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Complete timeline of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Prague Connection

 
  

Project: Inquiry into the decision to invade Iraq

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1998

       Radio Free Europe, headquartered in Prague, begins transmitting anti-Saddam programs into Iraq. Late in the year, Iraqi diplomat Jabir Salim defects and tells Czech officials that before leaving Iraq he had been given $150,000 in cash to finance a plot to blow up Radio Free Europe's headquarters. This information is apparently passed on to Washington and US officials warn Tom Dine, program director of Radio Free Europe, about the plot. In response, Radio Free Europe begins 24-hour video surveillance of the building. [Newsweek, 4/28/01; Washington Post, 5/1/2002; Slate, 11/19/2003; Independent, 10/26/01 Sources: Unnamed sources, Jan Kavan]
People and organizations involved: Tom Dine, Jabir Salim, Radio Free Europe
          

1999

       Iraqi diplomat and suspected intelligence officer Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani arrives in Prague to replace his predecessor, Jabir Salim, who had defected (see 1998). Fearing that Al-Ani had a similar mission to that of Salim, Czech intelligence closely monitors al-Ani's activities. Sometime in 1999, al-Ani is reportedly videotaped loitering around and photographing the Radio Free Europe building. Al-Ani is sometimes seen with a thinner, taller man wearing a Shell Oil jacket who is never identified. The pictures are passed onto the Czech intelligence agency [BIS]. [Newsweek, 4/28/01; Washington Post, 5/1/2002; Slate, 11/19/2003 Sources: Jan Kavan, Unnamed sources]
People and organizations involved: Radio Free Europe, Jabir Salim, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani
          

April 8, 2001

       An informant for the BIS, the Czech intelligence agency, reportedly sees Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani meeting in a restaurant outside Prague with an Arab man in his 20s. This draws concern from the intelligence community because the informant suggests the person is “a visiting ‘student’ from Hamburg—and ... potentially dangerous.” [Slate, 11/19/2003 Sources: Jan Kavan] The young man is never positively identified or seen again. Fearing that al-Ani may have been attempting to recruit the young man for a mission to blow-up Radio Free Europe headquarters, the diplomat is told to leave the country on April 18. [Slate, 11/19/2003; New York Times, 10/27/01; UPI, 10/21/02 Sources: Jan Kavan, Unnamed US officials] Information about the incident is passed on to US intelligence. After the 9/11 attacks and after it is reported on the news that Atta had likely visited Prague, the BIS informant will say the young man at the restaurant was Atta. (see September 14, 2001) This information leads hawks to come up with the so-called “Prague Connection” theory, which will hold that 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta flew to Prague on April 8, met with al-Ani to discuss the planning and financing of the 9/11 attacks, and returned to the US on either April 9 or 10. [Slate, 11/19/2003; New York Times, 10/27/01; UPI, 10/21/02 Sources: Jan Kavan, Unnamed US officials, Unnamed BIS informant] The theory will be widely discounted by October 2002. [New York Times, 10/21/02 Sources: Unnamed BIS informant, Unnamed US officials]
People and organizations involved: Mohammed Atta, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Jabir Salim, Radio Free Europe
          

April 20, 2001

       Hynek Kmonicek, the Czech Republic's deputy foreign minister, informs the Iraqi charg? d'affaires in Prague that al-Ani must leave the Czech Republic within 24-hours because his “presence [is] not in the security interests of the Czech Republic” and because his activities are “incompatible with his diplomatic status.” [New York Times, 10/27/01; New York Times, 12/16/01; Slate, 11/19/2003; Independent, 10/26/01] Kmonicek will later deny that the dismissal is related to the meeting that allegedly took place on April 8 (see April 8, 2001). A Newsweek report in April 2002 will suggest the dismissal is related to video surveillance footage showing al-Ani photographing the Radio Free Europe building on several occasions. [Newsweek, 4/28/01] But a November 2003 report in Slate will say that the dismissal is indeed related to the alleged meeting, explaining that Czech intelligence had become nervous after learning of the meeting. [Slate, 11/19/2003 Sources: Jan Kavan] The real cause for his dismissal is never officially disclosed.
People and organizations involved: Hynek Kmonicek, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani
          

