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Homeland Security

23 May 2007

Bush Cites al-Qaida's Effort on Base in Iraq

Declassified intelligence shows group's effort on special unit to plot attacks

Washington – Helping Iraqis secure their country is central to winning the war against terrorism, says President Bush, who revealed intelligence that al-Qaida had intended to form a special unit in Iraq to plan future attacks on the United States and its allies.

“If al-Qaida succeeds in Iraq,” Bush said in a May 23 speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation, “they would pursue their stated goals of turning that nation into a base from which to overthrow moderate governments in the region, impose their hateful ideology on millions, and launch new attacks on America and other nations.”

Bush cited declassified passages from a March 2005 Homeland Security Bulletin that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden tasked his representative in Iraq – the Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – with forming a cell to conduct terrorist attacks outside of Iraq, and directed Hamza Rabia to brief Zarqawi on current plans.  But Abu Faraj al-Libi, a senior bin Laden adviser, suggested that Rabia be dispatched to Iraq to assist in planning attacks.

“Abu Faraj later speculated that if this effort proved successful, al-Qaida might one day prepare the majority of its external operations from Iraq,” Bush said.

In May 2005, Libi was captured and later transferred to U.S. custody.  Rabia was killed in Pakistan in December 2005, and Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike in Iraq in June 2006.  Bin Laden’s handpicked successor for Zarqawi, senior operative Abd al-Haidi al-Iraqi, also was captured, Bush said and is being held along with Libi at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Successes like these are blows to al-Qaida,” Bush said.  “They're a testament to steps we have taken to strengthen our intelligence, work closely with partners overseas, and keep the pressure on the enemy by staying on the offense.”

Bush also highlighted several other disrupted al-Qaida plots against the United States, including the capture of Ali Salih al-Mari, an al-Qaida poison expert who intelligence sources say plotted with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad to poison U.S. reservoirs and target the New York Stock Exchange, as well as two plots to use hijacked airlines to strike targets in major U.S. cities.  Mari and Muhammad are also in U.S. custody in Guantanamo.

“In the minds of al-Qaida leaders, 9/11 was just a down payment on violence yet to come,” Bush said. 

White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend told reporters previously that these details about the plots were declassified because the intelligence community had tracked all leads from the information.

Bush said that al-Qaida will continue its campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations in Iraq as surely as they intend to target the United States once more. Security in Iraq, he said, is essential to defeating terrorism. (See related article.)

“Terrorists can try to kill the innocent, but they cannot kill the desire for liberty that burns in the hearts of millions across the earth,” Bush said. “The power of freedom defeated the ideologies of fascism and communism in the last century, and freedom will defeat the hateful ideologies of the terrorists in this century.”

A transcript of Bush’s remarks and related fact sheet are available on the White House Web site.

For more information, see Iraq Update.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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