Monday, March 24, 2003

'Huge' Suspected Chemical Weapons Plant Found in Iraq

Monday, March 24, 2003

Coalition forces discovered Monday a "huge" suspected chemical weapons factory near the Iraqi city of Najaf, some 90 miles south of Baghdad, a senior Pentagon official confirmed to Fox News.

Coalition troops are holding two Iraqi generals said to be in charge of the facility. Defense officials told Fox News that the officers are providing "good information" that could be crucial to searching out and dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees the war in Iraq, said in a statement that troops were examining several "sites of interest," but said it was premature to call the Najaf site a chemical weapons factory.

The Jerusalem Post ran a story earlier Sunday that was written by a journalist on-hand with the U.S. unit -- the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division -- that took the plant.

The article states that one soldier was lightly wounded when a booby-trapped explosive was triggered as he was "clearing the sheet metal-lined chemical weapons production facility."

The chemical plant is described as a "100-acre complex," surrounded by an electrical fence. The plant was also apparently camouflaged to avoid aerial photos being taken.

It is not yet known what chemicals were being produced at the plant.

Asked at a news conference in Qatar Sunday about reports of the chemical plant, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid of U.S. Central Command declined comment. He said top Iraqi officers have been questioned about chemical weapons.

"We have an Iraqi general officer, two Iraqi general officers that we have taken prisoner, and they are providing us with information," Abizaid said.

The Jerusalem Post report also states that immediately following coalition entry into the camp, at least 30 Iraqi soldiers and their commanding officer fully obeyed instructions given by U.S. soldiers by lying down and surrendering.

U.S. forces are checking other sites based on leads from captured Iraqis and documents -- but officials cautioned it was premature to conclude any forbidden weapons had been located.

American special operations forces found documents in western Iraq that also could lead to chemical or biological weapons facilities, said Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Myers said U.S. commandos found the papers along with a cache of millions of rounds of ammunition after a firefight on Saturday, and the discovery "might save thousands of lives if we can find out exactly where and what they have."

"I just know that they have some papers that they want to exploit as quickly as possible, and we're going to do that, of course," Myers said.

President Bush and other U.S. officials say ridding Saddam's regime of chemical and biological weapons is the main objective of the war. Finding such weapons would be a huge boost for Bush, since much of the international criticism of the U.S.-led war has focused on the fact that United Nations inspectors had not found any banned weapons in Iraq.

Iraqi officials have insisted that they destroyed all of the chemical and biological weapons they made after the 1991 Persian Gulf War -- a claim U.N. weapons inspectors have questioned.

U.N. weapons inspectors are not aware of any large-scale chemical sites which could be used to make chemical weapons in Najaf, said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the inspectors. However, there are many such dual-use sites in other parts of the country because of Iraq's petrochemical industry.

U.N. inspectors visited a cement plant in the Najaf area earlier this year to check on its explosives cache but did not report finding anything improper. A team of biological weapons inspectors also visited a university and school in Kufa, a few miles north of Najaf.

Fox News' Bret Baier, Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Friday, March 21, 2003

7 in 10 Americans Back Decision to Go to War

Poll Finds Public Divided on Hussein's Fate as a Measure of Success
By Richard Morin and Claudia Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 21, 2003; Page A25

A substantial majority of Americans support the war with Iraq, but the public is divided over whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must be killed, captured or merely removed from power for the United States and its allies to be successful, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

More than seven in 10 endorsed the decision of President Bush to wage war on Iraq. A similar proportion expressed confidence that the United States and its allies are right to use military force to topple Hussein and rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. And two out of three said they believe Bush had worked hard enough to try to find a diplomatic solution before ordering the attack.

"I didn't vote for George Bush, but I strongly support him, and if anything I think he should have acted sooner," said Rick Jackson, 31, a manager at an engineering company in Bradenton, Fla. "I think he exhausted all channels to appease those who don't agree with us."

But one in four Americans disagree, including Julie Fanselow, 41, a travel writer in Twin Falls, Idaho, who attended an antiwar vigil yesterday evening. "I would rank this as among the saddest days of my life. . . . The whole idea of striking at another country that has not attacked us, and the idea of waging a war that we don't even know the cost of, at a time when we're facing such economic distress here at home -- it all pains me, it really does."

The survey also found that about half of those interviewed said Hussein must be captured or killed for the war to be declared a success, while more than four in 10 said it would be sufficient if the Iraqi leader were removed from power. "I feel he has to be captured or killed," said Ross Bethard, 60, a Ford Motor Co. employee who lives outside Cleveland and is cautiously supportive of the Iraq invasion. "I feel that he is going to reappear someplace else if they don't capture him."

A slight majority -- 53 percent -- said the war would be justified even if troops failed to uncover weapons of mass destruction -- Bush's major rationale for the war. But more than a third said the United States and its allies need to find banned weapons to validate the decision to use force against Iraq.

"They need to find them. If they came out and showed us that he had all these weapons, then I could say to myself that we were justified going to war," said Charlene Boudreau, 65, a retired receiving clerk in Enfield, Conn., who said she is opposed to Bush's decision to go to war.

A total of 506 randomly selected adults were interviewed last night. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Bush's overall job approval rating got a modest boost as Americans once again joined ranks around their leader at a time of national crisis. Sixty-seven percent said they approved of the job that Bush was doing as president, up from 62 percent less than three weeks ago. About two in three said they approved of the way Bush was handling the situation in Iraq, unchanged since the president's speech on Monday giving Hussein 48 hours to go into exile.

Most Americans expect that the duration of the war will be measured in months, not days or weeks, the poll found. More than half said the fighting would last at least several months, and about one in five predicted that it would last a year or longer. About six in 10 said the United States is right to attack Iraq now, while one in four said the allies should have waited longer.

The first full day of fighting seemed to calm the nation's earlier fears about casualties, as the proportion fearing "significant" numbers of U.S. military casualties dropped to 37 percent from 62 percent two weeks ago.

Americans were divided over whether the United States should strike Iraqi military targets even if they are located in areas where civilians might be killed. About half said the United States should do so, and nearly as many disagreed.

"I really think it's horrible that Saddam has to place his military weapons in situations that would endanger his own people; it shows what type of a person he is," said Damian Telencio, 26, a trainer for Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Columbia, SC. "I hate to see civilians die. But on September 11 we saw a lot of our own civilians die. It's war. It does happen," Telencio said.

Three in four said they were either "very confident" or "somewhat confident" that the United States and the allied countries that form Bush's "coalition of the willing" were doing the right thing in waging war against Iraq -- virtually identical to the proportion of Americans who supported the decision to attack Iraq in 1991, when the United States had the endorsement of the United Nations.

Two in three said that Bush has done a good job of explaining his reasons for going to war. And an equally large majority -- 67 percent -- agreed that U.S. vital interests are at stake in the confrontation with Iraq.

The public rallied in a similar manner after the start of the Persian Gulf War in January 1991. A poll conducted the night after the first airstrikes found that three in four Americans approved of the decision to go to war, approved of the assault's timing and said the United States had done all it could diplomatically.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Bush Sets Goals for Road Map to Mideast Peace

Saturday, March 15, 2003

WASHINGTON — Once a new Palestinian prime minister is appointed to a position of "real authority" and Israelis end their settlement activity in occupied territories, the United States is prepared to implement a road map to peace that has been in the works for nearly a year, President Bush said Friday.

"The new Palestinian prime minister must hold a position of real authority; we expect that such a Palestinian prime minister will be confirmed soon. Immediately upon confirmation, the road map for peace will be given to the Palestinians and Israelis," Bush said in a Rose Garden announcement.

Refusing questions from reporters, the president's brief message was meant not only to set up objectives for the parties in the Mideast to meet but to appease other nations critical of an impending war against Iraq.

At the United Nations, France in particular has been extremely critical of the Bush administration's policy on Iraq, claiming that the Israel-Palestinian issue is more dangerous than Iraq.

"The time has come to move beyond entrenched positions and to take concrete actions to achieve peace," Bush said, adding that he is personally committed to implementing the road map.

"There is no new ground here, but it is, in effect, a diplomatic outreach to the Europeans as well as to the Arab states on the eve of war," said Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco.

Ginsberg said that the president's setting down a marker on the prime minister's appointment and sending a signal to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat accomplishes several functions.

"Just this last week when the Palestinian legislative council designated an office of the prime minister, it was quite clear that the White House sent signals that unless Arafat was willing to cede powers of security and foreign policy, this prime minister [post] was worth nothing more than the paper it was printed on," Ginsberg said.

Last month, Arafat reluctantly agreed to name his longtime aide Mahmoud Abbas to the post --but he vowed to retain control of Palestinian security services, and a final say on peace talks. Earlier this week, Arafat delayed putting his signature to the bill creating the prime minister's office.

While the Palestinian legislative council make gestures, Ginsberg said the president's comments are also significant because they are timed to push Security Council members who have expressed misgivings about the delay in implementing the road map laid out by the president last June and being worked on by Russia, members of the European Union and the United Nations.

Ginsberg said the remarks also send a signal to Arab states that want the United States to push Israel to stop settlement activity in the occupied territories.

Addressing whether the timing of the remarks will be taken with incredulity by the Arab nations, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said after Bush's comments that he thinks the Arab states should take them very seriously.