September 14, 2001

       The CIA intelligence liaison in Prague is told by the Czech intelligence agency (BIS) that one of its informants believes the Hamburg “student” he had seen meeting with Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani on April 8, 2001 in a restaurant outside of Prague was 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta. (see April 8, 2001) FBI agents head for the Czech Republic and are given full access to Czech intelligence material. This information leads hawks to come up with the so-called “Prague Connection” theory, which holds that 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta flew to Prague on April 8, met with al-Ani to discuss the planning and financing of the 9/11 attacks, and returned to the US on either April 9 or 10. The theory will be widely discounted by October 2002. [Slate, 11/19/2003; New York Times, 10/21/02 Sources: Jan Kavan]
People and organizations involved: Mohammed Atta, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani
          

September 18, 2001

       Information about the alleged April 2001 meeting in Prague between 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani is leaked to the Associated Press, which reports, “A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has received information from a foreign intelligence service that Mohamed Atta, a hijacker aboard one of the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center, met earlier this year in Europe with an Iraqi intelligence agent.” [Slate, 11/19/2003; Associated Press, 9/18/01 Sources: Unnamed US official]
People and organizations involved: Mohammed Atta, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani
          

October 13, 2001

       Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan briefs Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington about the alleged trip 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta took to the Czech Republic in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). Kavan tells Powell that the BIS, the Czech intelligence service, has reason to believe that Mohamed Atta may have met near Prague with Iraqi Counsel Al-Ani. [New York Times, 10/20/01 Sources: Jan Kavan]
People and organizations involved: Mohammed Atta, Colin Powell, Jan Kavan, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani
          

October 16, 2001

       Referring to the claim that Atta met with Iraqi Counsel al-Ani on April 8, 2001 (see April 8, 2001), Stanislav Gross, the Czech interior minister, states, “I can only confirm one visit in the summer” and Petr Necas, chairman of the parliamentary defense committee, says, “I haven't seen any direct evidence that Mr. Atta met any Iraqi agent.” Citing a senior Czech Republic official, the New York Times will report on October 20 that “firm documentary evidence existed only that Mr. Atta had passed through the Prague airport from Germany to take a flight to Newark.” [New York Times, 10/20/01 Sources: Unnamed senior Czech Republic official] The rumors, which had first surfaced shortly after the attacks, were based on information from a Czech intelligence source inside Prague's Middle Eastern community. The source had told the BIS, the Czech Republic's intelligence service, that he had seen Atta meeting al-Ani in a restaurant outside of Prague on April 8 earlier that year.(see April 8, 2001) [CNN, 9/19/01; Newsweek, 4/28/02]
People and organizations involved: Mohammed Atta, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Stanislav Gross, Petr Necas
          

October 26, 2001

       Czech interior minister Stanislav Gross says during a press conference that 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta had in fact met with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the consul and second secretary of the Iraqi embassy, in the Czech Republic after arriving in Prague on April 8, 2001 (see April 8, 2001). “We can confirm now that during his ... trip to the Czech Republic, he did have a contact with an officer of the Iraqi intelligence,” he says. He also says that Atta had been in Prague at least twice—in May 2000 after coming to Prague from Germany on his way to the United States and then again in April when he allegedly met with Ahni. [New York Times, 10/27/01; CNN, 10/27/01] Also, by this time, the FBI claims it has physical evidence of Atta's trip to Prague. The New York Times reports, “On April 4 he was in Virginia Beach. He flew to the Czech Republic on April 8 and met with the Iraqi intelligence officer ... By April 11, Atta was back in Florida renting a car.” [New York Times, 10/27/01 Sources: Jan Kavan, Unnamed US officials] But this will later be disputed. In late April 2002, Newsweek will report, “The FBI could find no visa or airline records showing he had left or re-entered the United States that month,” quoting an unnamed US official who says, “Neither we nor the Czechs nor anybody else has any information he was coming or going [to Prague] at that time.” [Newsweek, 4/28/02 Sources: Unnamed US official, Jan Kavan] And in late 2003, Edward Jay Epstein will similarly report in Slate that there “were no car rental records in Virginia, Florida, or anywhere else in April 2001 for Mohamed Atta, since he had not yet obtained his Florida license ... [n]or were there other records in the hands of the FBI that put Atta in the United States at the time.” But Epstein will note that Atta would likely have traveled to Prague using false documents anyway. [Slate, 11/19/03]
People and organizations involved: Stanislav Gross, Mohammed Atta, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani  Additional Info 
          

