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Saddam's wife possibly in Syria: US officials

Intelligence reports indicate a top Iraqi N-scientist recently spent time in Syria, and Saddam's first wife is possibly there now, officials said.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2003 15:02 IST

Intelligence information indicates a top Iraqi nuclear scientist recently spent time in Syria, and Saddam Hussein's first wife is possibly there now, officials said. But they characterized reports of other top Iraqi leaders arriving in Syria as uncorroborated.

The scientist, Jaffar al-Jaffer, left Syria and went to another Middle Eastern country, where he turned himself over to authorities during the past few days, officials said Monday. He was being interviewed by American officials.

Some reports put Saddam's first wife, Sajida Khairallah Telfah, in Syria, but other reports placed her in other countries that officials declined to specify. She was believed to have left Iraq, but it was unclear when, officials said.

Bush administration officials have alleged publicly that Syria was taking in members of Saddam's regime.

As early as April 2, Defence Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld spoke of unconfirmed reports that members of the Iraqi president's family, including his first wife, had fled.

The officials said Monday that information on the wife's departure, but not her destination, had firmed up since then. Saddam's half brother, Watban Ibrahim Hasan, an adviser to the deposed Iraqi president, was captured near Mosul in recent days, apparently preparing to flee to Syria, US officials said.

The nuclear scientist, al-Jaffer, was believed to know key people and locations of facilities connected to Iraq's nuclear weapons program, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. His confinement, along with Saturday's surrender of Lt Gen Amer al-Saadi, Saddam Hussein's alleged point man on various weapons' programs, could provide US officials with a wealth of information on Iraq's chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range missile efforts.

Al-Jaffer, a British-educated physicist, was described by UN inspectors as the father of Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The whereabouts and status of other members of Saddam's immediate family were not known. Nor did officials have definitive word on Saddam or his elder sons, Odai and Qusai, both senior leaders in Saddam's administration.

Other members of Saddam's family, including Saddam's second wife, three daughters and another son, may have information on their whereabouts, officials said. All kept low profiles during Saddam's rule, and none held senior positions.

Saddam's first wife was mother to Odai, Qusai and three daughters: Raghad, Saddam's favourite; Rana; and Hala. Some of the children have children of their own. Saddam remains married to both wives. In Islam, a man may have as many as four wives. In 1995, Raghad's and Rana's husbands defected from Iraq to Jordan. The brothers were debriefed by Western intelligence officials and reportedly disclosed secrets of Iraq's military and weapons programs.

They failed to gain the trust of Iraqi exiles, however, and returned to Baghdad with their families six months later on Saddam's promise neither they nor their families would be harmed. They were shot down shortly after they arrived, and Saddam placed Sajida under house arrest because she demanded that he punish the killers. Opponents said they were instigated by Odai.

Saddam's second wife, Samira Shahbandar, was mother to Saddam's other son, Ali Saddam Hussein. Saddam married Shahbandar, a daughter of a prominent Iraqi family, in the late 1980s, and their son is not believed to be old enough to have any responsibilities.

First Published: Apr 15, 2003 15:02 IST