October 17, 1994

HEADLINE: Saddam and Terrorism: The WTC Bombing

BYLINE: BY LAURIE MYLROIE; MYLROIE, coauthor of "Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf," is working on a sequel, "The World Trade Center Bombing, the Untold Story: Saddam Hussein's Revenge."

LET THE UNITED STATES hear well," wrote Salah al-Mukhtar, editor of Iraq's Al Jumhuriya newspaper, nine days ago. "Don't imagine that by destroying our missiles your stripped us of our ability to act, because every Iraqi is a missile that can reach countries and cities. If you want, we will . . . become everything that frightens you." Baghdad has been issuing bloodcurdling threats to carry out acts of massive terrorism in America unless economic sanctions on Iraq are lifted. These threats must be taken seriously.

What might Saddam do? Consider the World Trade Center bomb. It was huge -- 1,200 pounds of explosive material, topped with three cylinders of hydrogen gas. The plotters intended to topple one WTC tower into the other, killing tens of thousands. After the bombing, engineers worked feverishly to shore up the buildings weakened support columns to avoid a collapse. And another catastrophe was narrowly averted. The WTC towers sit on a large landfill, essentially a mud basin. The bomb almost cracked the wall containing the mud fill. Had that happened, the Hudson River would have come rushing into lower Manhattan.

"The majority of senior law-enforcement officers in New York believe Iraq was involved," one of those officers told me. Americans may think the bumbling followers of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman were responsible. But amateurs have never built such a bomb. All major terrorist bombs have had state sponsorship or were the work of well-established groups like the IRA.

Much evidence suggests that Iraq reached into the group around Sheik Omar, helped them build a bomb and left them behind to be arrested. Until the WTC bombing, America never experienced serious state-sponsored terrorism on its own soil. That inexperience is showing: America has dealt with the attack in narrow, legal terms, focusing on convicting the plotters that police managed to arrest. The state sponsor, the "sleepers" and the fugitives have been forgotten.

Sleepers are common in intelligence operations. They are positioned well in advance to give logistical help to those who will arrive later to carry out the operation. There seems to be one such sleeper still in New York -- and potentially quite dangerous. He is an Iraqi. In February 1993, this Iraqi, closely associated with an apartment in which one of the fugitive WTC bombers lived, had two New York residences; an apartment in Brooklyn and a room in Manhattan. Why? Perhaps because the WTC conspirators needed an extra apartment for a man whom the police know virtually nothing about and who came to supervise the operation in its last stages.

Ominously, the Iraqi sleeper is a scientist working in the field of genetic engineering. He has access to a laboratory in New York City, with virtually no security. Suppose, one day, that this Iraqi used biological agents in a terrorist attack and then took the next flight out?

We have engaged in a collective act of denial regarding the party most responsible for the WTC bombing. That may cost us dearly, for we have neglected the Iraqi terrorist threat. Saddam may well have in place already the agent to carry out Iraq's threats of terrorism. Countering that must now become a top priority.

GRAPHIC: Picture, Iraq's fingerprints? A victim, JOE TABACCA -- AP

LOAD-DATE: October 21, 1994