Iran and Osama: Match Made In Hell
1/16/2005 By Ryan Mauro
While the world remains fixated on the situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration seems equally concerned with Iran. As the worlds most intense (in quantity and quality) sponsor of international terrorism, and a rogue state in search of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, the specter of an alliance between Al-Qaeda terrorists and the fundamentalist Iran is indeed a scary one. Accusations by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush show that this is indeed the case. This article will examine if the evidence has been stretched or even falsified.
Iran in the past has been responsible for attacks on Americans. Beginning with the hostage crisis of 1979, through the 1980s Lebanon bombings that forced the withdrawal of American troops, and to the recent war in Afghanistan. As the primary sponsor of terrorist groups including the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades (terrorist wing of Fatah which is a branch of the PLO), The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, The PFLP-General Command, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and a wide range of other anti-Israeli organizations, there is a realistic possibility of the forging of an alliance with Al-Qaeda. Beginning in the 1980s, Irans openly proclaimed goal through sponsoring militants was to remove Western influence from the region so as to encircle Israel. The linkage the extremists see from the Jewish state of Israel to the United States is that the U.S. is Big Satan, while Israel is Little Satan, cooperating hand-in-hand on a campaign of genocide against Islam.
Such thinking began with the Islamic revolution in 1979, after which the new Islamist government of Iran called for striking out upon its enemies as a religious duty. These callings would increase throughout the decade, particularly because the extremists saw victories in Lebanon, Somalia, and other places which resulted in the withdrawal of Israeli and/or American forces. Some analysts feel that due to the inability of the Western countries to see the hidden hands involved in major terrorist attacks, has encouraged state sponsors to continue using proxies for their war, as it covers their fingerprints.
By the end of 1990, Iran and other state sponsors saw the world in a very simplistic manner, particularly in the Middle East. Any government in the world, whether it hold a Moslem majority or not, decided its fate by their relationship to the United States and the United Kingdom, even if that relationship was different than the relationship they had with Israel. Thus, any country assisting the US in any manner was thought to be a puppet government of the West used in its War on Islam. To this end, the Iranians, Sudanese, Iraqis, and other state sponsors felt the first step in fighting the West and moving towards the destruction of Israel was the promotion of radicalism so as to topple infidel governments in the region serving America, and terrorism was seen as a way to intimidate the West. It was also a bargaining chip, a way to radicalize Moslems and inspire the believe that through the power of jihad, they could prosper. The state-controlled media blamed their poverty and despair on the West, so as to draw a link between the glory of jihad and the pursuit of happiness. Manipulating religious teachings served as another tactic to magnify the campaign.
The radical states had little fear of Western retaliation as they saw several encouraging signs:
A. The United Nations leaving Saddam Hussein in power after the Gulf War
B. The West forcing Israel into limiting retaliation against Palestinian militants
C. The lack of retaliation for the 1980s episodes in Lebanon
D. The failure of the Americans to rescue the hostages at the embassy in Tehran
E. The withdrawal from Sudan
F. The toleration of Yasser Arafats militants while simultaneously pressuring Israel into giving concessions
G. The growing impact of extremism on the Moslem youth and the growing anti-Americanism. Anti-Americanism grew due to state propaganda, the lack of confidence in the West after these episodes, and American support for regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia which committed serious human rights violations, while going unpunished due to their cooperation with the American forces.
H. A reoccurring belief that any major Israeli or American retaliation not seen as justified would arouse pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism, resulting in a unified Islamic world withholding their oil.
As Islamic religious sects united against their common enemies beginning with the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and later Israel and the West, their theological differences were removed for the time being. Soon after the Gulf War, the dozens of branches of militants, the strongest being the Afghans (those who fought against the Soviets), formed a common front known as the Armed Islamic Movement, or the International Legion of Islam. Seeing confidence in this union, the sponsoring states of Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and to a lesser degree, Syria and Iraq, began cooperation with the legion as a form of proxy warfare. This is similar to what we are seeing today in Iraq, where the Saddam Fedayeen guerillas have united with the foreign terrorists.
Seeking leaders, Osama Bin Laden rose to the top of this union due to his experience in Afghanistan, his financial power and his lengthy international connections. Inside the Armed Islamic Movement were still intact branches of militants, and Osama Bin Laden recruited only the best for his organization, Al-Qaeda, or The Base. Al-Qaeda then would cooperate with a closely fitting ring of similar organizations such as the Armed Islamic Group (rebels in Algeria) so as they would all form a network, with Al-Qaeda as the nexus.
