YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Leading Microbial Biologist Detained

May 06, 2003|Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A top Iraqi scientist believed to have worked on that nation's biological weapons programs was detained in central Iraq on Monday, senior defense officials said.

Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash was in U.S. custody, officials said, but they cited conflicting accounts as to whether she had surrendered or was captured. Ammash was No. 53 on the list of 55 most-wanted officials from Saddam Hussein's deposed government.

Ammash was Iraq's leading microbial genetic engineer, according to U.S. officials. They said she is believed to have been instrumental in secretly rebuilding Iraq's biological warfare capabilities in the mid-1990s while she headed a biological laboratory at the Military Industrial Commission, which helped coordinate Hussein's clandestine weapons programs.

"The world is a safer place because she's off the streets," said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Ammash was the five of hearts in the U.S. military's deck of cards of most-wanted Iraqis, and she is the fifth senior official from Iraq's weapons program to be taken into U.S. custody. She has been dubbed "Mrs. Anthrax" in the media for her alleged involvement in programs to produce lethal biological agents.

"She is definitely knowledgeable about Iraq's biological warfare program, both in terms of the nature and extent of the program and in terms of where facilities and materials might be located," the official said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have tracked Ammash since the early 1990s, the official said, although she had little public notoriety until she appeared in a video released during the war that showed her as the only woman at a meeting with Hussein and his aides. The purpose of the meeting was never explained, and it is not clear when it occurred.

"We were aware of her for years," the U.S. official said. "She was a vocal advocate for regime policy at home and abroad."

Born in 1953 in Baghdad, Ammash earned her undergraduate degree in Iraq but received most of her professional training abroad. She was awarded a master's degree in 1979 from Texas Woman's University and a PhD in microbiology from the University of Missouri in 1983. She also trained at European research centers.

Ammash worked closely with Nissar Hindawi, who U.S. officials consider the founder of Iraq's bioweapons programs.

In May 2001, Ammash became the first and only woman appointed to the Baath Party regional command, the party's highest policy-making body.


Times staff writer John Hendren in Washington contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles