The New York Sun
June 24, 2004
All in the Family?
Laurie Mylroie outlines a theory of Iraqi involvement in the two attacks on New York
The claim of the 9/11 commission that "no credible" evidence exists linking Iraq to Al Qaeda's
assaults on America, including the attack of September 11, 2001, is itself not credible. Iraq was
almost certainly directly involved in those attacks. After 1996, when Osama bin Laden moved from
Sudan to Afghanistan, Iraqi intelligence became an integral part of Al Qaeda, or so it would seem.
This is, of course, a shocking statement, with enormous significance. Moreover, it involves the
question: Who is our enemy? Who was responsible for the terrible events of September 11? And
what threat do we still face? There is scarcely a subject about which it is more necessary to pay
careful attention to key facts.
Since September 11, 2001, American authorities have learned a great deal more about Al Qaeda.
As they now understand, a clan lies at the heart of the major acts of Islamic terrorism directed
against America from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center though the September 11
strikes. That family consists of the person known as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and a number of his
"nephews." So far, five such individuals have been publicly named, and there are probably more.
Mohammed is the recognized mastermind of the September 11 attacks. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali--who is
also known as Ammar al-Baluchi and whom American officials consider a nephew of
Mohammed--sent the "primary funding for the conspiracy" to the hijackers in America, as the
director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, told the Congressional Joint Intelligence Committee inquiry.
The most well-known of Mohammed's supposed nephews is Ramzi Yousef, who is the recognized
mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Yousef fled New York the night of that
assault. Two years later, he conspired with Mohammed and two others to bomb a dozen American
airplanes in the Philippines. None of those involved in that plot, including Yousef and Mohammed,
lived as Islamic militants then. They had girlfriends and frequented Manila's karaoke bars, strongly
suggesting that Islamic militancy was not their motive for attacking America.
The 1995 plane-bombing plot went awry when Yousef accidentally started a fire while mixing
explosives. Yousef was soon captured and brought to New York to stand trial, where he was
convicted in 1996 for his role in that plot and convicted in 1997 for his role in the 1993 Trade
Center bombing.Yousef is now in federal prison in Colorado.
Mohammed escaped from the Philippines and fled to Qatar. As the FBI tried to seize him there, he
was tipped off and fled again, joining up with Mr. bin Laden in Afghanistan, as American authorities
would learn much later. Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in March 2003. Ali was captured there
a few months later.
Two more of Mohammed's nephews--Yousef's older brothers, Abdul Karim and Abdul Monem--are
considered Al Qaeda masterminds, capable of replacing Mohammed, as the Washington Post
reported last year, shortly after Mohammed's capture. They remain at large. Last week, Pakistani
authorities announced the arrest of yet another nephew. The State Department confirmed the
man's significance, but expressed doubts the Pakistanis had the right person.
Yet there is substantial reason to doubt these individuals really do constitute a family. No other
major terrorist organization has a family at its core. It is without precedent. Indeed, there is no other
such family within Al Qaeda. At most, such familial relationships are extremely limited associations,
like Mr. bin Laden and his son, or the two pairs of brothers among the September 11 hijackers.
Indeed, this family represents such an odd phenomenon that it requires far more serious attention
than it has yet publicly received.
The individuals in this "family" are all Baluch, a Sunni Muslim people who live in Eastern Iran and
Western Pakistan. The Baluch are a distinct ethnic group, possessing their own language and
inhabiting a specific territory, although they have no state. America has virtually nothing to do with
the Baluch. The Baluch have no evident motive for these stupendously murderous assaults against
Saddam Hussein's intelligence apparatus had deep and well-established ties with the Baluch on
both sides of the Iranian-Pakistani border. So Wafiq Samarrai, who headed Iraqi military intelligence
until 1991 before defecting in 1994, explained to this author. Iraq long used the Baluch against the
Shi'a regime in Tehran, including during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988.The most evident
motive for Baluch to attack America is their relationship with Iraq.
In fact, there are substantial uncertainties about the true identities of these people. Yousef
represents the clearest case. Yousef entered America on an Iraqi passport in that name, with
stamps showing a journey starting in Baghdad. However, Yousef fled New York on another
passport: a Pakistani passport in the name of Abdul Basit Karim.
