‘No link’ between 9/11 and Iraq

“We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States,” the September 11 commission’s preliminary report said.

“There is no convincing evidence that any government financially supported al-Qaeda before 9/11 — other than limited support provided by the Taliban after bin Laden first arrived in Afghanistan,” it said.

The report said al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in 1994 and had explored the possibility of cooperation, but the plans apparently never came to fruition.

Counterterrorism officials from the FBI and CIA testifying at the commission’s hearing on Wednesday said they agreed with the report’s conclusion.

The report contradicts US administration claims of links between al-Qaeda and ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein — one of Washington’s justifications for launching the war on Iraq in March 2003.

US Vice President Dick Cheney said this week that the ousted Iraqi leader had “long-established ties” to al-Qaeda.

In response to the report, Bush said the presence in Iraq of Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as “the best evidence” of an Iraqi connection to al-Qaeda. He said Saddam had sheltered terrorist groups.

In a separate report entitled “Overview of the Enemy,” the commission said al-Qaeda has changed drastically and become decentralised since the September 11 attacks, but it still helps regional networks and will keep trying to strike the US to inflict mass casualties.

“Al-Qaeda remains extremely interested in conducting chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks,” said the report, adding that the network’s ability to conduct an anthrax attack is one of the most immediate threats.

While it found no convincing evidence of government support, the panel said Saudi Arabia provided “fertile fund-raising ground” for al-Qaeda.

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