Iraqi defectors associated with the INC asserted that the facility was used by the Mukhabarat (Iraqi Intelligence) to train Iraqi militia groups such as the Fedayeen in use of military small arms, RPG's, assassination, espionage, and counter insurgency techniques Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, members of the Iraqi National Congress promoted claims that the facility was used to train the hijackers. Sabah Khodada, a former captain in the Iraqi Army, claimed that the attacks had been carried out by people who had been trained in Iraq. In a PBS special on US television, a man identified only "an Iraqi Lieutenant General", claimed that in 2000 he had been "the security officer in charge of the unit" at Salman Pak and had seen Arab students being taught how to hijack airliners using a Boeing 707 fuselage at Salman Pak. The independent Iraqi weekly Al-Yawm Al-Aakher interviewed a former Iraqi officer who also claimed that Salman Pak was being used to train foreign terrorists. A mass grave containing 150 bodies was also found in June 2003. The bodies were apparently executed prisoners who were killed three days before US troops entered Baghdad in April 2003. Seymour Hersh notes that "Salman Pak was overrun by American troops on April 6. Apparently, neither the camp nor the former biological facility has yielded evidence to substantiate the claims made before the war [that the camp was used for terrorist training]." Douglas MacCollam wrote in the July/August 2004 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review that "There still remain claims and counterclaims about what was going on at Salman Pak. But the consensus view now is that the camp was what Iraq told UN weapons inspectors it was — a counterterrorism training camp for army commandos."
Other U.S. officials and journalists have concluded that Salman Pak was used to train foreign (non-Iraqi) fighters for counterterrorism. Douglas Jehl of the "New York Times" reported that Charles A. Duelfer, chief weapons inspector in Iraq, reported that as recently as three months before the March 2003 invasion, "a branch of the Iraqi Intelligence Service known as M14, the directorate for special operations, oversaw a highly secretive enterprise known as the Challenge Project, involving explosives ... [that] trained Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, Yemeni, Lebanese, Egyptian and Sudanese operatives in counterterrorism, explosives, marksmanship and foreign operations at its facilities at Salman Pak, near Baghdad."
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that "Postwar findings support the April 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment that there was no credible reporting on al-Qa'ida training at Salman Pak or anywhere else in Iraq. There have been no credible reports since the war that Iraq trained al-Qa'ida operatives at Salman Pak to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations." p. 108 The CIA and DIA both told the Committee that their postwar exploration of the facility "has yielded no indications that training of al-Qa'ida linked individuals took place there. In June 2006, the DIA told the Committee that it has 'no credible reports that non-Iraqis were trained to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations at Salman Pak after 1991." (p. 108)
The vote in the committee was nearly unanimous (14-1). Four Republican senators on the committee--three of whom approved the document--complained in an addendum that it was written "with more partisan bias than we have witnessed in a long time in Washington."
Inconsistencies in the stories of the defectors led some U.S. officials, journalists, and investigators to conclude that the Salman Pak story was inaccurate. One senior U.S. official said that they had found "nothing to substantiate" the claim that al-Qaeda trained at Salman Pak. The credibility of the defectors has been questioned due to their association with the Iraqi National Congress, an organization that has been accused of deliberately supplying false information to the US government in order to build support for an invasion of Iraq. "The INC’s agenda was to get us into a war", said Helen Kennedy of the New York Daily News.
The DIA told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2006 that after Operation Desert Storm, "fabricators and unestablished sources who reported hearsay or thirdhand information created a large volume of human intelligence reporting. This type of reporting surged after September 2001 and continued well after the capture of Salman Pak." Yet the DIA's postwar exploitation of the facility found "no information from Salman Pak that links al-Qa'ida with the former regime." (p. 84)
More than two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there has been no verification of Khodada's account of the activities at Salman Pak. In fact, U.S. officials have now concluded that Salman Pak was most likely used to train Iraqi counter-terrorism units in anti-hijacking techniques. It should also be noted that he and other defectors interviewed for this report were brought to FRONTLINE's attention by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a dissident organization that was working to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Since the original broadcast, Khodada has not publicly addressed questions that have been raised about his account of activities at Salman Pak.
In November 2001 Charles Duelfer, then an UNSCOM weapons inspector, also said that Iraqi officials also claimed that the facility was for counterterrorism, but after witnessing the drills performed there he “automatically took out the word 'counter'" dismissing the claim as a fraud Weapons inspector Richard Sperzel clarified that the dismissal was not backed up by any evidence: "Many of us had our own private suspicions... We had nothing specific as evidence. Yet among ourselves we always referred to it as the terrorist training camp.
