The Prague Connection

Amidst the rising sound of war drums, Rick Jervis looks back at the man who sparked it all - a shape shifting Iraqi special agent named Ahmed al-Ani.

by Rick Jervis

Fri 8th Mar, 2002 [last updated Sun 19th Nov, 2006]
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Kanaan Hussein was at his office at the Iraqi embassy in Hradcanska on April 22 when he got the call from the Czech Foreign Affairs Ministry. It was a request for his immediate presence. It was not a good sign.

The last time the foreign ministry had requested the "immediate presence" of Hussein, the charge d'affairs and top Iraqi diplomat in the Czech Republic, was late last year. Then, he had gone to the ministry's office of Middle East and North Africa and was told by mid-level diplomats that the Iraqi second secretary, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, had been caught deviating from his diplomatic duties and should stop. No further details were given. The meeting had been tactfully conducted in Arabic, a diplomatic courtesy to Hussein, but the message was clear: It would be the first and final warning.

At the second meeting this April there was no talking, Arabic or otherwise. Upon arriving at the ministry, Hussein was handed a note on official foreign ministry letterhead stating tersely that al-Ani had again been caught "engaging in activities beyond his diplomatic duties," a euphemism for espionage. He had 48 hours to leave the country.

On April 24, al-Ani did just that.

The specific reason for the expulsion was never made public, though Czech officials would later say that he was caught casing and taking photos of the Radio Free Europe building in downtown Prague, a thorn in the side of Saddam Hussein's regime since it began broadcasting to Iraq in 1998. Al-Ani's expulsion made a few headlines in the local press but otherwise the story emerged and disappeared as quietly as he did.

Six months later, al-Ani would become the second best known Iraqi after Saddam himself. The reasons for his expulsion have now become the subject of intense international inquiry and debate after Czech government officials confirmed in mid-October that shortly before his expulsion al-Ani met with Mohamed Atta, suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 U.S. terrorist attacks. The announcement at a press conference by the Czech Ministry of Interior was the first official confirmation that a sovereign state may have been involved in the attacks, and sparked a small maelstrom in Washington, where the Bush administration was already divided over what to do with Iraq in its "new global war on terrorism."

For circling hawks in the US Department of Defense, the announcement was red meat.

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