The Magazine

Saddam's Philippines
Terror Connection

And other revelations from the Iraqi regime files.

Mar 27, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 26 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

"We're concerned that they have what I would call operational links to Iraqi intelligence services. And they're a danger, they're an enemy of the Philippines, they're an enemy of the United States, and we want very much to help the government in Manila deal with this challenge," Daley told the panel. Responding to a question, Daley elaborated. "There is good reason to believe that a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group who has been involved in terrorist activities was in direct contact with an IIS officer in the Iraqi Embassy in Manila. This individual was subsequently expelled from the Philippines for engaging in activities that were incompatible with his diplomatic status."

This individual was Hisham Hussein, the second secretary of the Iraqi Embassy in Manila. And Daley was right to be concerned.

Eighteen months before his testimony, a young Filipino man rode his Honda motorcycle up a dusty road to a shanty strip mall just outside Camp Enrile Malagutay in Zamboanga City, Philippines. The camp was host to American troops stationed in the south of the country to train with Filipino soldiers fighting terrorists. The man parked his bike and began to examine its gas tank. Seconds later, the tank exploded, sending nails in all directions and killing the rider almost instantly.

The blast damaged six nearby stores and ripped the front off of a café that doubled as a karaoke bar. The café was popular with American soldiers. And on this day, October 2, 2002, SFC Mark Wayne Jackson was killed there and a fellow soldier was severely wounded. Eyewitnesses almost immediately identified the bomber as an Abu Sayyaf terrorist.

One week before the attack, Abu Sayyaf leaders had promised a campaign of terror directed at the "enemies of Islam"--Westerners and the non-Muslim Filipino majority. And one week after the attack, Abu Sayyaf attempted to strike again, this time with a bomb placed on the playground of the San Roque Elementary School. It did not detonate. Authorities recovered the cell phone that was to have set it off and analyzed incoming and outgoing calls.

As they might have expected, they discovered several calls to and from Abu Sayyaf leaders. But another call got their attention. Seventeen hours after the attack that took the life of SFC Jackson, the cell phone was used to place a call to the second secretary of the Iraqi embassy in Manila, Hisham Hussein. It was not Hussein's only contact with Abu Sayyaf.

"He was surveilled, and we found out he was in contact with Abu Sayyaf and also pro-Iraqi demonstrators," says a Philippine government source, who continued, "[Philippine intelligence] was able to monitor their cell phone calls. [Abu Sayyaf leaders] called him right after the bombing. They were always talking."

An analysis of Iraqi embassy phone records by Philippine authorities showed that Hussein had been in regular contact with Abu Sayyaf leaders both before and after the attack that killed SFC Jackson. Andrea Domingo, immigration commissioner for the Philippines, said Hussein ran an "established network" of terrorists in the country. Hussein had also met with members of the New People's Army, a Communist opposition group on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups, in his office at the embassy. According to a Philippine government official, the Philippine National Police uncovered documents in a New People's Army compound that indicate the Iraqi embassy had provided funding for the group. Hisham Hussein and two other Iraqi embassy employees were ordered out of the Philippines on February 14, 2003.

Interestingly, an Abu Sayyaf leader named Hamsiraji Sali at least twice publicly boasted that his group received funding from Iraq. For instance, on March 2, 2003, he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the Iraqi regime had provided the terrorist group with 1million pesos--about $20,000--each year since 2000.

ANOTHER ITEM from the Iraq-Philippines files is a "security report" prepared by the Iraqi embassy's third secretary, Ahmad Mahmud Ghalib, and sent to Baghdad by Ambassador Samarmad. The report provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Iraqi Intelligence operation in the Philippines. A cover memo from the ambassador, dated April 12, 2001, gives an overview: "The report contain[s] a variety of issues including intelligence issues and how the Philippines, American and Zionist intelligence operate in the Philippines, especially the movements of the American intelligence in their efforts to fight terrorism and recruiting a variety of nationalities, particularly Arabs."

Ghalib's report is a rambling account of a phone conversation he had with an Iraqi intelligence informer named Muhammad al-Zanki, an Iraqi citizen living in the Philippines, who is referred to throughout the document as Abu Ahmad. The embassy official is looking for information on a third person, an informer named Omar Ghazal, and believes that Abu Ahmad might have some. (To review: Salah Samarmad is the Iraqi ambassador; Ahmad Mahmud Ghalib is the embassy's third secretary, most likely an Iraqi intelligence officer and author of the "security report"; Abu Ahmad is an Iraqi intelligence informer; and Omar Ghazal is another Iraqi intelligence informer.)

As the conversation begins, Abu Ahmad tells his embassy contact that he doesn't know where Omar Ghazal is and would have told the embassy if he did. He then tells the embassy contact that when he called Omar Ghazal's aunt to check on his whereabouts, she used a word in Tagalog--walana--which means "not here." But Abu Ahmad says its connotations are not good. "That word is used when you target one of the personnel who are assigned to complete everything (full mission). Then they announce that he is traveling and so on, and that's what I'm afraid of." The Iraqi embassy contact asks him to elaborate. "I have been exposed to that same phrase before, when I asked about an individual, and later on I found out that he was physically eliminated and no one knows anything about him."

