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Sins of Commission By: Stephen F. Hayes
The Weekly Standard | Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Ahmed Hikmat Shakir is a shadowy figure who provided logistical assistance to one, maybe two, of the 9/11 hijackers. Years before, he had received a phone call from the Jersey City, New Jersey, safehouse of the plotters who would soon, in February 1993, park a truck bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center. The safehouse was the apartment of Musab Yasin, brother of Abdul Rahman Yasin, who scorched his own leg while mixing the chemicals for the 1993 bomb.

When Shakir was arrested shortly after the 9/11 attacks, his "pocket litter," in the parlance of the investigators, included contact information for Musab Yasin and another 1993 plotter, a Kuwaiti native named Ibrahim Suleiman.

These facts alone, linking the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, would seem to cry out for additional scrutiny, no?

The Yasin brothers and Shakir have more in common. They are all Iraqis. And two of them--Abdul Rahman Yasin and Shakir--went free, despite their participation in attacks on the World Trade Center, at least partly because of efforts made on their behalf by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Both men returned to Iraq--Yasin fled there in 1993 with the active assistance of the Iraqi government. For ten years in Iraq, Abdul Rahman Yasin was provided safe haven and financing by the regime, support that ended only with the coalition intervention in March 2003.

Readers of The Weekly Standard may be familiar with the stories of Abdul Rahman Yasin, Musab Yasin, and Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. Readers of the 9/11 Commission's final report are not. Those three individuals are nowhere mentioned in the 428 pages that comprise the body of the 9/11 Commission report. Their names do not appear among the 172 listed in Appendix B of the report, a table of individuals who are mentioned in the text. Two brief footnotes mention Shakir.

Why? Why would the 9/11 Commission fail to mention Abdul Rahman Yasin, who admitted his role in the first World Trade Center attack, which killed 6 people, injured more than 1,000, and blew a hole seven stories deep in the North Tower? It's an odd omission, especially since the commission named no fewer than five of his accomplices.

Why would the 9/11 Commission neglect Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, a man who was photographed assisting a 9/11 hijacker and attended perhaps the most important 9/11 planning meeting?

And why would the 9/11 Commission fail to mention the overlap between the two successful plots to attack the World Trade Center?

The answer is simple: The Iraqi link didn't fit the commission's narrative.

AS THE TWO SIDES in the current flap over Able Danger, a Pentagon intelligence unit tracking al Qaeda before 9/11, exchange claims and counterclaims in the news media, the work of the 9/11 Commission is receiving long overdue scrutiny. It may be the case, as three individuals associated with the Pentagon unit claim, that Able Danger had identified Mohammed Atta in January or February 2000 and that the 9/11 Commission simply ignored this information because it clashed with the commission's predetermined storyline. We should soon know more. Whatever the outcome of that debate, the 9/11 Commission's deliberate exclusion of the Iraqis from its analysis is indefensible.

The investigation into the 9/11 attacks began with an article of faith among those who had conducted U.S. counterterrorism efforts throughout the 1990s: Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not--could not have been--involved in any way. On September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks, George W. Bush asked Richard Clarke to investigate the attacks and possible Iraqi involvement in them. Clarke, as he relates in his bestselling book, was offended even to be asked. He knew better.

Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, started from the same assumption. So did Douglas MacEachin, a former deputy director of the CIA for intelligence who led the commission's study of al Qaeda and was responsible for the commission's conclusion that there was "no collaborative operational relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda. (Over the course of the commission's life, MacEachin refused several interviews with The Weekly Standard because, we were told, he disagreed with our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.)

From the evidence now available, it seems clear that Saddam Hussein did not direct the 9/11 attacks. Few people have ever claimed he did. But some four years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and one year after the 9/11 Commission released its final report, there is much we do not know. The determination of these officials to write out of the history any Iraqi involvement in terrorism against America has contributed mightily to public misperceptions about the former Iraqi regime and the war on terror.

HERE IS WHAT WE KNOW TODAY about Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. In August 1999, Shakir, a 37-year-old Iraqi, accepted a position as a "facilitator" at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A "facilitator" works for an airline and assists VIP travelers with paperwork required for entry and other logistical issues. Shakir got the job because someone in the Iraqi embassy in Malaysia wanted him to have it. He started that fall.

Although Shakir officially worked for Malaysian Airlines, his contact in the Iraqi embassy controlled his schedule. On January 5, 2000, Shakir apparently received an assignment from his embassy contact. He was to escort a recent arrival through immigration at the airport. Khalid al Mihdhar, a well-connected al Qaeda member who would later help hijack American Airlines Flight 77, had come to Malaysia for an important al Qaeda meeting that would last at least three days. (Shakir may have also assisted Nawaf al Hazmi, another hijacker, thought to have arrived on January 4, 2000.)