November 9, 2001

       Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman tells Colin Powell and CNN that during the alleged April 2001 meeting in Prague between 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the two men discussed plans to bomb the Radio Free Europe building in Prague, which also housed Radio Free Iraq. The claim is reportedly based on footage from surveillance cameras at the Radio Free Europe building which had shown al-Ani surveying the building in April 2001 (see 1999). The Prime Minister will later back away from the claim, explaining it was just a hypothesis raised by Czech intelligence. [CNN, 11/09/01; Associated Press, 12/16/01; Washington Post 5/1/02; Newsweek, 4/28/01]
People and organizations involved: Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Colin Powell, Milos Zeman, Mohammed Atta
          

December 17, 2001

       Czech Police Chief Jiri Kolar says that there is no evidence that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in April (see April 8, 2001). He also says—contradicting earlier reports—that there is no documentary evidence that Atta traveled to Prague at all in 2001. Additionally, an unnamed Czech intelligence official tells the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes, that that the person who had met with al-Ani on April 2001 near Prague was not Atta. Another person with the same name had arrived in Prague in 2001 but he “didn't have the same identity card number.” Furthermore, “There was a great difference in their ages, their nationalities didn't match, basically nothing—it was someone else,” the source says. It is also reported that a man named Hassan, described as a businessman and a long-time member of Prague's Arab community, claims to have been a close friend of al-Ani. Hassan says that he believes the Czechs had mistaken another man for Atta, a used car dealer from Nuremberg by the name of Saleh, who often visited Prague to meet al-Ani and and who sold him at least one car. “I have sat with the two of them at least twice. The double is an Iraqi who has met with the consul. If someone saw a photo of Atta he might easily mistake the two,” Hassan says. [Telegraph, 12/18/01; New York Times, 12/16/01; Associated Press, 12/16/01 Sources: Jiri Kolar, Hassan, Unnamed Czech intelligence officials, Unnamed Interior Ministry official] Responding to the report, Gabriela Bartikova, spokeswoman for the Czech Minister of Interior, says that the Czech intelligence agency still believes that Mohammed Atta and al-Ani, the consul and second secretary of the Iraqi embassy met in April 2001. She says, “Minister Gross had the information from BIS (the Czech Republic's Intelligence Agency), and BIS guarantees the information. So we stick by that information.” At about the same time, US officials tell the Associated Press they also still believe the meeting had transpired. [Associated Press, 12/16/01]
People and organizations involved: Stanislav Gross, Mohammed Atta, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani
          

Early 2002, probably May or later

       Czech president Vaclav Havel informs Washington that there is no evidence to substantiate claims that 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi diplomat Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani in Prague in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). The information is relayed to the White House quietly to avoid embarrassing top Czech officials—presumably Interior Minister Stanislav Gross -who had publicly stated on more than one occasion that there was no evidence to suggest that the meeting did not take place. The New York Times will report in October 2002: “Mr. Havel ... moved carefully behind the scenes in the months after the reports of the Prague meeting came to light to try to determine what really happened, officials said. He asked trusted advisers to investigate, and they quietly went through back channels to talk with Czech intelligence officers to get to the bottom of the story. The intelligence officers told them there was no evidence of a meeting.” The New York Times also reports that analysts in the Czech intelligence service were furious that the Prime Minister stovepiped the information straight to Washington, before they had the opportunity to investigate further. [New York Times, 10/21/02; United Press International, 10/20/03 Sources: Unnamed CIA and FBI officials]
People and organizations involved: Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Vaclav Havel, Mohammed Atta, Stanislav Gross  Additional Info 
          

February 6, 2002

       The New York Times reports, “[S]enior American intelligence officials have concluded that the meeting between Mr. Atta and the Iraqi officer, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, did take place. But they say they do not believe that the meeting provides enough evidence to tie Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks.” A month and a half earlier, the same newspaper had reported that sources in the Czech Republic thought that it had been a different “Mohammed Atta” who had met al-Ani (see December 17, 2001). [CNN, 11/09/01; New York Times, 12/16/01 Sources: Unnamed Senior US intelligence officials]
People and organizations involved: Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Mohammed Atta
          

