
that some 150 foreign fighters were imported from al
Qaeda clusters in Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Yemen, Egypt,
and Lebanon to fight with Ansar al Islam's Kurdish

I asked him who came from Lebanon. "I don't know the
name of the group," he replied. "But the man we worked
with was named Abu Aisha." Al-Shamari was likely
referring to Bassam Kanj, alias Abu Aisha, who was a
little-known militant of the Dinniyeh group, a faction of
the Lebanese al Qaeda affiliate Asbat al Ansar. Kanj was
killed in a January 2000 battle with Lebanese forces.

Al-Shamari said that there was also contact with the
Egyptian "Gamaat al-Jihad," which is now seen as the
core of al Qaeda's leadership, as well as with the
Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat(GSPC),
which bin Laden helped create in 1998 as an alternative
to Algeria's Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Al-Shamari talked
of Abu Wael's links with Turkey's "Jamaa al-Khilafa"--likely
the group also known as the "Union of Islamic
Communities" (UIC) or the "Organization of Caliphate
State." This terror group, established in 1983 by
Cemalettin Kaplan, reportedly met with bin Laden in
Afghanistan in 1997, and latersent cadres there to train.
Three years before 9/11, UIC plotted to crash a plane into
Ankara's Ataturk Mausoleum on a day when hundreds of
Turkish officials were present.

Al-Shamari stated that Abu Wael sometimes traveled to
meet with these groups. All of them, he added, visited
Wael in Iraq and were provided Iraqi visas. This
corroborates an interview I had with a senior PUK official
in April 2003, who stated that many of the Arab fighters
captured or killed during the war held passports with
Iraqi visas.

Al-Shamari said that importing foreign fighters to train in
Iraq waspart of his job in the Mukhabarat. The fighters
trained in Salman Pak, a facility located some 20 miles
southeast of Baghdad. He said that he had personal
knowledge of 500 fighters that came through Salman
Pak dating back to the late 1990s; they trained in "urban
combat, explosives, and car bombs." This account agrees
with a White House Background Paper on Iraq dated
September 12, 2002, which cited the "highly secret
terrorist training facility in Iraq known as Salman Pak,
where both Iraqis and non-Iraqi Arabs receive
training on hijacking planes and trains, planting
explosives in cities, sabotage, and assassinations."

Abu Wael also sent money to the aforementioned al
Qaeda affiliates, and to other groups that "worked
against the United States." Abu Waeldispensed most of
the funds himself, al-Shamari said, but there was also
some cooperation with Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

Zarqawi, as the prisoner explained, was al Qaeda's link
to Iraq in thesame way that Abu Wael was the Iraqi link
to al Qaeda. Indeed, Zarqawi (who received medical
attention in Baghdad in 2002 for wounds that he
suffered from U.S. forces in Afghanistan) and Abu Wael
helped Ansar al Islam prepare for the U.S. assault on its
small enclave last year. According to al-Shamari, Ansar
was given the plan from the top Iraqi leadership: "If the
U.S. was to hit [the Ansar base], the fighters were directed
to go to Ramadi, Tikrit, Mosul . . . Faluja and other places."
This statement agreed with a prior prisoner interview I
had with the attempted murderer of Barham Salih, prime
minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. This second
prisoner told me that "Ansar had plans to go south if
the U.S. would attack."

Al-Shamari said the new group was to be named Jund
ash-Sham, and would deal mainly in explosives. He
believed that Zarqawi and Abu Wael were responsible
for some of the attacks against U.S. soldiers in central
Iraq. "Their directives were to hit America and American
interests," he said.

Al-Shamari claimed to have had prior information about al
Qaeda attacks in the past. "I knew about the attack on
the American in Jordan," he said, referring to the
November 2002 assassination of USAID official Lawrence
Foley. "Zarqawi," he said, "ordered that man to be killed."

These are some of the highlights from my interview, which
lasted about 45 minutes.

I heard one other salient Abu Wael anecdote in an earlier
interview during my eight-day trip to Iraq. That interview
was with the former tenth-in-command for Ansar al Islam,
a man known simply as Qods. In June 2003, just before
he was arrested and put in the jail where I met him, Qods
said that he saw Abu Wael. After the war, Abu Wael
dispatched him from an Ansar safe house in Ravansar,
Iran, to deliver a message to his son in Baghdad. The
message: Ansar al Islam leaders needed help getting
back into Iraq. It was only then, he said, when he met
Abu Wael's son,that he learned of the link between the
Baathists and al Qaeda.

Qods told me that he was angry with the leaders of
Ansar for hiding its ties to Saddam. "Ansar had lots of
secret ties between the Baath and Arab leaders," he

The challenge now is to document the claims of these
witnesses about the secret ties between Saddam, al
Qaeda, and Abu Wael. A number of U.S. officials have
indicated to me that there are other Iraqis who have
similar stories to tell. Perhaps they can corroborate
Abdul Rahman al-Shamari's account. Meanwhile, the
U.S. deck of cards representing Iraq's 55 most wanted
appears to be one card short. Colonel Saadan Mahmoud
Abdul Latif al-Aani, aka Abu Wael, should be number 56.

Jonathan Schanzer is a terrorism analyst for the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of
the forthcoming book "Al-Qaeda's Armies: Middle East
Affiliates and the Next Generation of Terror."

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