Experts scorn Saddam link to al-Qaeda

The Scotsman 02/06/03: Gethin Chamberlain

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AN EXPERT on international terrorism yesterday backed the findings of a British intelligence report which concluded that there was no evidence to show Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda.

The governmentís Defence Intelligence Staff Agency report said that while there could have been a relationship between the two in the past, any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideology.

The conclusion contradicted the governmentís assertion that Saddam Husseinís regime was supporting al-Qaeda, the terrorist organisation blamed for the 11 September attacks on New York.

And it was backed by Rohan Gunaratna, a researcher on terrorism and political violence at St Andrews University, who said that there had never been any suggestion that Iraq had offered support to al-Qaeda.

"I have examined many thousands of documents from Afghanistan I could not find any links whatsoever with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda," he said.

"If there are links, they should prove it. They have an enormous intelligence budget , they have interviewed more than 1,000 al-Qaeda suspects, they have examined thousands of documents, and they have found nothing.

"That does not mean Saddam Hussein is a good man," he added. "He has sponsored so many terrorist groups, but if there are links, they should prove it."

Despite the report, which was written within the last three weeks and leaked to the BBC, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday insisted that Iraq did allow a "permissive environment" in which al-Qaeda was able to operate. He said that intelligence reports showed there had been links between al-Qaeda and "various people" in Iraq.

Mr Straw added the government stood by comments made by Tony Blair in the Commons that there were links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, although the extent was unclear.

"What we see in terms of intelligence is that the Iraqi regime appears to be allowing a permissive environment in which al-Qaeda is able to operate," he said. "Certainly, we have seen links between al-Qaeda and various people in Iraq. What we donít know - and the Prime Minister and I have made this very clear - is the extent of those links.

"What we also know, however, is that the Iraqi regime have been up to their necks in support of terrorism generally as long as they have been there."
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