Malaysian intelligence photographed Shakir greeting al Mihdhar at the airport and walking him to a waiting car. But rather than see the new arrival off, he hopped in the car with al Mihdhar and accompanied him to the meeting. Malaysian intelligence has provided its photographs to the CIA. While U.S. officials can place Shakir at the meeting with the hijackers and several high-ranking al Qaeda operatives, they do not know whether Shakir participated actively. (Also present at the meeting were Hambali, al Qaeda's top man in South Asia, and Khallad, later identified as the mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole.)

The meeting concluded on January 8, 2000. Shakir reported to work at the airport on January 9 and January 10, and then never again. Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaz al Hazmi also disappeared briefly, then flew from Bangkok, Thailand, to Los Angeles on January 15, 2000.

Shakir, the Iraqi-born facilitator, would be arrested six days after the September 11 attacks by authorities in Doha, Qatar. According to an October 7, 2002, article by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman, "A search of Shakir's apartment in Doha, the country's capital, yielded a treasure trove, including telephone records linking him to suspects in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and Project Bojinka, a 1994 Manila plot to blow up civilian airliners over the Pacific Ocean." (Isikoff, it should be noted, has been a prominent skeptic of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection.)

Shakir had contact information for a lot of bad people. As noted, one was a Kuwaiti, Ibrahim Suleiman, whose fingerprints were found on the bombmaking manuals U.S. authorities allege were used in preparation for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Suleiman was convicted of perjury and deported to Jordan. Another was Musab Yasin, the brother of 1993 Trade Center bomber Abdul Rahman Yasin. Yet another was Zahid Sheikh Mohammed, brother of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, now in U.S. custody. Shakir also had an old number for Taba Investments, an al Qaeda front group. It was the number long used by Mahmdouh Mahmud Salim, the highest-ranking Iraqi member of al Qaeda. According to testimony from al Qaeda informants, Salim maintained a good relationship with Saddam's intelligence service.

Despite all of this, the Qatari authorities released Shakir shortly after they arrested him.

On October 21, 2001, Shakir flew to Amman, Jordan, where he hoped to board a plane to Baghdad. But authorities in Jordan arrested him for questioning. Shakir was held in a Jordanian prison for three months without being charged, prompting Amnesty International to write the Jordanian government seeking an explanation. The CIA questioned Shakir and concluded that he had received training in counter-interrogation techniques. Shortly after Shakir was detained, Saddam's government began to pressure Jordanian intelligence--with a mixture of diplomatic overtures and threats--to release Shakir. They got their wish on January 28, 2002. He is believed to have returned promptly to Baghdad.

I have discussed Shakir with nine U.S. government officials--policymakers and intelligence officials alike. The timeline above represents the consensus view.

Two weeks before the 9/11 Commission's final report was released to the public, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee released its own evaluation of the intelligence on Iraq. The Senate report added to the Shakir story.

The first connection to the [9/11] attack involved Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi national, who facilitated the travel of one of the September 11 hijackers to Malaysia in January 2000. [Redacted.] A foreign government service reported that Shakir worked for four months as an airport facilitator in Kuala Lumpur at the end of 1999 and beginning of 2000. Shakir claimed he got this job through Ra'ad al-Mudaris, an Iraqi Embassy employee. [Redacted.] Another source claimed that al-Mudaris was a former IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] officer. The CIA judged in "Iraqi Support for Terrorism," however, that al-Mudaris' [redacted] that the circumstances surrounding the hiring of Shakir for this position did not suggest it was done on behalf of the IIS.

A note about that last sentence: The Senate committee report is a devastating indictment of the CIA's woefully inadequate collection of intelligence on Iraq, and its equally flawed analysis. It is of course possible that the CIA's judgment about al Mudaris is correct, but the bulk of the report inspires no confidence that it is.

Consider the three new facts in this brief summary. One, Shakir himself told interrogators that an Iraqi embassy employee got him the job that allowed him to help the hijacker(s). Two, that Iraqi embassy employee was Ra'ad al Mudaris. Three, another source identified al Mudaris as former Iraqi Intelligence.

All of this information was known to the U.S. intelligence community months before the 9/11 Commission completed its investigation. And yet none of it appeared in the final report.

