[Marxism] Déjà vu all over again
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Mar 21 09:13:21 MST 2006
Some U.S. Officials Fear Iran Is Helping Al Qaeda
They say intelligence suggests that the regime lets key figures plot. But
the picture is cloudy.
By Josh Meyer
Times Staff Writer
March 21, 2006
WASHINGTON U.S. intelligence officials, already focused on Iran's
potential for building nuclear weapons, are struggling to solve a more
immediate mystery: the murky relationship between the new Tehran leadership
and the contingent of Al Qaeda leaders residing in the country.
Some officials, citing evidence from highly classified satellite feeds and
electronic eavesdropping, believe the Iranian regime is playing host to
much of Al Qaeda's remaining brain trust and allowing the senior operatives
freedom to communicate and help plan the terrorist network's operations.
And they suggest that recently elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be
forging an alliance with Al Qaeda operatives as a way to expand Iran's
influence or, at a minimum, that he is looking the other way as Al Qaeda
leaders in his country collaborate with their counterparts elsewhere.
"Iran is becoming more and more radicalized and more willing to turn a
blind eye to the Al Qaeda presence there," a U.S. counter-terrorism
The accusations from U.S. officials about Iranian nuclear ambitions and
ties to Al Qaeda echo charges that Bush administration figures made about
Iraq in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion three years ago.
Those charges about Iraq have been discredited. And in the case of Iran,
some intelligence officials and analysts are unconvinced that Al Qaeda
operatives are being allowed to plot terrorist acts. If anything, they
suggest, the escalating tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq
would logically cause Iran's Shiite government to crack down on Al Qaeda,
whose Sunni leadership has denounced Shiites as infidels.
A U.S. intelligence official said he did not see any relaxation in Iran's
restrictions on Al Qaeda members.
"I'm not getting the sense that these people are free to roam, free to
plot," the official said.
Still, the official acknowledged that the relationship between Tehran and
Al Qaeda officials within Iran was largely unknown to U.S. and allied
intelligence, especially since Ahmadinejad's election last summer.
To some U.S. intelligence officials, what worries them most is what they
"I don't need to exaggerate the difficulty in determining what these people
are up to at any given moment," the intelligence official said.
The U.S. counter-terrorism official was more blunt. "We don't have any
intelligence going on in Iran. No people on the ground," he said. "It blows
me away the lack of intelligence that's out there."
U.S., European and Arab intelligence officials spoke on condition of
anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issues publicly.
Ties between Iran and Al Qaeda were highlighted by the Sept. 11 commission,
which disclosed a wealth of details about such connections in its final
report. The commission said Iran and Al Qaeda had worked together
sporadically throughout the 1990s, trading secrets, including some related
to making explosives.
Iranian representatives to the United Nations did not return repeated phone
calls seeking comment.
In November, the State Department's third-ranking official, Undersecretary
R. Nicholas Burns, said the U.S. believed "that some Al Qaeda members and
those from like-minded extremist groups continue to use Iran as a safe
haven and as a hub to facilitate their operations."
A year ago, Iranian delegates to a global counter-terrorism conference
circulated a document describing Iran as "a major victim of terrorism." The
document blamed links between drug trafficking and terrorism for "thousands
of security problems," especially along Iran's eastern border with
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Al Qaeda operatives and family members have lived in Iran for years, many
since late 2001, when they fled the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan. Many
other Al Qaeda figures fled to Pakistan a U.S. ally and are believed to
be there still.
Four months ago, Iran declared that no Al Qaeda members remained in the
country, but U.S. officials reject the claim. At other times, Iranian
officials said that Al Qaeda members were kept under house arrest and their
In Tehran, analysts said American officials were misreading Iran's
intentions. The fact that the government has not heeded U.S. demands to
turn over Al Qaeda suspects should come as no surprise given the state of
relations between the two countries, said Nasser Hadian, a political
analyst at Tehran University.
"They won't. Why should they" without receiving something in return? he said.
Some of the suspects have been indicted in the United States in connection
with terrorist attacks, including the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies
in East Africa, but Iran has refused to extradite them.
Among them is Saif Adel, believed to be one of the highest-ranking members
of Al Qaeda, behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. Whatever
restrictions might be placed on the network's activities within Iran, Adel
who has a $5-million U.S. bounty on his head was able last year to post
a lengthy dispatch about Al Qaeda activities in Iran and Iraq that was
widely circulated on the Internet. U.S. intelligence officials consider the
In the dispatch, Adel said he had used hide-outs in Iran to plot with Abu
Musab Zarqawi to make Iraq the new battleground in the group's war against
the United States. Iran had detained many of Zarqawi's men, Adel wrote, but
they ultimately slipped into Iraq and began attacking U.S. forces.
