White House responds to Knight Ridder article

Knight Ridder NewspapersMarch 12, 2004 

The following is a letter from Sean McCormack, spokesman for the president's National Security Council, in response to a March 3 story by Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel and John Walcott of the Knight Ridder Washington bureau. The story said that the Bush administration's case that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaida was based on even shakier intelligence than the claims he had large stocks of weapons of mass destruction. For your information, McCormack was asked for comment before the story was published, and the story was held for one day to give him time to respond. He did not do so at that time.

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By Sean McCormack

I am writing to address some issues raised by a March 3, Knight Ridder article by Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott titled "Doubts cast on efforts to link Saddam, al-Qaida". The authors repeat assertions made by anonymous sources casting doubt on Iraq's pre-liberation relations with al-Qaida and other terror organizations. The facts of Saddam's ties to terror are that his regime was involved in support for those who posed a real threat to America and its interests.

Abu Musab Zarqawi has longstanding ties to al-Qaida, as well as to the terror group Ansar al-Islam, and it remains entirely accurate to describe him as a senior al-Qaida associate. Zarqawi and his men periodically have trained and fought with al-Qaida members for years, including when Zarqawi had an explosives and poisons/toxins training camp in Herat, Afghanistan, under the Taliban. Some recent attacks in Iraq have involved al-Qaida and Zarqawi associates working together. Zarqawi appears to have directed the October 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley. We also know that Zarqawi's network received al-Qaida logistical and financial support.

Saddam Hussein's regime was involved in the movement of resources for terrorists organizations - money, members and supplies - into and through Iraq for terrorist organizations like the Abu Nidal Organization and other Palestinian rejectionist groups up until early 2003. Saddam's regime also had ties with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in the 1990s, which was led by Osama bin Laden's current second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and which merged with al-Qaida in 2001. Zarqawi had nearly two dozen al-Qaida associates in Baghdad in the spring/summer of 2002. While we are still putting together the picture of Saddam's activities with al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorist groups, we do know that in 2002 an al-Qaida associate bragged that the situation in Iraq was "good" and that Baghdad could be transited quickly.

Some claim, in this case cited as anonymous sources by Mssrs. Strobel, Landay and Walcott, that nothing emerged from these activities. Our leaders, who are charged with protecting the American people, do not have the luxury of taking comfort in a theory that just because Saddam Hussein espoused a secular tyranny his regime could not join forces with Islamic terror organizations. The evidence of just such ties was too strong for the president to ignore. President Bush chose not to depend on Saddam Hussein's self-restraint, and America and the world is safer for that decision.

Sean McCormack

Spokesman, National Security Council

The White House

Washington, D.C.

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