[Marxism] Déjà vu all over again

Louis Proyect 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 
official said.

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 
don't know.

"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 
activities monitored.

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 
posting authentic.

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 
terrorist attacks.

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 
military arsenal.

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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