Is Powell's Link of Al Qaeda/Iraq Weak?

By<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/sections/wnt/2020/ross_brian_bio.html">Brian Ross</a> and Chris Vlasto

Feb. 5, 2003 -- As part of Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council today, he said there was a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network" — the nexus being a small, little known terrorist group called Ansar al-Islam, which is now at the center of the U.S. case.

Powell showed a satellite photograph of what he said was a chemical weapons training center in Northern Iraq, used by al Qaeda and protected by Ansar al-Islam.

"Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organization, Ansar al-Islam, that controls this corner of Iraq," said Powell.

The group, whose name means "Supporters of Islam," rules a remote portion of the autonomous northern Kurdish territories in Iraq near the Iran border, which is not controlled by Saddam Hussein. In fact, their leaders say they seek to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his government.

Denies All Links to Iraq

In an interview with ABCNEWS, the man considered the leader of Ansar al-Islam, Majamuddin Fraraj Ahmad, who is also known as Mullah Krekar, denied all allegations that he is in any way linked to Iraq.

"They are our enemy," he said, adding that his group opposes Saddam Hussein because, unlike Osama bin Laden, Saddam is not a good Muslim.

"We believe that Saddam Hussein, him and his group and his ministers also outside of Islam zone," said Krekar.

Ansar al-Islam's 600 or so members impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the several thousand villagers under their control, much the way the Taliban did in Afghanistan. At least 40 of their members claim training in Taliban and al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

Krekar fought with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, along with other Ansar leaders named Abu Wa el and Abdullah Saifii, who fought in Chechnya with al Qaeda and have been harboring many members of al Qaeda in Iraq since the war in Afghanistan.

Krekar lives openly in Oslo, Norway — far from Iraq — where he sought asylum after he says Saddam tried to kill him. "[Saddam Hussein's secret police] tried to poison me … in June of 1990."

Krekar was detained in Holland last year on drug-related charges after he was expelled from Iran, but was recently released and sent to Norway, where he has not been arrested. He is currently being interviewed by Norwegian intelligence services, but is not in custody.

Joint Alliance

Powell said today that al Qaeda leader Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, "an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants," who received medical treatment in Baghdad, had brought together the men of Krekar and the other groups in a joint alliance against the West.

Krekar says that too, is a U.S. fiction. "I didn't meet him, I didn't contact him, I didn't meet with him," he told ABCNEWS. "I don't know him."

The CIA has yet to interview the mullah, who says if his group is the best evidence of an al Qaeda tie to Iraq, it's a very weak case.

The U.S. case about the terror connection was further undercut today in London. The BBC reported that British intelligence has concluded there is no evidence to support the theory that al Qaeda and Iraq are working together.

ABCNEWS' Jill Rackmill contributed to this report.

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