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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
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Others, primarily at the CIA, are more skeptical. They point out that the Iraqi embassy employee who got Shakir his job and managed his schedule was a lower-ranking embassy official. That, they argue, does not fit the profile of a Mukhabarat foreign agent. There are alternative explanations for some of the details, too. Shakir may have accompanied the September 11 hijackers to the Kuala Lumpur Hotel because they gave him a big tip or, some have suggested, because he knew the way. It's possible that Shakir was an Iraqi who had joined al Qaeda and, apart from his contact with the Iraqi embassy employee, had nothing to do with the Iraqi regime. The Iraqi regime, for its part, may have simply requested Shakir's release from the Jordanian government as a routine matter.

So was Saddam Hussein involved in September 11? Evidence, at this point, is scarce . . .

There are two critical questions, then, about Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. Was the Shakir in Kuala Lumpur the same man listed as an officer of the Saddam Fedayeen? And more important, what was the relationship, if any, between the Ahmed Hikmat Shakir who is known to have been at the Kuala Lumpur meeting and the Iraqi government?

I don't have the answer to either one. (In fact, that uncertainty is why the first chapter in my book is not a declarative statement, but a question: "Case Open: Who is Ahmed Hikmat Shakir?")

JONATHAN LANDAY, a reporter for Knight Ridder, also spoke to intelligence officials who doubt that the Shakir in Kuala Lumpur is the same one on the captured lists. "But U.S. officials told Knight Ridder on Monday that U.S. intelligence experts were highly skeptical that the Iraqi officer had any connection to al-Qaida."

But in contrast to the Post's report, Landay attempted to answer the second of the two main questions about Shakir: Here is how Landay reported that question (with a slightly different name spelling):

Ahmad Hikmat Shakir was employed with the aid of an Iraqi intelligence officer as a "greeter" or "facilitator" for Arabic-speaking visitors at the airport at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

In January 2000, he 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.

There's no evidence that Ahmad Hikmat Shakir attended the meeting. Four days after it ended, he left Kuala Lumpur.

Several days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir was arrested in Qatar in possession of highly suspicious materials that appeared to link him with al-Qaida.

The Qataris inexplicably released him, and he flew to Amman, Jordan, where he was arrested again. The Jordanians freed him under pressure from Iraq and Amnesty International, and he went to Baghdad.

This account is reason enough for the September 11 Commission to take a good look at Shakir. According to Landay, Shakir 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." After his capture in Jordan the Iraqi regime exerted "pressure" and, upon his release, he fled to Baghdad. Landay notes that no major al Qaeda operative has implicated Shakir in the 9/11 attacks and that U.S. intelligence analysts are "highly skeptical" that he played a role.

Landay may be right. There may be an innocent explanation for Shakir's activities in Kuala Lumpur. We may see that explanation in the September 11 Commission's final report later this summer. But that report will be incomplete if it does not attempt to answer the question: "Who is Ahmed Hikmat Shakir?"

Stephen F. Hayes, a staff writer at The Weekly Standard, is the author of The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America.