June 1, 2004 | The Miami Herald

Evidence Supports That Hussein Had Strong Links With Terrorists

The brutal beheading of American Nick Berg in Iraq should refocus our attention on Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism. While some continue to claim that Hussein did not back terror, many believe that he did — and the evidence supports the latter.

• Uber-terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the man whom the CIA believes murdered Berg and is the mastermind behind much of today's savage terrorism in Iraq and surrounding countries, is a case in point. He previously ran an Islamist terrorist-training camp in Afghanistan. Zarqawi was wounded during America's Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and fled to Iraq when U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban. He received medical care for a serious leg injury and convalesced for more than two months in Baathist Baghdad. At minimum, Hussein's regime provided Zarqawi with safe harbor and free passage in and out of Iraq.

Zarqawi then opened an Ansar al-Islam terrorist camp in northeastern Iraq (with chemical weapons labs) and later arranged the October 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman, Jordan. While some analysts believe that Zarqawi is a rival rather than an associate of Osama bin Laden, he did have links to bin Laden and allowed his camp in Iraq to be used as a refuge for al Qaeda terrorists fleeing Afghanistan.

Zarqawi is not the only terrorist with ties to Hussein. In his report in the Hudson Institute's American Outlook magazine, Deroy Murdock explains how “Baathist Iraq was a general store for terrorists, complete with cash, training, lodging and medical attention.''

• Among the killers hiding in Iraq was Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal. His Abu Nidal Organization killed or maimed more than 1,200 people in 20 countries, including the airborne bombing of a TWA airliner in 1974 and the attack on a TWA ticket counter at Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci airport in 1986. Nidal had taken refuge in Iraq since 1999. He reportedly ''killed himself'' with four bullets to the head in Baghdad in August 2002.

• In April 2003, Khala Khadar al Salahat, another terrorist with ties to Nidal, surrendered to the First Marine Division in Baghdad. According to at least one published report, a Palestinian source claimed that Salahat and Nidal had furnished Libyan agents the plastic explosives that destroyed Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

• U.S. Special Forces also captured terrorist Abu Abbas in April 2003 just outside Baghdad. He had been living there under Iraqi protection since 2002. Abbas planned the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean in which the terrorists killed wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, a retired 69-year old American.

Italian authorities had detained Abbas briefly at the time but released him because, according to Italy's then-Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, ''Abu Abbas was the holder of an Iraqi diplomatic passport.'' Abbas later died of natural causes in U.S. custody.

• Abdul Rahman Yasin, indicted for mixing the chemicals in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and still on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list, fled to Baghdad after the WTC attack and lived there for years. Documents discovered by U.S. forces in Tikrit showed that the Iraqi government gave Yasin both a house and a salary.

• Ramzi Yousef, the Iraqi who orchestrated the first WTC bombing, also entered America on an Iraqi passport.

• Hussein supported Palestinian terrorists (''martyrs'') who also killed numerous Americans. In March 2003, eight days before the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq began, Knight-Ridder Newspapers reported about a ceremony organized by the Hussein-backed Arab Liberation Front in Gaza City in which “the families of 22 Palestinians [suicide bombers] killed fighting the Israelis each received checks for $10,000 or more, certificates of appreciation and a kiss on each cheek — compliments of Saddam Hussein.''

According to the State Department, the terrorists whom Hussein backed had killed or injured more than 3,500 civilians outside Iraq. U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 paragraph 32 (the 1991 Iraq disarmament resolution) called on Hussein to renounce terrorism. He clearly failed to do so.

Paul Crespo is a senior fellow with the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.