The embassy official assures Abu Ahmad that Iraqi intelligence has also lost track of Ghazal, and became alarmed when he abruptly stopped attending soccer practice at a local college. Abu Ahmad fears the worst. "I'm afraid they might have killed him and I'm very worried about him," he says, according to the report. "The method that those people use is terrible and that's why I refuse to work with them."

The Iraqi embassy official interrupts Abu Ahmad. "Who are they? I would like to know who they are."

"Didn't I tell you before who they are?"

"No."

"The office group," says Abu Ahmad.

"Which office?" asks his Iraqi embassy handler.

"A long time ago the American FBI opened up an office in the Philippines, under American supervision and that there are Philippine Intelligence groups that work there. The goal of the office is to fight international terrorism (in the Philippines of course) and they have employees from various nationalities that speak of peace and international terrorism and how important it is to put an end to terrorism. The office also has other espionage affairs involving Arab citizens to work with them in order to provide them with information on the Arabs who are living in the Philippines and also for other spying purposes."

Abu Ahmad continues: "They also monitor diplomacy, and after I tried to lessen my amount of office work, I became aware that the office group was trying to get in contact with the person who is in charge of temporary work, Malik al-Athir, when he was alone."

Abu Ahmad tells his Iraqi embassy contact, Ghalib, that "the office" was trying to recruit an Arab to monitor Arab citizens in the Philippines. The Iraqi embassy contact suggests that Abu Ahmad volunteer for the job. Abu Ahmad says he had other plans. "I am leaving after I finish selling my house and properties and will move to Peshawar [Pakistan]. There I will be supplied with materials, weapons, explosives, and get married and then move to America. Do you know that there are more than one thousand Iraqi extremists who perform heroism jobs?" The speaker presumably means martyrdom operations.

The Iraqi embassy contact asks Abu Ahmad how he knows that those people are not "Saudis, Kuwaitis, Iranians."

Abu Ahmad replies: "They are bin Laden's people and all of them are extremists and they are heroes. Do you want me to give you their names?"

"Why not? Yes, I want them," says the Iraqi embassy contact.

"I will supply you with the names very soon. I will write some for you because I am in touch with them," says Abu Ahmad.

This report raises more questions than it answers. Who is Omar Ghazal and why did he disappear? What is the "office group" and how is it connected to Americans? What happened to Abu Ahmad? Were his stated plans--moving to Peshawar to obtain weapons and explosives and then moving to the United States--just bluster to impress his Iraqi embassy handler? A way to discontinue his work for the Iraqi regime? Or was he serious? Is he here now?

A SECOND internal Iraqi file obtained by The Weekly Standard concerns relations between Iraqi Intelligence and Saudi opposition groups. The document was apparently compiled at some point after January 1997, judging by the most recent date in the text, and discusses four Saudi opposition groups: the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights, the Reform and Advice Committee (Osama bin Laden), People of al Jazeera Union Organization, and the Saudi Hezbollah.

The New York Times first reported on the existence of this file on June 25, 2004. "American officials described the document as an internal report by the Iraqi intelligence service detailing efforts to seek cooperation with several Saudi opposition groups, including Mr. bin Laden's organization, before al Qaeda had become a full-fledged terrorist organization." According to the Times, a Pentagon task force "concluded that the document 'appeared authentic,' and that it 'corroborates and expands on previous reporting' about contacts between Iraqi intelligence and Mr. bin Laden in Sudan, according to the task force's analysis."

The most provocative aspect of the document is the discussion of efforts to seek cooperation between Iraqi Intelligence and the Saudi opposition group run by bin Laden, known to the Iraqis as the "Reform and Advice Committee." The translation of that section appears below.

We moved towards the committee by doing the following:

A. During the visit of the Sudanese Dr. Ibrahim al-Sanusi to Iraq and his meeting with Mr. Uday Saddam Hussein, on December 13, 1994, in the presence of the respectable, Mr. Director of the Intelligence Service, he [Dr. al-Sanusi] pointed out that the opposing Osama bin Laden, residing in Sudan, is reserved and afraid to be depicted by his enemies as an agent of Iraq. We prepared to meet him in Sudan (The Honorable Presidency was informed of the results of the meeting in our letter 782 on December 17, 1994).

B. An approval to meet with opposer Osama bin Laden by the Intelligence Services was given by the Honorable Presidency in its letter 138, dated January 11, 1995 (attachment 6). He [bin Laden] was met by the previous general director of M4 in Sudan and in the presence of the Sudanese, Ibrahim al-Sanusi, on February 19, 1995. We discussed with him his organization. He requested the broadcast of the speeches of Sheikh Sulayman al-Uda (who has influence within Saudi Arabia and outside due to being a well known religious and influential personality) and to designate a program for them through the broadcast directed inside Iraq, and to perform joint operations against the foreign forces in the land of Hijaz. (The Honorable Presidency was informed of the details of the meeting in our letter 370 on March 4, 1995, attachment 7.)

