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One month before, leaders of several Kurdish Islamist factions reportedly visited the al-Qa'ida leadership in Afghanistan seeking to create a base for al-Qa'ida in northern Iraq. Perhaps they knew that the base in Afghanistan would soon be targeted, following the impending terrorist attacks against U. The authors of a document found in Kabul vowed to "expel those Jews and Christians from Kurdistan and join the way of jihad, [and] rule every piece of land … with the Islamic Shari'a rule." The Los Angeles Times, based upon interviews with an Ansar prisoner, also corroborates this, noting that in October 2000, Kurdish Islamist leaders: sent a guerrilla with the alias Mala Namo and two bodyguards into Iran and then on to bin Laden's camps … The United States and Britain sought to defend the area from incursions by Saddam's regime (which was responsible for the brutal murder of hundreds and expulsion of hundreds of thousands after the 1991 war) but left the area to be governed by the Kurds themselves.
Months before the Iraq war of 2003, The New Yorker, Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times published reports about Ansar al-Islam ("Partisans of Islam"), a brutal band of al-Qa'ida guerrillas based in a Kurdish area of northern Iraq near the Iranian border. Rather, the administration focused on Saddam's attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction. The attacks on the Jordanian embassy and the United Nations (U.
By that time, a number of al-Qaeda operatives had left Afghanistan and moved to northern Iraq …  Author's interview with PUK representative, Washington, D.
militant leaders in Kurdistan were replicating al-Qaeda type camps on military training, terrorism, and suicide bombers. According to several reports, Ansar al-Islam was started with 0,000 to 0,000 in al-Qa'ida seed money. According to at least three journalistic sources, the group received money from a key cleric in the al-Qa'ida network, Abu Qatada, based in London. In April 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported that Italian police had wiretapped conversations with an imam from Cremona, Italy, indicating that Syria was serving as a hub for recruits. Some funds reportedly came from Saudi Arabia. While some thirty al-Qa'ida members reportedly joined Ansar al-Islam's Kurdish cadres in 2001, the foreign fighter presence soon grew to between eighty and 120.
In June, Ansar bombed a restaurant, injuring scores and killing a child. In July, the group killed nine PUK fighters. In a move reminiscent of the Taliban, the group destroyed Sufi shrines. In December, Ansar launched a surprise attack after the PUK sent 1,500 soldiers home to celebrate the end of Ramadan. According to Ansar's website, they killed 103 PUK members and wounded 117. Gruesome pictures of the group's victims were posted on the Internet. As Ansar al-Islam grew more violent, information began to surface about three worrisome aspects of Ansar al-Islam: (1) its interest in chemical weapons; (2) its possible links to Saddam's regime; and (3) its connections to Iran. By early 2003, more than thirty Ansar al-Islam militants (including fifteen to twenty Arab fighters) were incarcerated in the Kurdish "capital" of Sulaymaniyah. The International Herald Tribune noted, "critical information about this network emerged from interrogations of captured cell members." Based on this testimony and other intelligence, information was gleaned about Ansar al-Islam's nascent chemical facilities.
Specifically, it was reported that cyanide gas and the poison ricin were among the chemicals tested by Ansar al-Islam. The Washington Post also reported that Ansar al-Islam smuggled VX nerve gas through Turkey in fall 2001. PUK prime minister Barham Salih cited "clear evidence" of animal testing. Other Kurdish leaders said they had "eyewitness accounts, prisoners confessions, and seized evidence" to support this. After Powell's U. speech on February 5, 2003, Ansar allowed a small group of reporters to visit their enclave to check for chemical weapons, "especially in the Khurmal and Sargat, areas where Ansar was believed to be developing ricin." Neither Powell's claim nor the militants' denials could be verified. Bush administration and PUK officials increasingly claimed that Ansar al-Islam was working directly with Saddam. authorities announced that he had sought medical attention in Baghdad where Saddam harbored what Powell called "Zarqawi and his subordinates" for eight months.