On April 28, 2002, in a story in Newsweek entitled
"Phantom Link To Iraq," Michael Isikoff reported
that the meeting that had been widely reported in the
press between the September 11th hijacker Mohamed Atta
and the Iraqi consul Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani,
in April 2001 never actually took place. Supposedly,
this meeting had taken place in Prague in early April
2001, just before al-Ani had been expelled from the
Czech Republic for activities inconsistent with being
a diplomat, and had been observed by the counterintelligence
service of the Czech Republic, which had Al-ani under
surveillance for other reasons.
The only witness to the putative liaison was Czech
counterintelligence, and, according to Isikoff, "the
Czechs"were no longer standing behind the story,
noting "NEWSWEEK has learned that a few months
ago, the Czechs quietly acknowledged that they may have
been mistaken about the whole thing."
The fog descended in a matter of days, with dozens of
newspapers, including the Washington Post, Wall Street
Journal and New York Times reporting, along the lines
of the Newsweek story, that the "Czechs" had
retracted their report about this meeting.
In, fact, there never had been a retraction, or even
modification, from the officials in the Czech Republic
supervising the Czech intelligence service. On December
17th, 2001 Gabriela Bartikova, the spokeswomen for the
Minister of the Interior, had said "Minister Gross
had the information from BIS, and BIS guarantees the
information, So we stick by that information."
On May 3rd, 2002 referring to the Newsweek allegation,
Interior Minister Stanislav Gross stated " I draw
on the Security Information Service [BIS] information
and I see no reason why I should not believe it."
He further explained that he had consulted with the
chief of the counterintelligence service, Jiri Ruzek
on May 2nd in order to find out whether the Czech intelligence
service had any new information that would cast doubt
on the meeting. "The answer was that they did not.
Therefore, I consider the matter closed," Gross
concluded. The official position of the Czech government
was reiterated on June 4th by a senior diplomat, U.N.
Ambassador Hynek Kmonicek, who stated "The Czech
government stands by the interior minister's announcement
last fall that a suspected Iraqi intelligence agent
met Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta in Prague last year"
He explained that "The meeting took place as confirmed
by the interior minister last fall. We were able to
identify two times when Mr. Atta crossed the Czech border."
The phantoms, it turned out, were the nameless "Czechs"
in the Newsweek story, who Isikoff claimed "quietly
acknowledged that they may have been mistaken about
the whole thing." Whoever these phantom sources
were, they were not "Czechs" in the counter
intelligence service, the Ministry that oversees it,
or the Czech government cited by its UN Ambassador.
The Czech intelligence head, Jiri Ruzek, the Czech Minister
of the Interior, Stanislav Gross, and the Czech ambassador,
speaking for the government, Hynek Kmonicek, all openly
affirmed that the meeting between a September 11th hijacker
and an official of the Iraq government indeed took place
about 5 months before the World Trade Center was destroyed.