Iraq Connections to U.S. Extremists

By Kelly Patricia O’Meara

In the global war on terror, law-enforcement officials may need to look in our own backyard for clues about who sent anthrax to Capitol Hill and TV anchormen.

Who’s behind the deadly anthrax letters? That is the hot-button question of the moment. While federal law-enforcement officials have come up short in connecting the postal poison to Osama bin Laden, Iraq or any other individual terrorist or state sponsor of terrorism, experts well-versed in terrorism wonder why more attention hasn’t been focused on a connection much closer to home.
       For example, considerable evidence that may prove helpful in the ongoing investigation has been made public in other recent terrorism cases. Nowhere is this more evident than in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the relationship of convicted bombing conspirator Terry Nichols to elements of Iraqi intelligence.
       During the trial of Timothy McVeigh, the convicted mastermind behind the Oklahoma City bombing, information surfaced concerning Nichols’ frequent visits to the Philippines; McVeigh attorney Stephen Jones later wrote about this extensively in his book Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy. According to Jones’ investigation, Nichols made numerous trips to the Philippines beginning in 1990, many lasting more than a month.
       Nichols reportedly attended a meeting in the early 1990s on the predominantly Muslim island of Mindanao, a hotbed of fundamentalist activities, at which Ramzi Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad and Wali Khan Amin Shah were present. The themes of the meeting were “bombing activities, providing firearms and ammunition, training in making and handling bombs.” Yousef was the mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993; Murad and Shah were convicted in a 1996 conspiracy to blow up 12 U.S. jetliners.
       Laurie Mylroie, a Harvard-trained Ph.D. who is an expert on Iraqi terrorism and author of Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein’s War Against America, was a consultant to Jones during the Oklahoma City investigation. She tells Insight “the connection of Terry Nichols, the Philippines and Ramzi Yousef is a very important point that neither the FBI nor the press pursued.” Mylroie adds, “I doubt that Nichols has ever been asked about his connections to Yousef because the government didn’t want to know. It wanted to say, ‘Here are the perpetrators; we arrested them and we brought them to justice. Case closed.’”
       Mylroie continues: “The fact is, Ramzi Yousef was in the Philippines at the same time as Nichols and visited the same city out of which the Oklahoma City bombing was planned. I doubt that connection ever was pursued. Only the people in charge of the investigation can explain their motives in failing to focus public attention on this, but I can guess. Remember that before the bombing [President Bill] Clinton was in deep political trouble but, by dealing with it in the fashion he did, his kite rose and he was able to make it look like the FBI did a splendid, knockdown investigation. It was kind of like, ‘Okay, Tim McVeigh is the mastermind; Terry Nichols assisted him; don’t ask any more questions.’ That settled, with Clinton’s tremendous capacity to feel everyone’s pain, he improved his own position.”
       But suppose the investigation had been done another way, says the terrorist expert, “such as saying, ‘Terry Nichols has all these suspicious contacts in the Philippines, and we’re gonna pursue them because it may be there’s been a foreign bombing on American soil.’ More important is that there were other Americans involved in the McVeigh/Nichols bombing, and they could be involved today in other terrorist activities. But the FBI just isn’t going to recognize it. The kind of irresponsibility that I and others believe the Clinton administration committed is so mind-boggling that many well-meaning people just can’t believe it, even though there is significant evidence — a standard of probable cause. They find it hard to accept because it would follow that the White House and the FBI were corrupt.”
       A recent Fox News program appeared to support Mylroie’s contention of an FBI cover-up. Paul Bedard of U.S. News and World Report announced on the Fox and Friends show that “top defense officials say that in all the evidence used against Timothy McVeigh to execute him in the Oklahoma City bombing, that he had Iraqi telephone numbers on his person. He had information about Iraq which has led some officials to think that he was an Iraqi agent and maybe was doing Saddam Hussein’s business in Oklahoma City.”
       Bedard further claimed that “the FBI says this is crazy, there is no evidence. DOD [Department of Defense] comes back and says, ‘That’s because you didn’t tell us it was a cover-up.’ The theory is that he [McVeigh] got those numbers from some militia groups out west which he was associating with. This led the FBI to tell the guys at the Pentagon, ‘Go fight your war.’”
       Bedard’s “news” is news to those who conducted the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing. This startling information never was brought forward at any time during the investigation or trial. At no point in the last six years nor the $50 million investigation did such evidence ever surface or did anyone connect McVeigh to an Iraqi agent, let alone turn up “Iraqi telephone numbers” on his person or in his effects. Jones tells Insight that “we spent considerable time and money investigating the connection between Nichols and the Philippines and Iraq, but I certainly don’t know anything about McVeigh and Iraqi telephone numbers.”
       While Nichols’ ties to the Iraqis are well-documented in numerous books and independent investigations, such as the recent report of Oklahoma state Rep. Charles Keys, he also had ties to other militant groups. For instance, he attended meetings in Michigan of the Posse Comitatus, a militant, right-wing organization founded by Col. William Potter Gale and headed by James Wickstrom. Members of Posse Comitatus, according to legal documents released prior to McVeigh’s trial, have for years been in contact with Iraq and other rogue Arab nations that share a hatred of Israel.
