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New Evidence Of Iraq-Al Qaeda Ties?

An Iraqi connection with the Sept. 11 attacks is far from proven, but U.S. officials say they are following several tantalizing leads, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

When hijacker Khalid al Midhar arrived in Malaysia in January of 2000 for a meeting of key al Qaeda operatives, he was met at the airport by an Iraqi named Ahmad Shakir, who worked part-time greeting VIPs, a job he got with the help of someone in the Iraqi Embassy.

One week later, al Midhar flew to the United States, and 18 months later he was aboard the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon. He is considered one of the most important hijackers because he was in charge of the so-called muscle – the young Saudi men responsible for subduing the passengers

That is not a smoking gun linking Iraq to Sept. 11, but it is one of several clues suggesting, though not proving, a connection between al Qaeda and the government of Saddam Hussein.

Another lead: reports that chief hijacker Mohammed Atta made as many as four trips to Prague in the Czech Republic, dating from 1993 to 2001. So far U.S. intelligence only has hard evidence of one trip in 1999, when Atta was on his way to the United States.

Prague is important because it has been alleged, though again not proved, that Atta met there with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer.

The clearest link so far is that at least one senior member of al Qaeda fled to Baghdad after Sept. 11. He has since left Baghdad and there is no evidence Saddam Hussein knew about his visit, although in a police state like Iraq people don't just come and go.

No one who has seen the intelligence is prepared to make the case that Saddam had a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. But suspicious links between Iraq and al Qaeda are becoming part of the Bush administration's case for removing him from power.

Last week, President Bush's national security adviser said al Qaeda operatives had found refuge in Baghdad, and accused Saddam's regime of helping Osama bin Laden's followers develop chemical weapons.

Condoleezza Rice's statements were the strongest public charges yet alleging contacts between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government.

"There clearly are contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq that can be documented; there clearly is testimony that some of the contacts have been important contacts and that there's a relationship here," Rice said.

She said much of the information was coming from al Qaeda operatives captured since Sept. 11. This included several senior leaders whom the U.S. alleges organized terrorist attacks.

"We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time," Rice said. "We know too that several of the (al Qaeda) detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development."

The widely held view has been that while Saddam and bin Laden both oppose the United States, their motivations are too different for them to work together. Saddam seeks secular power; bin Laden's drive comes from religious motivations and his opposition to the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.

"No one is trying to make an argument at this point that Saddam Hussein somehow had operational control of what happened on Sept. 11, so we don't want to push this too far, but this is a story that is unfolding, and it is getting clearer, and we're learning more," Rice said.