Alleged Terrorist Met Iraqi Official in Prague

On Friday Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross officially confirmed that Mohammed Atta, one of the suspected hijackers in last month's terrorist attacks on the United States, met with an Iraqi agent in Prague earlier this year. The news has raised speculation, that Atta could have been given deadly anthrax spores for terrorist strikes currently underway in the U.S. Jan Velinger reports.

Earlier speculation was confirmed on Friday, when Interior Minister Stanislav Gross announced at a press conference, that Mohammed Atta had indeed met with an Iraqi official in Prague earlier this year. Atta is one of the men suspected of flying one of two hijacked planes used to destroy the World Trade Center in New York. His meeting with the Iraqi agent Ahmad Chalil Ibrahim Samir took place in April and is now being investigated by the Interior Ministry and Czech intelligence services. Gabriela Bartikova, spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry, had this to say:

"The reason for their meeting is under ongoing investigation. The Iraqi official, who was here as a representative of his country, was expelled from the Czech Republic for activities which were not appropriate for his work as a diplomat."

Mr Samir was expelled from the Czech Republic on the 22nd of April, but Ms. Bartikova was unable to discuss the Iraqi official's case in greater detail. However, according to earlier reports, one of the reasons for the expulsion was his unusual interest in the Radio Free Europe building in Prague. However, Ms. Bartikova did state that at this time it was possible to dismiss current speculation by the press, concerning Mr Atta's and Mr Samir's dealings.

"If you take the speculations which have been the focus of the media, these can be rejected for the time being. Concerning the matter of Mr Atta's stay in Prague, this is still a matter of investigation."

Earlier, daily newspapers such as the German Bild had fueled speculation, that Atta had in fact received anthrax spores from the Iraqi diplomat, citing unnamed Israeli intelligence sources. Such sources, the paper claims, believe that Atta carried the spores to New York, where they were missed by customs officials. Whether the current investigations will reveal that Mr Atta, the suspected terrorist, received anthrax spores or not, remains to be seen. Under the circumstances, some observers say it is difficult to imagine Mr Atta in the role of a regular Prague tourist.