Al Qaeda, Iraq partners in terror -- Powell
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for years has consorted with the al Qaeda terrorist network, often using as a go-between a shadowy figure who set up a training camp in northeast Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday.
Speaking to the U.N. Security Council, Powell offered the most detailed explanation yet of possible links between Baghdad and associates of Osama bin Laden. At its center, he said, is Abu Mussab Zarqawi, a bin Laden associate who has traveled in Iraq.
Iraqi officials have steadfastly denied that they have any links to al Qaeda, insisting such charges are part of a U.S. disinformation effort to justify a military attack. Powell dismissed their denials, and said Iraq has a record of trying to deceive the world.
"Ambition and hatred are enough to bring Iraq and al Qaeda together," Powell said.
After al Qaeda and the Taliban were ousted from Afghanistan, Zarqawi, a Jordanian national, established a camp in northeastern Iraq to train terrorists in using explosives and poisons, Powell said.
The camp is in the northern Kurdish area of the country, outside the control of the Iraqi regime, but Iraq has kept track of events there by infiltrating Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamic group that controls the area, Powell said.
Intelligence services disagree whether the camp is actually linked to Saddam's regime.
Zarqawi also has been sighted in Baghdad, Powell said. He traveled to Baghdad for medical treatment last May, staying there for two months "while he recuperated to fight another day," Powell said.
During Zarqawi's stay in Baghdad, nearly two dozen of his associates set up a base of operations in the capital to move people, money and supplies throughout the country, said Powell. "They've now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months," Powell said.
The United States, using another international intelligence service as an intermediary, twice gave the Iraqi government information it could have used to apprehend Zarqawi and break the Baghdad cell, but "Zarqawi still remains at large to come and go," he said. "From his terrorist network in Iraq, Zarqawi can direct his network in the Middle East and beyond."
Zarqawi's group is linked to a number of recent terrorist operations, Powell said. Among them:
• In October, Lawrence Foley, an official with the U.S. Agency for International Development, was gunned down in Amman, Jordan. "The captured assassin says his cell received money and weapons from Zarqawi for that murder, " Powell said. An associate of the gunman escaped to Iraq, he added.
• Last month, British police uncovered a terrorist plot to produce ricin, a deadly toxin, and Powell said the thwarted attack was linked to Zarqawi's group. Several Western intelligence agencies have said the planned attack has been tied to training provided by Zarqawi.
• At least 116 operatives connected to Zarqawi's network have been arrested in France, Britain, Spain and Italy. The network was also planning attacks in Germany and Russia, Powell said.
• At least nine North African extremists traveled to Europe in 2001 to conduct explosive and poison attacks, an al Qaeda detainee who trained under Zarqawi has told intelligence agents.
• Last year, two suspected al Qaeda operatives linked to associates of Zarqawi's Baghdad cell, including one who was trained in the use of cyanide, were arrested as they crossed the border from Iraq into Saudi Arabia.
Members of al Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence "have met at least eight times at very senior levels since the early 1990s," Powell said. In 1996, bin Laden met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Sudan, and later that year had a meeting with the director of Iraq's intelligence service, he said.
Powell also said a senior al Qaeda member has reported that Saddam was more willing to assist al Qaeda after the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and was impressed by the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.
According to Powell, a senior al Qaeda operative, now being detained, said that a terrorist operative was sent to Iraq several times between 1997 and 2000 for help in acquiring poisons and chemical weapons. He was dispatched after bin Laden concluded that al Qaeda labs in Afghanistan were not capable of manufacturing such materials, Powell said.
Also, said Powell, a senior Iraqi defector, one of Saddam's former European intelligence chiefs, said Iraqi agents were sent to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s to train al Qaeda members in document forgery.