Iraqi Terrorist Defector: Disgruntled but Helping U.S.
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Adnan Awad had it all: scads of money, sexy showgirls, sleek cars. Then he fell in with a crowd of Palestinian terrorists in Baghdad.
He escaped but now lives underground, cut off from his family and past, afraid for his life. U.S. officials hope his pain won’t be for nothing, that the information he’s given them will help put his former terrorist friends behind bars.
Awad, who sought asylum in the United States six years ago, wants to help. But he’s disillusioned with what he’s not getting in return. ″I feel like hostage. I feel like I am not exist. I have no passport, no money,″ he says.
He was brought to Washington by the Justice Department this week to prepare for his appearance in Greece as a star witness in next month’s trial of a former friend, a Palestinian accused of bombing a U.S. jetliner.
He is also meeting behind closed doors with congressional investigators to tell them what he knows about Iraqi support for terrorism and the organizations it bankrolls.
Awad, 50, caught the attention of investigators when he recently poked his head out of hiding to tell his story to reporter Steven A. Emerson. He also spoke in an interview with The Associated Press.
Awad will testify at the June 17 trial of Mohammed Rashid, charged with planting a bomb on a Pan Am jetliner in 1982, killing a Japanese teenager and wounding 15 other people. Rashid was arrested at Athens airport in 1988 on a tip from U.S. authorities.
U.S. investigators believe the device was made by Abu Ibrahim, a master bombmaker whose small May 15 organization is believed to have attacked dozens of American and Israeli targets worldwide.
Emerson’s book, ″Terrorist,″ says that Rashid, one of Awad’s bon vivant friends, introduced him to Abu Ibrahim in the early 1980s. Using a mixture of threat and inducement, Abu Ibrahim got Awad to carry a suitcase lined with explosives to Geneva in 1982 to be placed at the Noga Hilton Hotel, according to the account.
But Awad said he couldn’t go through with it and went instead to the U.S. Embassy, which handed him over to Swiss authorities who mined him for all he knew.
Two years later, miserable with the Swiss cold and swayed by visions of palm trees, movie stars and convertible cars, Awad asked to come to the United States.
The CIA, FBI and Justice Department all thought it was a good idea, especially if he could finger Rashid and his accomplices. Awad was brought over in 1984 and placed in the protective custody of the witness protection program.
Over the years, he has supplied Western intelligence officials - including agents of the Israeli Mossad, according to Emerson - with information about the secretive Abu Ibrahim and other groups.
″His information was invaluable,″ said Victoria Toensing, formerly a deputy attorney general in charge of counter-terrorism. Toensing said assembling a case against Rashid was a top priority and she checked out Awad’s story carefully to make sure he would make a reliable witness if a trial were held here.
But Greek authorities, apparently scared off by Palestine Liberation Organization threats and attacks on judges and court officials, refused to extradite Rashid.
In a compromise, Greece said it would try Rashid on the same charges and the United States would supply the evidence and its star witness - Awad.
″I am shy to face him, but I have to do it,″ said Awad in the interview.
″I want to finish it,″ he added.
Awad, who gets a small monthly stipend from the government, said he has moved several times around the country, once when it appeared Iraqi-sent agents had entered the United States to look for him.
He said he will testify despite what he says is the administration’s failure to grant him two wishes: an American passport and money from a reward program for people who bring about the apprehension or prosecution of terrorists.
The State Department, which administers the anti-terrorism purse, says Awad arrived here before the $2 million program was enacted by Congress in 1988.
But Awad’s lawyer, who asked that his name be withheld to protect his client, said Awad has cooperated with authorities throughout his stay here and is therefore entitled.
Most recently, Awad and his lawyer said, he provided the CIA with information about one of President Saddam Hussein’s bunkers in Baghdad, where he had worked as construction foreman for Japanese builders.
His lawyer said the Immigration and Naturalization Service is studying whether Awad can be granted citizenship under a provision for people who make ″an extraordinary contribution″ to U.S. security.