WASHINGTON (CNN) # Saddam Hussein’s former personal secretary has told interrogators he saw the deposed Iraqi president alive after both attempts to kill him with U.S. bombs, U.S. officials told CNN.
Those officials said Gen. Abid Hamid Mahmoud al-Tikriti, who was recently captured by U.S. forces, told interrogators that Saddam had been hiding separately from members of the former ruling family.
Government sources told CNN that Mahmoud said the last time he saw Saddam was in early April, when Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, split up to avoid capture.
The United States has no way of knowing whether Mahmoud’s statements are true, officials said. Mahmoud also claims that he, Uday and Qusay all traveled to Syria at some point after the war began but returned to Iraq after being expelled by the Syrian government, officials said.
One knowledgeable official said, “That’s what he is saying. Do I believe him? I’m not sure.”
Although officials said they have believed for months that Saddam is likely alive, the interrogation of Mahmoud and other captured regime leaders, along with scraps of information from Iraqi citizens, have increased the confidence level among intelligence analysts that Saddam is alive and hiding in Iraq.
The White House said Friday that it remains unsure of the Iraqi leader’s status and that his whereabouts are unknown.
“We don’t know whether he’s alive or dead,” deputy spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
“Of course, there’s going to be different views within the intelligence community. But again, one thing is for certain # that is, he and his brutal regime are no longer a threat to the region or the world; no longer a threat to the Iraqi people,” he said.
The hunt for Saddam inside Iraq continues to be led by a U.S. special operations team # code-named Task Force 20 # with support from the CIA. The task force, which also took part in the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, is made up of covert Special Forces from the various U.S. military services.
None of the high-level Iraqis on the most-wanted list who have been captured or surrendered have so far offered significant information on weapons of mass destruction, according to officials from at least two U.S. intelligence agencies. Officials say that might change if Saddam were to be captured.
Intelligence officials have told Bush administration policymakers that some of the low-level officials might be more willing to offer information either after Saddam’s capture or in exchange for immunity from war crimes charges.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated Wednesday that the notion of offering “plea bargains” had been discussed.