Captured Iraq Spy May Have al-Qaida Link
The Associated Press
Friday, April 25, 2003; 5:55 PM
Farouk Hijazi was not among the U.S. military's 55 most-wanted Iraqis, but as a one-time spy for Saddam Hussein's regime, he may hold key information: Some call him the main link between Saddam and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.
The former intelligence chief, whose capture was announced Friday, is suspected of meeting bin Laden in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, according to Washington officials.
He also may be linked to an Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George Bush in Kuwait in 1993.
Former CIA director James Woolsey said Hijazi was a "big catch."
"This man was involved in a number of contacts with al-Qaida," Woolsey told CNN.
Born to a Palestinian family, Hijazi "won the Iraqi ruling family's favor by the zeal with which he went about executing their opponents, both in Iraq and abroad," according to Britain's Guardian newspaper.
In the early 1990s, he was director of external operations in the Iraqi Mukhabarat, or intelligence service. The position oversaw covert operations and was the No. 3 spot in the agency.
During this time, Mukhabarat operatives developed a plot to assassinate former President Bush using a car bomb, but Kuwaiti security forces foiled the plan.
Later in the decade, Hijazi entered the diplomatic corps - though his work there was considered a cover for more intelligence activities.
Iraq first tried to place Hijazi as ambassador to Canada, but that country refused to accept him as an envoy, the Guardian reported.
In 1998, he became Iraq's ambassador to Turkey. In December 1998, he traveled to Afghanistan and reportedly met with bin Laden, officials in Washington said.
Details of the meeting in Kandahar, a region in southeastern Afghanistan where the al-Qaida had training camps, are not known. But American officials have pointed to it as an Iraqi link to al-Qaida.
Iraq denied a meeting occurred.
There have been other reports that Hijazi also met with bin Laden in 1996 or earlier.
Newsweek magazine reported Hijazi met with Mohammed Atta - the suspected organizer of the Sept. 11 terror attacks who died on one of the hijacked planes - in Prague in April 2001. But other sources have cast doubt on that report.
Haidar Ahmed, spokesman for the opposition Iraqi National Congress in London, said Hijazi was summoned home after the Sept. 11 attacks in the face of reports linking him to bin Laden. He was sent to Tunisia as ambassador in the last six months.
Ahmed claimed Hijazi was a key link between the regime and al-Qaida.
He said Hijazi also had an important role in organizing Iraqi sleeper cells in Europe that planned assassinations, smuggling operations and intelligence gathering.
Ahmed said Hijazi was "one of the main channels between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden himself. As much as Iraqi intelligence was involved with al-Qaida, Hijazi was involved."
Ahmed said that after the fall of Saddam's regime, Hijazi went to Damascus and tried to enter Iraq, although it was unclear why.