April 28, 2002

       Newsweek reports that both US and Czech officials no longer believe the alleged April 2001 meeting between Mr. Atta and the Iraqi officer, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, ever took place (see April 8, 2001). The magazine reports that FBI and CIA investigations show no record that Atta visited Prague during that time and instead place the 9/11 plotter in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Florida during that month. [Newsweek, 4/28/01; Washington Post, 5/1/02; BBC, 5/1/02 Sources: Unnamed Czech intelligence officials, Unnamed US Intelligence Officials] But Interior Minister Stanislav Gross maintains that the meeting did take place. A few days after the Newsweek report is published, he says, “Right now I do not have the slightest information that anything is wrong with the details I obtained from BIS counterintelligence. I trust the BIS more than journalists.” [BBC, 5/1/02; Prague Post, 5/8/02]
People and organizations involved: Mohammed Atta, Stanislav Gross, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani  Additional Info 
          

Late July 2002

       A Congressional panel investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11 concludes that there is no evidence that Mohammad Atta—under any of his known aliases—visited Prague in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). [Boston Globe, 8/3/03]
People and organizations involved: Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Mohammed Atta  Additional Info 
          

(August 2002)

       Pentagon officials working in the Office of Special Plans visit George Tenet at CIA headquarters under the direction of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith to voice their objections to the final draft of a CIA assessment on Iraq's supposed links to terrorism. The officials disputed the report's conclusion that intelligence suggesting an alleged April 2001 Prague meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani (see 1999) was not credible. As a result of Pentagon officials' objections, the CIA's assessment is postponed until September 18. Tenet will later say he “didn't think much of” the briefing. [Telegraph, 7/11/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004]
People and organizations involved: George Tenet
          

Early August 2002

       Several Pentagon officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, meet with the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism, Pat D'Amuro, to discuss the latest intelligence concerning the alleged April 2001 (see April 8, 2001) meeting between 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani. Wolfowitz pressures the two agencies' analysts to confirm that the Prague meeting had in fact happened. The FBI concedes that the occurrence of the meeting, though not proven, was at least possible. [Time, 9/2/02 Sources: Unnamed CIA and FBI officials]
People and organizations involved: Mohammed Atta, Paul Wolfowitz, Pat D'Amuro, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani
          

September 16, 2002

       Two days before the CIA is to issue an assessment (see (August 2002)) on Iraq's supposed links to terrorism, Pentagon officials working in the Office of Special Plans give a briefing directly to the White House; Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby; and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's deputy, Stephen Hadley. The briefing says that there were “fundamental problems” with CIA intelligence-gathering methods and includes a detailed breakdown of the alleged April 2001 Prague meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani. [Telegraph, 7/11/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004]
People and organizations involved: Lewis Libby, Stephen Hadley
          

October 20, 2002

       While in Prague to attend to a Trilateral Commission meeting, Richard Perle is told “in person ... that the BIS now doubts that any such meeting between Atta and al-Ani in fact took place.” And an unnamed source with ties to the BIS tells UPI: “Quite simply, we think the source for this story may have invented the meeting that he reported. We can find no corroborative evidence for the meeting and the source has real credibility problems.” [United Press International, 10/20/03 Sources: Unnamed source close to the BIS]
People and organizations involved: Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Richard Perle, Mohammed Atta
          

October 21, 2002

       Two articles by reporter James Risen on the “Prague Connection” are published in the New York Times. One article reveals that early in 2002 (see Early 2002, probably May or later), Czech president Vaclav Havel had informed Washington that there was no evidence to substantiate claims that 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi diplomat Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani in Prague in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). The article also reveals that analysts in the Czech intelligence service had been furious with the Prime Minister for stovepiping unsubstantiated reports straight to Washington, before they had had the opportunity to investigate further. [New York Times, 10/21/02] Risen's other article explains how rivalry within the BIS and problematic relations with Britain's MI6 had resulted in reporters receiving misinformation from sources with grievances and conflicting agendas. [New York Times, 10/21/02] His two articles seemingly put to rest the “Prague Connection” theory, though a November 2003 article in Slate by Edward Jay Epstein will note that many questions remain unanswered. [Slate, 11/19/03]
People and organizations involved: Vaclav Havel, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Mohammed Atta
          

(10:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003

       Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, attempts to telephone Colin Powell's chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, in order to persuade Powell to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda and include the widely discredited claim (see October 21, 2002) that Mohammed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). Wilkerson refuses to take the call. “Scooter,” one State Department aide later explains to Vanity Fair magazine, “wasn't happy.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pg 232]
People and organizations involved: Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell, Lewis Libby
          

July 2004

       The 9/11 Commission concludes that there was “no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States” and that repeated contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda “do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.” It also says that it did not believe the alleged April 2001 Prague meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani (see 1999) ever took place. [New York Times, 7/12/2004]
          



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