Rumsfeld Cautious on Iraq Terror-Link Documents

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

( - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded cautiously to questions about Iraqi government documents leaked to indicating that Saddam Hussein's regime had links to terrorists and possessed biochemical weapons.

Asked by conservative radio host Sean Hannity Monday about the documents and story, Rumsfeld said he could not expand on the claims.

"Until I have a chance to see -- until the people going over documents have a chance to pore through enough of them to come to, to develop some conviction about what they think it means, and then to try to corroborate them by interviews with people, it would be premature for me to get into it," he said.

Earlier Monday, Rumsfeld said at a Council on Foreign Relations event that he had seen no "strong, hard evidence" linking Saddam with al Qaeda.

The documents obtained by revealed efforts by Saddam's regime to work with some of the world's most notorious Islamist terror organizations, including the Egyptian group known as Islamic Jihad or Jihad Group.

The group's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is second-in-command of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and a signatory of the 1998 fatwa declaring war on America and establishing the International Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews.

The documents also point to the regime's purchase in 2000 of five kilograms of mustard gas and three vials of "malignant pustule" (a term referring to a form of anthrax infection).

Mustard gas is a chemical agent and anthrax is a biological agent. Both can be weaponized and are deadly.

The U.S. commission investigating the 9/11attacks reported over the summer that meetings between Iraq officials and bin Laden may have happened in 1998 - after the fatwa was published -- and 1999, both inside Iraq and in Afghanistan.

It cited reports that said Iraqi officials offered bin Laden safe haven inside Iraq.

But the commission said it had seen no evidence Iraq had a "collaborative operational relationship" with al Qaeda.

In Yossef Bodansky's definitive 1999 biography, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, the author tracks bin Laden's relations with Baghdad back to 1993, when he says the al-Qaeda chief "played a role in the preparation and running of the Islamist operations in Somalia in which Iraqi special forces and Arab 'Afghans' retrained by Iraqi intelligence also took part."

That was the year Somali Islamists killed 18 American troops in an October ambush in the Somali capital.

As reported Monday, nine months before the Mogadishu battle, an Iraqi presidency document included a directive to the Baath Party, saying it "should move to hunt the Americans who are on Arabian land, especially in Somalia, by using Arabian elements, or Asian (Muslims) or friends. Take the necessary steps."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last June his government had warned Washington after 9/11 about Saddam's terrorist ambitions against America.

Putin said Russian intelligence agencies had received information that Iraq was planning terrorist attacks against military and civilian targets in the U.S. and had warned their U.S. counterparts.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow