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9/11 panel finds no link between Iraq, al-Qaeda
Updated: 2004-06-16 21:45

The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks reported Wednesday that Osama bin Laden met with a top Iraqi official in 1994 but found "no credible evidence" of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda in attacks against the United States.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden speaks at a news conference in Afghanistan in this May 26, 1998 file photo. [Reuters]
In a report based on research and interviews by the commission staff, the panel said that bin Laden explored possible cooperation with Saddam even though he opposed the Iraqi leader's secular regime and had, at one time, supported ¡°anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan.¡±

The commission staff said that bin Laden, at the urging of allies in Sudan eager to protect their own ties to Iraq, ceased the support in the early 1990s. That opened the way for a senior Iraqi intelligence officer to meet with bin Laden in 1994 in Sudan, a session at which bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps in Iraq as well as Iraqi assistance in procuring weapons.

But Iraq apparently never responded to bin Laden¡¯s request, the staff report said.

No ¡®collaborative relationship¡¯ seen

It said that reports of subsequent contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan ¡°do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship,¡± and added that two unidentified senior bin Laden associates "have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al-Qaeda and Iraq."

A policeman takes a look at a member of Indonesia's Muslim hard-line group Jemaah Islamiya (JI), wearing a T-shirt printed with the face of Osama bin Laden.  [AFP/File]
The report concluded, ¡°We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.¡±

The panel's findings were released two days after Vice President Dick Cheney asserted that Saddam had "long-established ties" with al-Qaeda. President Bush defended the statement in a news conference Tuesday, saying the presence in Iraq of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is accused of trying to disrupt the transfer of sovereignty as well as last month's decapitation of American Nicholas Berg, provides "the best evidence of connection to al-Qaeda affiliates and al-Qaeda."

In making the case for war in Iraq, Bush administration officials frequently cited what they said were Saddam's decade-long contacts with al-Qaeda operatives. They stopped short of claiming that Iraq was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, but critics say Bush officials left that impression with the American public.

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