Saddam's man well regarded by ASIO

By Penelope Debelle and Russell Skelton
December 11, 2005

PHOTO CAPTION: Refugees' helper: Oday Al Tekriti outside his Adelaide home.
Photo: Wade Laube

REFUGEE Oday Al Tekriti, the alleged former Saddam Hussein bodyguard, has been given a security clearance from ASIO, Australian Federal Police and Interpol and testified as a crown witness against a notorious people smuggler in Perth.

It is also understood that Al Tekriti, who has been debriefed by ASIO on three occasions, passed on detailed information about Saddam's household in the lead-up to the second Gulf War, and people smuggling operations in Indonesia.

He was highly regarded by Woomera authorities for having a moderating influence on detainees during violent disturbances and hunger strikes - and had cut down residents attempting suicide.

None of this was apparently known to Prime Minister John Howard when he asked Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to reopen the file on Al Tekriti's refugee status last week following Opposition and media allegations that he was a war crimes suspect.

Speaking for the first time since the controversy broke, Mr Al Tekriti said he hated and opposed Saddam Hussein's regime, which is why he fled and sought asylum in Australia. "People don't know me, they think I am evil," he said. "I wish I was not born into this family. I wish I was born into an American family but I cannot help being born this way," he said in an exclusive interview.

A Sun-Herald investigation has revealed that Federal Police, rather than being kept in the dark about Mr Al Tekriti's background as has been claimed, had an intimate knowledge of his family circumstances when they asked him to testify against the Iraqi people smuggler Keis Asfoor, brought to trial in Perth in 2003.

Mr Al Tekriti, 38, is a distant cousin of the former Iraqi dictator who ruthlessly disposed of family members when they showed disloyalty.

An AFP spokesman yesterday declined to say when police first learnt of Mr Al Tekriti's background, but confirmed police were not investigating his case. Police have asked Mr Al Tekriti to testify in further proceedings against Keis Asfoor.

A spokesman for Senator Vanstone said inquiries last week had turned up nothing more on Mr Al Tekriti.

Extensive inquiries and interviews conducted by The Sunday Age last week reveal that security agencies are satisfied that the former major in Saddam's Special Forces and liaison officer in the presidential guard presents no security risk. Inquiries here and in the Middle East failed to uncover any evidence he was involved in Saddam's crimes against humanity.

He was granted a temporary protection visa in June this year and is married to a former South Australian Liberal MP, Dr Bernice Pfitzner, 67. The couple met at the Woomera detention centre in October 2000 after she treated him for depression.

"If I am a supporter of Saddam, why would I think for one second to leave that country? I left that country when Saddam was in full power. I oppose the regime - my father was assassinated and I was the second man to be assassinated after my father," he said.

Mr Al Tekriti was cleared by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of any criminal activity or human rights abuses that would have prohibited him from being granted a visa.

Sister Anne Higgins, a psychologist and former Woomera chaplain, said Oday's "approach was rather to protect people who were vulnerable".


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