       This fits with the Oklahoma City defense team’s conclusions concerning Dennis Mahon, long suspected of being a player in the conspiracy to bomb the Murrah building. Mahon is described in Jones’ book as “a virulent racist and avowed enemy of the U.S. government” and is a high-ranking member of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR) movement. The defense team reports that its investigation shows “the Iraqi government has given Dennis Mahon thousands of dollars over the past six years, and Mahon has been banned from entering Canada and the United Kingdom and is classified by Interpol as an international terrorist.” The FBI did not bother to interview Mahon in connection to the Oklahoma City bombing.
       Beyond Nichols and Mahon, there are others with connections to domestic militant groups sympathetic to Islamic fundamentalists. These include Larry Wayne Harris, a licensed clinical and public-health microbiologist who was arrested in Las Vegas in February 1998 for conspiring to “possess biological agents and toxin, to wit: anthrax and anthrax precursors for use as a weapon.” At the time of Harris’ arrest he was on probation for a 1995 conviction for fraudulently obtaining bubonic-plague toxins. According to the 1998 Las Vegas FBI complaint, “Harris told a group about plans to place a globe of bubonic-plague toxins in a New York City subway station, where it would be broken by a passing subway train, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths.”
       Furthermore, in a 1996 letter to Aryan Nation founder Pastor Richard Butler, the white-supremacist leader says Harris requested that Butler publish his manuscript on germ warfare, in the preface of which Harris described an encounter with an Iraqi who provided a lengthy commentary on biological warfare and detailed the progress of the Iraqi program in the United States. Butler did not publish the manuscript but confirms that, until his arrest in 1998, Harris had been a member of the Aryan Nation.
       Whether any of these men or organizations are involved in or have knowledge of the current flurry of anthrax attacks is anyone’s guess, just as it is anyone’s guess whether anyone in law enforcement is so much as curious about what these organizations and individuals might have to contribute to the current investigation.
       Still there are other clues pointing to possible domestic involvement in the anthrax attacks that might be checked. Beyond the acknowledgment that all the anthrax-infected letters have been mailed from within the United States, the letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and NBC Nightly News anchorman Tom Brokaw also share similarities to past domestic terrorism.
       For instance, federal law-enforcement officials have confirmed that the handwriting on both the Daschle and Brokaw letters is the same, and the media, FBI, and Daschle himself have referred to the handwriting as “childlike scrawl.” An identical reference to a “childlike scrawl” was made by Associated Press reporter Russ Bynum in a June 1997 article updating the investigation into a series of bombings around Atlanta. Authorities “released a letter claiming responsibility for the Jan. 16 [abortion] clinic blast and the Feb. 21 [gay] nightclub bombing [that] was written by the Army of God,” Bynum reported. “The letter is scrawled in childlike block letters.”
       That letter spoke of the “ungodly communist regime in New York” and called for “death to the New World Order,” the nom de guerre "signature" of accused abortion-clinic bomber Eric Rudolph.
       In addition to the letters sent to Daschle and Brokaw, more than 100 abortion clinics also received letters containing white powder, of which a handful made reference to the Army of God, an extremist antiabortion group.
       The connection may be of some interest because the FBI charged fugitive antiabortionist Rudolph for the Atlanta abortion clinic, gay nightclub and Centennial Park bombings. The Army of God claimed responsibility for those bombings, but it appears the FBI believes Rudolph himself uses the term the “Army of God.”
       It is not known whether Rudolph is a member of the Aryan Nation, but it has been reported widely that he lived in a trailer at the Christian Identity Church of Israel in Schell City, Mo., and as a teen-ager participated in at least one Aryan Nation ceremony. Furthermore, the FBI has produced a profile of the alleged bomber that states: “Rudolph learned the radical ideology of the Christian Identity Movement as a teen-ager and espouses the view that the white race is God’s chosen nation.” The FBI maintains that Rudolph appears to have been in contact with the Aryan Nation.
       Butler of the Aryan Nation tells Insight any allegations that his organization is involved in any of the current terrorism events are false. According to Butler, “We don’t have anything to do with the Iraqis. They’re not white people, but we’re sympathetic to them. We’re not into spreading plagues, but I say more power to whoever [sic] is doing what he thinks is best. That’s between him and his God. But we’ve never trained with the Iraqis or learned from them how to build bombs. For that you just have to go on the Internet to get the information.”
       When asked if it was possible that a member of his organization could be involved in the mailing of the deadly anthrax letters to take advantage of the current crisis, Butler says he couldn’t rule it out. “Biological is something that is beyond most of us, but it could be a copycat thing or Eric Rudolph or something like that.” Laughing, Butler puts the situation in perspective, “They had 500 FBI guys looking for him [Rudolph] in the hills of North Carolina and now we’ve got an army looking for bin Laden. I guess this shows that they like to make a target of one man at a time.”
       Affiliations don’t necessarily make a connection or prove culpability, but in the midst of the largest FBI investigation in history there are many who are wondering why these groups and individuals have not been questioned. They might have useful information.
       Kelly Patricia O’Meara is an investigative reporter for Insight.

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