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saddam's life
interview: an iraqi lt. general

Can he tell us a little bit about what his job was, what he actually did at Salman Pak. What was his day like?

I was the security officer in charge of the unit. And through my responsibility for the security of the units and the camp itself I've noticed that the Arab units remained there for a period of approximately five months before they left.

And I saw a similar unit engaged in similar training during 2000.

How large were these units?

I don't recall the exact number in 1995, but during 2000 there were definitely under 40.

And they mixed the nationalities together?

This basically was surprising because the fact that they are of different nationalities but they were mixed in the training. And the fact that this unit was under the direct supervision and control of the Iraqi Intelligence Service which is highly unusual and very surprising for the kind of rules of engagements that you have in the secret service in Iraq.

Why is it highly unusual?

It is the mixing of nationalities as one thing and ...the other point is the fact that we don't have Ba'ath Party members in some of the countries that we have individuals being trained like Saudi Arabi or Afganistan. So I found that very peculiar. And the fact that the training was concentrated on a plane made it even stranger as far as I was concerned.

What did they do over the five months besides practice on the plane?

The only time I saw them was when they were near the plane. I can't see them when they are somewhere else.

Was he allowed to speak with them?

I was allowed but I've never spoken to them.

Who was in charge of your training?

A guy called Jasem.

What does he know about Jasem?

His full name is Jasem Rashid Zoubaa al-Dolomi. He was the special trainer for the Arabs, as they call them, because they were totally isolated and specialized.

Does he believe that the people being trained at Salman Pak were Islamic militants or were they just secular Arabs?

For sure they were Islamic militants because they were all very strict in their daily prayers.

And what did they look like?

They looked quite scruffy. They were certainly not of a military caliber. They looked quite different.

Did you ever hear that any of these people had been sent by Osama Bin Laden or had any connection with Osama Bin Laden?

I have no information of that kind.

This man served Saddam Hussein for decades. Along with another Iraqi defector, Sabah Khodada, the general tells of terrorists training in a Boeing 707 resting next to railroad tracks on the edge of Salman Pak, an area south of Baghdad. The existence of the plane has been confirmed by U.N. inspectors. The general describes the men who trained there, the camp's security, and his "gut feeling" that the camp was in some way tied to the Sept. 11 attacks. This interview was done in association with The New York Times and was conducted through a translator on Nov. 6, 2001.

[Editor's Note, November 2005: More than two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there has been no verification of the general's account of the activities at Salman Pak. In fact, U.S. officials have now concluded that Salman Pak was most likely used to train Iraqi counter-terrorism units in anti-hijacking techniques. It should also be noted that the general and other defectors interviewed for this report were brought to FRONTLINE's attention by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a dissident organization that was working to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This interview was conducted by FRONTLINE and The New York Times in Beirut. The Lt. Gen. was later identified in other stories as Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, a former high-ranking officer in the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence service. Abu Zeinab reportedly now lives in Baghdad; he claims not to have left Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein and that the story of Salman Pak was a hoax. He maintains that the man FRONTLINE and The New York Times interviewed was an impostor provided by the INC. The INC denies this claim, and stands by the original story.]

Did Saddam or Udday [Ed. Note: Saddam's son] or any other members of Saddam's family have any connection or knowledge of what was going on in Salman Pak?

I'm sure that Saddam himself would know, but I'm not so sure about his sons that they would know. This is a closed camp which is under the direct control of the intelligence service itself. Because the special operations unit is under their control, Saddam Hussein himself.

And how many people did he have that he was in charge of at the camp? How many people were in the camp total?

I don't know.

Do you think that any of the activities that you saw at Salman Pak are tied in any way to the terrorist attacks on September 11 in New York and Washington?

That was my immediate gut feeling ... that my feeling is that there is a connection.

And why did you feel there was a connection?

The fact that we had those Arabs in 1995 and in 2000 and such a closed and top secret location and the fact of the nature of the work carried out by the Special Operations Unit.

During the training did you ever see what was going on inside the plane?

Personally I've never been inside of the plane but I have seen them and the trainer himself is a good friend of mine.

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