Who Is Ahmed Hikmat Shakir?
According to Knight-Ridder, the mysterious Iraqi was "employed with the aid of an Iraqi intelligence officer" and later "accompanied two Sept. 11 hijackers from the airport to a hotel where the pair met with Ramzi Binalshibh, a key planner of the attacks, and Tawfiz al Atash, who masterminded al Qaida's strike on the USS Cole in October 2000." Interesting, no?
9:10 AM, Jun 23, 2004 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
THE WASHINGTON POST reported yesterday morning that an Iraqi present at a key al Qaeda summit may not be the same Iraqi listed on lists of officers of the Saddam Fedayeen captured in postwar Iraq.
In Al Qaeda Link to Iraq May be Confusion Over Names, the Post broke very little new ground. Both the Wall Street Journal (which broke the story) and this magazine (which confirmed it) openly acknowledged that possibility. And John Lehman, the September 11 Commissioner who raised the issue on Meet the Press on Sunday, allowed that "still has to be confirmed."
The Post added to the debate in one interesting way when it reported that U.S. intelligence officials have "discounted" reports in this magazine that Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, the Iraqi at the al Qaeda meeting, was "under Iraqi intelligence control." That the Post has finally acknowledged the existence of Shakir might be considered a promising development, since his name has never previously graced its pages. But having whetted our appetite for substance, the Post account simply ends.
Here is the Shakir chronology as reported in this week's WEEKLY STANDARD:
Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. Shakir, as WEEKLY STANDARD readers may recall, is an Iraqi who was present at the January 2000 al Qaeda planning meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. U.S. intelligence officials do not know whether Shakir was an active participant in the meeting, but there is little doubt he was there.
In August 1999, Shakir began working as a VIP greeter for Malaysian Airlines. He told associates he had gotten the job through a contact at the Iraqi embassy. In fact, Shakir's embassy contact controlled his schedule--told him when to report to work and when to take a day off. The contact apparently told Shakir to report to work on January 5, 2000, the same day September 11 hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar arrived in Kuala Lumpur. Shakir escorted al Mihdhar to a waiting car and then, rather than bid his guest farewell, jumped in the car with him. The meeting lasted from January 5 to January 8. Shakir reported to work twice after the meeting broke up and then disappeared.
He was arrested in Doha, Qatar, on September 17, 2001. Authorities found both on his body and in his apartment contact information for a number of high-ranking al Qaeda terrorists. They included the brother of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Hajer al Iraqi, described by one detainee as Osama bin Laden's "best friend." Despite this, Shakir was released from custody. He was detained again on October 21, 2001, in Amman, Jordan, where he was to have caught a flight to Baghdad. The Jordanians held Shakir for three months. The Iraqi regime contacted the Jordanian government and either requested or demanded--depending on who you ask--his release. The Jordanians, with the apparent acquiescence of the CIA, set him free in late January 2002, at which point he returned to Baghdad. Then earlier this spring, Shakir's name was found on three lists of the officers of Saddam's Fedayeen.
It's possible, of course, that there is more than one Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. And even if the Shakir listed as an officer of the Saddam Fedayeen is the same Shakir who was present at the 9/11 planning meeting, it does not mean that the Iraqi regime helped plan or even had foreknowledge of those attacks.
The Post article mentions none of this; we learn only that these reports have been discounted by intelligence officials who talked to the Post, but never why. Here is one possible explanation, from a WEEKLY STANDARD article on Shakir last October:
Some intelligence officials believe that the Iraqi embassy employee who got Shakir his airport job may have been an agent of Saddam Hussein's intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, and that high-ranking elements of the government, perhaps including Saddam, knew about his activities. After all, the intelligence service placed its agents liberally in Iraqi embassies throughout the world. In some cases, intelligence agents made up more than 50 percent of the employees in an Iraqi embassy. This doesn't mean that Saddam or anyone in his government necessarily had foreknowledge of September 11; only that his intelligence service may have provided logistical support to the men who gave us September 11--again, perhaps without precise knowledge of their plans.