U.S. officials say intelligence suggests that Al Qaeda operatives have
engaged in at least some terrorist planning from Iran, including Adel's
alleged orchestration of suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia in May 2003 and
the masterminding of several attacks in Europe.
For several years, the U.S. counter-terrorism official said, satellite
feeds have helped officials monitor some of the day-to-day activities and
movements of Adel and other senior Al Qaeda operatives in Iran. The
intelligence suggests that the Al Qaeda leaders have been monitored by
Iranian authorities but could move and communicate somewhat, the official said.
U.S. officials also said that other senior Al Qaeda figures including
Zarqawi, now the group's point man in Iraq had moved in and out of Iran
with the possible knowledge or complicity of Iranian officials.
The Al Qaeda members in Iran include three of Bin Laden's sons. Some of his
wives and other relatives are suspected of being there as well, as is Al
Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman abu Ghaith, U.S. officials say.
Of special concern, they said, is the number of Al Qaeda operatives in Iran
who are of Egyptian descent and loyal to Zawahiri, the Cairo-born physician
who merged his Egyptian Islamic Jihad with Al Qaeda in the years before the
Sept. 11 attacks.
Adel is a former Egyptian police official. In addition, U.S. officials
confirmed intelligence showing that three other Al Qaeda operatives with
Egyptian roots Abdallah Mohammed Rajab Masri, also known as Abu Khayer;
Abdel Aziz Masri; and Abu Mohamed Masri are in Iran. Authorities believe
them to be, respectively, the head of Al Qaeda's leadership council, a
biological weapons expert who heads the network's effort to develop weapons
of mass destruction; and its top explosives expert and training camp chief.
The U.S. counter-terrorism official said the Egyptians' presence was
troubling because Tehran for more than a decade has supported Egypt's two
largest militant groups Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Gamaa al Islamiya in
their violent campaign to topple the Cairo government.
Though the Sunni-Shiite divide has prompted Tehran in the past to say it
had "no affinity" with Al Qaeda, U.S. officials believe there is a history
of cooperation between Iran and some Sunni militant groups, including Al
Qaeda. Iran nurtures such ties, they say, to enhance its regional influence
and punish Arab political foes through intimidation and violence.
Bin Laden sent Adel and others to Iran and Lebanon in the early 1990s to
learn bomb making from Iranian intelligence and Hezbollah, the
Iran-affiliated militant group, U.S. officials say. They fear he and other
Egyptians may still have ties with Iran's military and intelligence services.
The Sept. 11 commission concluded that Iran had harbored Al Qaeda
operatives wanted in the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa and other
It quoted one top Al Qaeda official as saying Iran had made a "concerted
effort to strengthen relations with Al Qaeda" after the 2000 attack on the
U.S. warship Cole in Yemen.
Imprisoned top Al Qaeda operatives also have told U.S. officials that Iran
let Islamic militants traveling to and from Afghanistan and Pakistan pass
freely across its borders without passport stamps including at least
eight of the 19 future Sept. 11 hijackers, the nowdisbanded commission said.
The panel strongly urged the Bush administration and Congress to
investigate the ties between Iran and Al Qaeda. Recently, commission member
Timothy Roemer said in an interview that Washington still had not
adequately addressed those ties.
U.S. and allied intelligence agencies say that, more recently, they have
picked up indications of closer cooperation. The intelligence includes
European wiretaps of militants discussing how Iranian officials would help
them or look the other way.
U.S. officials fear Ahmadinejad may be strengthening ties with Al Qaeda
with the help of Iranian intelligence and military agencies, particularly
the Revolutionary Guards.
The intelligence official and others noted that Ahmadinejad himself rose
through the ranks of the guards, an elite military unit. U.S. government
officials have accused the guards of financing and orchestrating terrorist
acts in the region by groups including Hezbollah, which is suspected of
blowing up U.S. military facilities and embassies in the 1980s and killing
hundreds of Americans.
Rep. Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks, the ranking Democrat on the House
International Relations subcommittee on terrorism and nuclear
proliferation, who receives classified briefings on Iran, said U.S.
intelligence indicated that Tehran was engaged in some kind of
collaboration with Al Qaeda leaders.
"The cooperation is substantial," Sherman said. "Key operatives of the most
successful terrorist organization in history are spending their time in the
No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism
. That is of massive concern."
U.S. officials fear that an Iranian hard-line faction or even a rogue
official could conspire with Al Qaeda or provide access to the country's
Despite the mutual antipathy between Sunnis and Shiites, some U.S.
officials argue that the Iranian regime and Al Qaeda share a common enemy
the United States and that both oppose the establishment of a pro-Western
democracy in Iraq.
John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, told Congress on
Feb. 2 that Iran was engaged in a broad campaign "to disrupt the operations
and reinforcement of United States forces based in the region, potentially
intimidating regional allies into withholding support for United States
policy toward Iran and raising the costs of our regional presence" for the
U.S. and its allies.
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