Yousef obtained that passport by going to the Pakistani consulate in New York with Xerox copies of
pages from Karim's 1984 and 1988 passports. Yousef claimed to be Karim. He said that he had lost
his passport and needed a new one to return home. The consulate did not like Yousef's papers,
because he had no original documents, but it nonetheless gave him a temporary passport. Most of
this surfaced during federal terrorism trials in New York, but some of it is based on a conversation
with Pakistan's consul general in New York.
There really was an individual named Abdul Basit Karim, born and raised in Kuwait. Karim
completed high school at the age of 18 and then studied for three years in Britain, graduating from
the Swansea Institute in June 1989, and returning home, where he got a job in Kuwait's Planning
Ministry. A year later, on August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded.
Kuwait's Interior Ministry maintained a resident alien file on Karim. It should have contained copies
of the front pages of his passport with picture, signature, etc., but they are missing. The Kuwaitis
attributed that to Iraq's occupation, but they did not recognize that the whole file was corrupted.
The file contains a notation that Karim and his family left Kuwait on August 26, 1990, traveling from
Kuwait to Iraq, crossing to Iran at Salamcheh, on their way to Pakistani Baluchistan, where they live
Yet there was no Kuwaiti government then. Iraq occupied the country. Moreover, a traveler does not
usually give authorities his whole itinerary when crossing a border--just where he is coming from
and going to directly.
Iraqi officials had to have put that note into Karim's file. The most obvious purpose was to make
Karim (who probably died during the occupation) appear to be Baluch.
Most significantly, Yousef's fingerprints are in Karim's file. That means either Yousef's real identity is
Karim or the fingerprint cards were switched, the original card replaced with one bearing Yousef's
Yet Yousef is not Karim. Above all, Yousef is 6 feet tall, while Karim was 5 feet 8 inches at most,
according to information obtained in Britain by an ABC News stringer; trial documents (the copies of
Karim's passports that Yousef presented the Pakistani consulate), and Karim's British teachers. In
1996, I met two of them. They did not believe their student was the terrorist mastermind. Karim had
been a quiet, diligent pupil.
The most concrete demonstration that Yousef and Karim are two different people, however, is their
heights. When I spoke with Karim's teachers, I was careful not to disclose that I already had
information about his height. I asked only, "How tall was he?" They replied that he was short,
perhaps 5 feet 6. Then, I asked if he could have been 5 feet 8. They replied, "Perhaps." Then, I
asked, "What about 6 feet?" They said no. They asked themselves, "Did you look up at him or did
you look down at him?" They agreed they had looked down at Karim and that he was significantly
shorter than 6 feet. They were certain of that.
Thus, the fingerprint cards in Karim's file in Kuwait had to have been switched. Reasonably, only
Iraq could have done so, while it occupied the country. The evident purpose was to create a false
identity, or "legend," for a terrorist agent, an established practice of Soviet-style intelligence
The Clinton administration, however, did not want to hear this. If President Clinton had said that in
1993 it seemed Saddam had tried to topple New York's tallest tower onto its twin and in 1995
Saddam plotted to bomb a dozen American airplanes, most probably, the American public would
have demanded that he take very significant action against Iraq, and Mr. Clinton did not want to do
so. After all, "only" six people died in the Trade Center bombing and fewer than 100 Americans died
in all the terrorist attacks attributed to Middle Easterners during Mr. Clinton's entire term as
For this and other reasons, when American authorities were told Yousef was not Karim and Iraqi
intelligence had switched the fingerprint card in Karim's file, they rejected that, accepting the Iraqi
fiction and asserting that Yousef really was Karim. When they say now that Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed is Yousef's uncle, they mean that Mohammed is Karim's uncle.
But if Yousef is not Karim, then Mohammed is almost certainly not who he claims to be. After all,
wouldn't you recognize it if your nephew disappeared and another person assumed his name? Like
Yousef, Mohammed claims to be born and raised in Kuwait. His identity, too, is based on documents
in Kuwait that predate Kuwait's liberation from Iraqi occupation and that are therefore unreliable.
This whole "family" of terrorist masterminds is, quite arguably, a construction of Iraqi intelligence:
While Iraq occupied Kuwait, Iraqi intelligence tampered with Kuwait's files to create legends for
elements of its Baluch network. That is why these people appear to be a family.
