WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 � A former Iraqi intelligence officer who was said to have met with the suspected leader of the Sept. 11 attacks has told American interrogators the meeting never happened, according to United States officials familiar with classified intelligence reports on the matter.
Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the former intelligence officer, was taken into custody by the United States in July. Under questioning he has said that he did not meet with Mohamed Atta in Prague, according to the officials, who have reviewed classified debriefing reports based on the interrogations.
American officials caution that Mr. Ani may have been lying to American interrogators, but the only other person reported to have attended the meeting was Mr. Atta, who died in the crash of his hijacked plane into the World Trade Center.
The C.I.A. and F.B.I. eventually concluded that the meeting probably did not take place, and that there was no hard evidence that Mr. Hussein's government was involved in the Sept. 11 plot.
That put the intelligence agencies at odds with hard-liners at the Pentagon and the White House, who came to believe that C.I.A. analysts had ignored evidence that proved links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Eventually, the Prague meeting became a central element in a battle between the C.I.A. and the administration's hawks over prewar intelligence.
Abu Zubaydah, one of the highest-ranking Qaeda leaders in American custody, told the C.I.A. that Mr. bin Laden rejected the idea of working with Mr. Hussein, a secular leader whom Mr. bin Laden considered corrupt and irredeemable, according to a September 2002 classified intelligence report obtained by The New York Times.
Mr. Zubaydah said that some Qaeda operatives wanted the organization to try to take advantage of Mr. Hussein's hatred for the United States in order to obtain military material or other support from Iraq. But Mr. bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were strongly opposed to working with Iraq, according to the report of Mr. Zubaydah's debriefing, which was obtained from Bush administration officials.
Al Qaeda's leadership "viewed the Iraqis, particularly the military and security services, as corrupt, irreligious and hypocritical in that they succumb to Western vices while concurrently remaining at war with the United States," the report says, summarizing Mr. Zubaydah's statements. "The Iraqis were not viewed as true jihadists, and there was doubt amongst the senior Al Qaeda leadership on the depth of Saddam's commitment to destroy Israel and further the cause of cleansing the Holy Land of infidel influences or presence."
no secret meeting in Prague
There was no secret meeting of Mohammed Atta with Iraqi officials in Prague. Excerpt:
Posted by Aziz P. at 12/14/2003 02:30:00 PM