Wednesday, November 30, 2005



Avoiding attacking suspected terrorist mastermind
Abu Musab Zarqawi blamed for more than 700 killings in

By Jim Miklaszewski
NBC News
Updated: 7:14 p.m. ET March 2, 2004
With Tuesday’s attacks, Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian
militant with ties to al-Qaida, is now blamed for more
than 700 terrorist killings in Iraq.

But NBC News has learned that long before the war the
Bush administration had several chances to wipe out
his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi
himself — but never pulled the trigger.

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had
revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set
up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing
deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp
with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the
White House, where, according to U.S. government
sources, the plan was debated to death in the National
Security Council.

‘People were more obsessed with developing the
coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the
president’s policy of pre-emption against terrorists.’

— Roger Cressey
Terrorism expert

“Here we had targets, we had opportunities, we had a
country willing to support casualties, or risk
casualties after 9/11 and we still didn’t do it,” said
Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings

Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was
planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.

The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the
White House again killed it. By then the
administration had set its course for war with Iraq.

“People were more obsessed with developing the
coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the
president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,”
according to terrorism expert and former National
Security Council member Roger Cressey.

In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in
London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a
ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq.

The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and
for the third time, the National Security Council
killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking
Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the
administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in
Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

The United States did attack the camp at Kirma at the
beginning of the war, but it was too late — Zarqawi
and many of his followers were gone. “Here’s a case
where they waited, they waited too long and now we’re
suffering as a result inside Iraq,” Cressey added.

And despite the Bush administration’s tough talk about
hitting the terrorists before they strike, Zarqawi’s
killing streak continues today.

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive

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