Over the years, a number of knowledgeable individuals have endorsed this view. The first was
James Fox, who headed the New York FBI in 1993 and led the investigation of the Trade Center
bombing. Fox, who passed away in 1997, had believed that Iraq was behind the bombing. In late
1994, this author discussed Kuwait's file on Karim with Fox, pointing out that Yousef's fingerprints
were in that file, but since Yousef was not Karim, the Iraqis had to have switched the fingerprint
This key point had been missed. Fox readily recognized its importance and passed it on to his
former colleagues in the New York FBI. In a subsequent conversation, this author asked, "You mean
they know they have the smoking gun?" Fox replied, "Yes. The only question is what are they going
to do about it." Fox, himself, had experienced the Clinton administration's strong resistance to
pinning that assault on Iraq.
Itamar Rabinovich was then Israel's ambassador to Washington. Soon after the discussion with Fox,
I met with him to explain that Iraq was behind the Trade Center bombing. Mr. Rabinovich was not
keen to hear that, because he led Israel's negotiations with Syria, and like so many, looked forward
to achieving a general Arab-Israeli peace. However, a protégé of Mr. Rabinovich had read the
manuscript I had written on the subject (later published as "Study of Revenge") and confirmed that it
really did demonstrate that Saddam was behind that attack.
Among other things, I showed Mr. Rabinovich the copies of the pages from Karim's two passports
that Yousef had given the Pakistani consulate to obtain the passport on which he fled. The
signatures on the passports are completely different. Also, a Pakistani passport contains space for
a "Present Address in Pakistan" and "Permanent Address in Pakistan." The latter is the family's
place of origin. By definition, it does not change. Yet Karim's 1984 passport gives an address in
Karachi; the 1988 passport an address in Baluchistan.
Mr. Rabinovich was stunned, and he sent a cable back to Jerusalem. Prime Minister Rabin,
however, was not interested. The most probable explanation for that was the "peace process" and
the quasi-messianic expectations surrounding it. To deal with Saddam would have been a major
distraction from that effort.
A year later, this author had much the same discussion with the Saudi ambassador in Washington,
Prince Bandar. Like Mr. Rabinovich, Mr. Bandar was stunned, because the point, when properly
understood, was so obvious, and because a private citizen was explaining it to him, rather than an
American official. Much later, Saudi Arabia would quietly support the American war against Iraq.
Recently, this author discussed the broader question of this Baluch terrorist family, as identified by
American officials, with Amos Gilboa, retired from the no. 2 position in Israeli military intelligence.
When asked which was more likely: These individuals are a particularly talented and murderous
family or they are Iraq's Baluch network given legends on the basis of Kuwait's files, Mr. Gilboa
replied, "It's obvious" that they are Iraqi agents. In a separate discussion, Richard Perle, an
assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, said much the same.
In sum, the American investigation of Al Qaeda has discovered that a "family" lies at the core of the
major Islamic attacks on America, starting with the bombing of the World Trade Center in February
1993 and culminating in the September 11, 2001, attacks. There is substantial reason, however, to
doubt these people are, in fact, a family. The far greater likelihood is that Iraqi intelligence tampered
with files in Kuwait, while Iraq occupied the country, to create legends for its network of Baluch
agents, which Baghdad had developed and employed during its war with Iran.
That these terrorist masterminds are Baluch is, in and of itself, noteworthy, given Iraq's ties to the
Baluch. That these people are supposed to be a family is also very suspicious. Why, then, doesn't
the Bush administration say anything about this, one may well ask.
Partly, there has been no intelligence reform in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The CIA is a
bureaucracy run amok, more interested in covering up its mistakes than understanding Al Qaeda.
Senior administration officials responsible for the Iraq war have come under vicious attack, and they
are on the defensive. This information does not move up the food chain, and it is doubtful that
President Bush or Vice President Cheney are aware of it.
If they were, they would likely order that steps be taken to pursue this issue. The first essential step,
however, is understanding that the American intelligence community has in fact produced a
remarkably odd account of our mortal enemy--one man and his "nephews."
Ms. Mylroie was adviser on Iraq to the 1992 presidential campaign of Mr. Clinton. Her most recent
book is "Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on
Terror" (HarperCollins, 2003).