Two footnotes are the sum total of what the 9/11 Commission had to say about Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. Here is the more substantive, footnote 49 to Chapter 6, on page 502 of the 567-page report: "Mihdhar was met at the Kuala Lumpur airport by Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi national. Reports that he was a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi Fedayeen turned out to be incorrect. They were based on a confusion of Shakir's identity with that of an Iraqi Fedayeen colonel with a similar name, who was later (in September 2001) in Iraq at the same time Shakir was in police custody in Qatar." The report is sourced to a briefing from the CIA's counterterrorism center and a story in the Washington Post. And that's it.

Readers of the 9/11 Commission report who bothered to study the footnotes might wonder who Shakir was, what he was doing with a 9/11 hijacker in Malaysia, and why he was ever "in police custody in Qatar." They might also wonder why the report, while not addressing those questions, went out of its way to provide information about who he was not. Such readers are still wondering.

There is no doubt the 9/11 Commission had this information at its disposal. On the very day it released its final report, commissioner John Lehman told me that Shakir's many connections to al Qaeda and Saddam's regime suggested something more than random chance.

So how is it that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report contains a substantive account of Shakir's mysterious contribution to the 9/11 plot, while the 9/11 Commission report--again, released two weeks later--simply ignores it?

We now know even more about Shakir's Iraqi embassy contact, Ra'ad al Mudaris. The post-Saddam Iraqi government launched its own, secret investigation of al Mudaris and his activities. Al Mudaris was a "local employee" of the Iraqi embassy in Kuala Lumpur. That is, he was an Iraqi already living in Malaysia when he began working officially for the embassy. Although Shakir named him as his Iraqi embassy contact and another source noted his affiliation with the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the U.S. government never arrested al Mudaris. He continued his nominal employment at the Iraqi embassy in Kuala Lumpur even after the Iraq war, outliving the regime that had employed him. He left that position early last fall, shortly after he was named publicly in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report. A senior Iraqi government official tells The Weekly Standard that al Mudaris still lives in Malaysia, a free man.

BY THE END OF LAST WEEK, the demands for more information on Able Danger had reached fever pitch. The Pentagon claimed to have launched an aggressive investigation into the project. 9/11 Commission co-chairman Thomas Kean was demanding more information on Able Danger from the National Security Council. And Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, fired off a hard-hitting letter to FBI director Robert Mueller demanding answers to a series of questions about the Pentagon unit and its interactions with the FBI.

Answers about Able Danger would be nice, but it is surely long past time for answers on Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, Abdul Rahman Yasin, and Musab Yasin. The 9/11 Commission itself and other relevant bodies should reexamine Shakir's role in the 9/11 plot and his connections to the 1993 World Trade Center plotters. The Bush administration should move quickly to declassify all of the intelligence the U.S. government possesses on Shakir and the Yasin brothers. The Senate and House intelligence committee should demand answers on the three Iraqis from the CIA, the DIA, and the FBI.

Here are some of the questions they might ask:

  • Ahmed Hikmat Shakir was arrested in Doha, Qatar, just six days after the 9/11 attacks. How was he apprehended so quickly? Was the CIA monitoring his activities? What did the 9/11 Commission know about this arrest? And why wasn't it included in the 9/11 Commission's final report?
  • Who identified Shakir's Iraqi embassy contact, Ra'ad al Mudaris, as former Iraqi Intelligence? Is the source credible? If not, why not?
  • Have other detainees been asked about Ahmed Hikmat Shakir? If so, what have they said?
  • What do the former employees of the Iraqi embassy in Malaysia tell us about Ahmed Hikmat Shakir and Ra'ad al Mudaris?
  • Has anyone from the U.S. government interviewed Ra'ad al Mudaris? If so, how does he explain his activities?
  • Have the names Ahmed Hikmat Shakir and Ra'ad al Mudaris surfaced in any of the documents captured in postwar Iraq from the Iraqi Intelligence headquarters in Baghdad?
  • How long was the phone call between Ahmed Hikmat Shakir and the safehouse shortly before the 1993 World Trade Center attack?
  • Does the U.S. government have other indications that Ahmed Hikmat Shakir and the 1993 World Trade Center bombers were in contact, either before or after that attack?
  • Vice President Dick Cheney has spoken publicly about documents that indicate Abdul Rahman Yasin was provided safe haven and financing upon his return to Iraq in 1993. The FBI is blocking declassification of those documents, despite the fact that Yasin is on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorist list. Why?
  • Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, Abdul Rahman Yasin, Musab Yasin, and Ahmed Hikmat Shakir were all believed to be in Iraq. Where are they today?

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




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