C. The approval was received from the Leader, Mr. President, may God keep him, to designate a program for them through the directed broadcast. We were left to develop the relationship and the cooperation between the two sides to see what other doors of cooperation and agreement open up. The Sudanese side was informed of the Honorable Presidency's agreement above, through the representative of the Respectable Director of Intelligence Services, our Ambassador in Khartoum.

D. Due to the recent situation of Sudan and being accused of supporting and embracing of terrorism, an agreement with the opposing Saudi Osama bin Laden was reached. The agreement required him to leave Sudan to another area. He left Khartoum in July 1996. The information we have indicates that he is currently in Afghanistan. The relationship with him is ongoing through the Sudanese side. Currently we are working to invigorate this relationship through a new channel in light of his present location.

(It should be noted that the documents given to The Weekly Standard did not include the attachments, letters to and from Saddam Hussein about the status of the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship. And the last sentence differs slightly from the version provided to the New York Times. In the Weekly Standard document, Iraq is seeking to "invigorate" its relationship with al Qaeda; in the Times translation, Iraq is seeking to "continue" that relationship.)

Another passage of the Iraq-Saudi opposition memo details the relationship between the Iraqi regime and the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), founded by Dr. Muhammad Abdallah al-Massari. Once again, Dr. Ibrahim al-Sanusi, the senior Sudanese government official, was a key liaison between the two sides. Al-Massari is widely regarded as an ideological mouthpiece for al Qaeda, a designation he does little to dispute. His radio station broadcasts al Qaeda propaganda, and his website features the rantings of prominent jihadists. He has lived in London for more than a decade. The Iraqi Intelligence memo recounts two meetings involving Dr. al-Sanusi and CDLR representatives in 1994 and reports that al-Massari requested assistance from the Iraqi regime for a trip to Iraq.

In 1995, the Iraqis turned to another Saudi to facilitate their relationship with al-Massari. According to the Iraqi memo, Ahmid Khudir al-Zahrani was a diplomat at the Saudi embassy in Washington who applied for political asylum in the United States. His application was denied, and al-Zahrani contacted the Iraqi embassy in London, seeking asylum in Iraq. His timing was good. Al-Zahrani's request came just as Iraqis were stepping up efforts to establish better relations with the Saudi opposition. According to the Iraqi Intelligence memo:

A complete plan was put in place to bring the aforementioned [al-Zahrani] to Iraq in coordination with the Foreign Ministry and our [intelligence] station in Khartoum [Sudan]. He and his family were issued Iraqi passports with pseudonyms by our embassy in Khartoum. He arrived to Iraq on April 21, 1995, and multiple meetings were held with him to obtain information about the Saudi opposition.

These contacts were not, contrary to the speculation of some Middle East experts, simply an effort to keep tabs on an enemy. The memo continues, summarizing Iraqi Intelligence activities:

We are in the process of following up on the subject, to try and establish a nucleus of Saudi opposition in Iraq, and use our relationship with [al-Massari] to serve our intelligence goals.

The final document provided to The Weekly Standard is a translation of a memo from the "Republican Command, Intelligence Division," dated September 15, 2001. It is addressed to "Mr. M.A.M.5."

Our Afghani source number 11002 (his biographic information in attachment #1) has provided us information that the Afghani consul Ahmed Dahestani (his biographic information attachment #2) has talked in front of him about the following:

1. That Osama bin Laden and the Taliban group in Afghanistan are in communication with Iraq and that previously a group of Taliban and Osama bin Laden have visited Iraq.

2. That America has evidence that the Iraqi government and the group of Osama bin Laden have cooperated to attack targets inside America.

3. In the event that it has been proven that the group of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban planning such operations, it is possible that America will attack Iraq and Afghanistan.

4. That the Afghani consul heard of the relation between Iraq and the group of Osama bin Laden while he was in Iran.

5. In the light of what has been presented, we suggest to write to the committee of information.

This document is speculative in parts, and the information it contains is third-hand at best. Its value depends on the credibility of "source number 11002" and of Ahmed Dahestani and of the sources Dahestani relied on, all of which are unknown.

We are left, then, with three small pieces to add to a large and elaborate puzzle. We will never have a complete picture of the Iraqi regime's support for global terrorism, but the coming release of a flood of captured documents should get us closer.

A new and highly illuminating article in Foreign Affairs draws on hundreds of Iraqi documents to provide a look at the Iraq war from the Iraqi perspective. The picture that emerges is that of an Iraqi regime built on a foundation of paranoia and lies and eager to attack its perceived enemies, internal and external. This paragraph is notable:

The Saddam Fedayeen also took part in the regime's domestic terrorism operations and planned for attacks throughout Europe and the Middle East. In a document dated May 1999, Saddam's older son, Uday, ordered preparations for "special operations, assassinations, and bombings, for the centers and traitor symbols in London, Iran and the self-ruled areas [Kurdistan]." Preparations for "Blessed July," a regime-directed wave of "martyrdom" operations against targets in the West, were well under way at the time of the coalition invasion.

Think about that last sentence.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.