"I think it's precisely now, when we do have all this focus on weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein, that we say to the Arab and Muslim world that we except the obligation of even-handedness -- that the issue of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis is as important as any other issue," Blair said.

In an effort to appease Arab nations, Bush specifically mentioned the cessation of settlements as a precursor to implementing the road map.

"The government of Israel, as the terror threat is removed and security improves, must take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable and credible Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end," Bush said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell joined Bush by his side during the comments. Powell has been working to develop the formula for peace, which includes the creation of a Palestinian state by the year 2005, carved out of land that Israel has held for more than 35 years.

Fox News' Teri Schultz contributed to this report.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

2nd Key Al Qaeda Suspect Identified

Raid in Pakistan Also Yielded the Man Who Allegedly Paid Hijackers
By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2003; Page A01

One of the men captured in the raid last weekend in Pakistan that netted al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed allegedly served as paymaster to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists and has been named in several other federal investigations linked to that plot, authorities said yesterday.

In the tumult of the raid Saturday morning, U.S. and Pakistani authorities did not immediately realize that they had apprehended Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, a Saudi native who allegedly oversaw the hijacking plot's finances through bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates.

Hawsawi also has been named in two terrorism-related indictments in this country. He is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person facing trial in the United States as part of the Sept. 11 plot. And Hawsawi is named in a false-statements case against Ali S. Marri, a Qatari man who the FBI contends gathered information in his Peoria, Ill., apartment about dangerous chemicals and U.S. infrastructure targets.

When Pakistani authorities rousted a sleeping Mohammed and two companions in a house in Rawalpindi early Saturday, Hawsawi sought to hide his identity, claiming he was a Somali. It took some time before the Pakistani officials and CIA agents figured out that they had apprehended a man who on any other day would have been considered a big catch in the war on terror.

"It wasn't immediately apparent who he was or how important he was," a senior government official said yesterday. "It doesn't reach the level of excitement of [Khalid Sheik Mohammed], but it's an extra added attraction."

Officials have called the capture of Mohammed a major blow against al Qaeda. He was a top lieutenant in the terrorist network and had been planning more attacks on U.S. interests, they say.

Hawsawi was allegedly the paymaster for the Sept. 11 plot in the months leading up to the attacks, when he established bank and credit card accounts used by the hijackers, according to testimony from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to Congress last fall.

Hawsawi opened accounts at Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai in June 2001. He wired money to bank accounts opened by the hijackers in this country, and sent at least one of them a credit card drawn on a UAE account. Just before the Sept. 11 attacks, some hijackers sent or wired their remaining funds back to the Hawsawi account.

Mueller said that Mohammed also had a credit card drawn on a Hawsawi account. Federal officials said the remaining money in the account was withdrawn from the account in Karachi, Pakistan, in the days after the attacks.

In the case against Marri, prosecutors contend that participants in the hijacking plot, including Mohamed Atta and self-described coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh, are tied to a phone number that belonged to Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates. Atta called the number, according to prosecutors, and Hawsawi used it while making a wire transfer of funds to Binalshibh on Sept. 3, 2001, the government alleges.

Marri, who is being held without bail in New York, is accused of lying to the FBI about calls the government says he made to Hawsawi's phone number in the two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Marri, who is also charged with credit card fraud, has denied making calls to the number or knowing Hawsawi. The government contends that he placed calls from various phones using a calling card.

The FBI is continuing its investigation of Marri's activities and contacts in this country. Marri, who was born in Saudi Arabia, arrived in the United States with his wife and five children on Sept. 10, 2001, and immediately sought to register for computer science classes that had begun weeks earlier at Bradley University in Peoria.

He was detained as a material witness in December 2001 and charged in the false-statements case in December 2002. His wife, a Saudi citizen, was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, but returned to Saudi Arabia with her children in November, after the Saudi Embassy provided her with travel documents and transportation, angering State Department and law enforcement officials. The FBI had confiscated Maha Hafeez Marri's passport.

U.S. authorities are seeking to learn more about Marri's intentions and his contacts in this country. Hawsawi might be in a position to explain why Marri would have called his number.

In a search of Marri's apartment, the FBI said in a complaint, agents found computer files containing lectures by Osama bin Laden, as well as files about hazardous chemicals "immediately dangerous to life or health" and Web sites related to weapons and satellite equipment. Agents also found an almanac bookmarked for information about U.S. dams, waterways and railroads.

Hawsawi has been taken to an undisclosed location outside Pakistan for interrogation. An intelligence source said he is believed to have contacts with al Qaeda financial networks in Europe and will be interrogated about those ties as well.

Federal officials have said Hawsawi transferred money to the hijackers to pay for living expenses, flight training and airline tickets.

Research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.