Atta 'met Iraqi agent in Prague last year'

War on terrorism: Investigation
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Mohamed Atta, the man believed to have been at the controls of the first jet to fly into the World Trade Centre, is believed to have met at least one Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague last year – possibly to obtain false passports.

According to Czech officials, the meeting allegedly took place last summer. This could be crucial evidence linking Iraq to the 11 September attacks on the US; if confirmed, it will provide further ammunition for hardliners in the Bush administration to widen the scope of the new "war against terrorism" to include the regime of the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein.

Allegations that Atta met an Iraqi agent in Europe last year have been made before but for the first time Czech officials – albeit unnamed – have been quoted by the Wall Street Journal and the Hospodarske Noviny, a Czech daily newspaper, as confirming a meeting took place in Prague, a known hub of Iraqi intelligence.

The suspicions of a Czech link first surfaced when the newspapers revealed two weeks ago that Atta was in Prague for a few hours one day in June last year. He arrived from Germany, where he was studying in Hamburg, and left the same day on a Czech Airlines flight to Newark, New Jersey. He is believed to have met one or more Iraqi intelligence agents during his visit.

Iraqi intelligence has been active in Prague both before and since 11 September and the Iraqi Embassy is under constant surveillance.

A link between Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida and Iraqi intelligence is possible, Terry Taylor, a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq said yesterday. "It wouldn't surprise me to see some contacts between these two organisations, although I would expect the extent of the support from Iraq to be limited because of the secular outlook of the Iraqi regime.

"They share a common foe – the Great Satan," said Mr Taylor, who is now assistant director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "I wouldn't expect extensive support or organisational support but wouldn't rule out some information being passed on this particular operation."