Former UN inspector Scott Ritter believes that based on his experience with the facility, it was constructed primarily as a counter terrorism training center and later to train Iraqi special forces to fight the Islamic Kurdish party, but that foreign fighters were never trained at the facility. He wrote:
Jack Fairweather reported that senior Iraqi military officers have indicated that the facility was used both for counter terrorism operations and the training of foreign fighters: "while Iraq’s special forces did train to retake hijacked airplanes at the Salman Pak facility, such training was routine for any elite combat unit. Foreign fighters were housed with the Fedayeen Saddam—whose main headquarters were at the Suwara facility—but only in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, not back in 2001.
A raid occurred [at a training camp near Salman Pak] in response to information that had been gained by coalition forces from some foreign fighters that we encountered from other country, not Iraq, and we believe that this camp had been used to train these foreign fighters in terror tactics...Some of these fighters came from Sudan, some from Egypt, some from other places. We have killed a number of them and we have captured a number of them. That's where the information came from...The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their inferences to the type of training that they received, all of these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak. We did also find some other things there. We found some tanks and destroyed them, we found armored personnel carriers and destroyed them in small numbers. We destroyed buildings that were used for command and control and other buildings that were used for morale and welfare. We destroyed the complex. All of that when you roll it together, the reports, where they're from, why they might be here tell us there's a linkage between this regime and terrorism and that's something that we want to break...There's no indications of specific organizations that I'm aware of inside of that. We may still find it as with all operations that we conduct into a place, we look for more information after the operation is complete. We'll pull documents out of it and see what the documents say, if there's any links or indications. We'll look and see if there's any persons that are recovered that may not be Iraqi. All of that is detailed and deliberate work that happens after the fact.
On September 30, 2004, Charles Duelfer released his findings of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. In a section of the report titled "Regime Strategic Intent Annex B", the report states the following:
M14, Directorate of Special Operations: M14, directed by Muhammad Khudayr Sabah Al Dulaymi, was responsible for training and conducting special operations missions. It trained Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, Yemeni, Lebanese, Egyptian, and Sudanese operatives in counterterrorism, explosives, marksmanship, and foreign operations at its facilities at Salman Pak. Additionally, M14 oversaw the 'Challenge Project,' a highly secretive project regarding explosives. Sources to date have not been able to provide sufficient details regarding the 'Challenge Project.'
Structure of M14: Special Operations Department, composed of a foreign and a domestic section, performed government-sanctioned assassinations inside or outside of Iraq.
The 'Tiger Group' was similar to Special Operations, except that it was primarily comprised of suicide bombers.
The Training Department provided training for all IIS officers going abroad.
The Counterterrorism Department handled counterterrorism activities in Iraq and at embassies; reportedly, it disarmed terrorists hijacking a Sudanese airliner from Saddam International Airport.
The Administrative Department provided support services such as administration, finances, communications, and logistics.
Duelfer's report also suggests that Salman Pak may have been used by Saddam to train loyalists and foreign fighters for the planned Iraq insurgency.
On September 8, 2006, "Phase II" of the Senate Report of Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq was released. On page 83 of the report, the following is stated under the heading "Postwar Information on Salman Pak":
In a response to questions from Committee staff asking if DIA recovered or received information or intelligence, after the raid on Salman Pak in April 2003 that indicated non-Iraqis received terrorist training at the Salman Pak facility, DIA said it has "no credible reports that non-Iraqis were trained to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations at Salman Pak after 1991." DIA assessed that the foreigners were likely volunteers who traveled to Iraq in the months before Operation Iraqi Freedom began to fight overtly alongside Iraqi military forces...DIA said it has "no information from Salman Pak that links al-Qa'ida with the former regime."
In June 2006, CIA told the Committee that: There was information developed after OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedem) that indicated terrorists were trained at Salman Pak; there was an apparent surge of such reporting. As with past information, however, the reporting is vague and difficult to substantiate. As was the case with the prewar reporting, the postwar sources provided few details, and it is difficult to conclude from their second-hand accounts whether Iraq was training al-Qa'ida members, as opposed to other foreign nationals. Postwar exploitation of Salman Pak has yielded no indications that training of al-Qa'ida linked individuals took place there, and we have no information from detainees on this issue
A November 2003 assessment from DIA noted that postwar exploitation of the facility found it "devoid of valuable intelligence." The assessment added that CIA exploitation "found nothing of intelligence value remained and assessed that Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) cleaned it out." The DIA assessment concluded that "we do not know whether ex-regime trained terrorists on the aircraft at Salman Pak. Intelligence in late April 2003 indicated the plane had been dismantled. DIA and CENTCOM asses the plane was sold for scrap.
The report also mentioned the findings of The Iraq Survey Group (see above section). By a committee vote of 8-7, the press statement by Brigadier General Vincent Brooks (see above) was removed from the report.(page 135)