The network depended heavily upon state sponsors, so the network would be careful not to upset their state sponsors in order to keep the delicate alliance alive. The state sponsors initially began their own terrorist groups, as Iran did with Hezbollah, but as these groups grew closer to the branches of the Armed Islamic Movement, the sponsorship would extend to AIA so as to:
A. Enhance the deception and denial strategy
B. Enhance the overall terrorist legion
C. Enhance the capabilities of their closest terrorist allies that served directly under them
D. Remove ideological and theological barriers preventing the accomplishment of the primary objectives of the extremists.
E. Change the competitive nature of rival groups into a productive catalyst for the cause.
F. Increase influence over the elements of other Islamic sects they did not approve of.
In 1991, Sudan (in close cooperation with Iran) took a further step to unify the various branches of terrorists into a single front. The Islamic Arab Peoples Conference was formed while Sudan and Iran simultaneously created the Popular International Organization, an allied front of Sunni Moslem extremists that would take part in the driving power for the Islamic Arab Peoples Conference. This began the setting up of Sudan as a terrorist harbor, and the placement of Iranian forces in Sudan to facilitate this infrastructure.
As a result of the meetings and conferences, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad led by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, now Al-Qaedas main operational branch became deeply involved in the various Islamic movements. On October 18, 1991, the group went to the International Conference in Support of the Islamic Revolution of the People of Palestine, with over 400 representatives. The meeting also managed to unify the branches despite their theological differences even though Sudan and Iran secretly hoped that their Popular International Organization would take the lead in the efforts. Subsequently, Osama Bin Laden saw the gathering movement and began concentrating his major efforts towards that movement, landing him a spot at the top of the movement, and as a result, assistance from Iran and the various state sponsors of terrorism.
In July of 1992, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, now Al-Qaedas #2 leader, went to Tehran after consulting with Sudan. Zawahiri had already become a huge figure in the Islamist movement, serving as a conduit for coordination between many branches of organizations. His prestige and theological beliefs drew Osama Bin Laden to him, later resulting in the fusion of Egyptian Islamic Jihad into Al-Qaeda and tightening of the overall Islamic coalition, all under the union sponsored by that of Iran and other state sponsors.
Beginning in 1992, an agreement was reached. In return for Zawahiris efforts in the movement led by Iran, the Iranians agreed to provide a safe harbor and training camp for about 800 of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad terrorists in Mashhad. Iranian proxy forces like Hezbollah, and the Pasdaran division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps based in Sudan would assist in virtually all areas of Zawahiris contributions to the movement. Zawahiri subsequently agreed to join a faction of the overall movement, called the Arab Liberation Battalions which was headed by the Revolutionary Guards intelligence community. By the end of the year, Al-Zawahiris alliance with Hezbollah became complete. It also set the stage for the battle of Mogadishu, Somalia which accelerated the prestige of the various Islamist movements banned into one union. This is why after 9-11, President Bush had to make it clear the War on Terrorism was required to fight all terrorist organizations.
In 1992, 12,000 Arab volunteers who had fought into Afghanistan transferred into the terrorist organizations involved in the movement. The leading force in Afghanistan of extremist volunteers was Hizb-i-Islami, led by Gulbaddin Hekmatiyar, the force behind the recent guerilla warfare in Afghanistan in alliance with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. This same year, Osama Bin Laden sent 3,000 Yemenis he had recruited back to their homeland from Pakistan to help expand the terrorist network in Arabia. The bases were reportedly in the al-Maraqishah Mountains. But by mid-1993, with the movements new focus on East Africa, many of these Yemeni forces were moved to Somalia, which he claimed cost him $3 million. These forces later took part in the Mogadishu battle.
The alliances continued into October 1994, accelerating with the Iranian-sponsored meeting in Khartoum, Sudan with Iranian intelligence delegates, Osama Bin Laden, Hezbollah, and the various branches of Muslim Brotherhood. The focus returned to the Arabian Peninsula. Another meeting with the same groups occurred in November 1994 in Cyprus, to discuss operations in the United States. There were even more people at the meeting, including Sudanese, Syrian, and Iranian intelligence, and various other terrorist organizations including Hamas, Hezbollah, PFLP-GC, Islamic Action Front, etc.
In early 1996, Iran formed the Hezbollah International, which cooperated closely with Osama Bin Laden. Hezbollah International picked up from where Iran-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East in 1995 left off. The new Hezbollah International worked to facilitate attacks by financing and training, while very often, Bin Laden and Zawahiri led and commanded the terrorist forces. To oversee such activities, the President of Iran, Ali Akbatrr Hashem Rafsanjani created the Supreme Council for Intelligence Affairs. Dr. Mahdi Chamran Savehi led the External Intelligence branch which was responsible for sponsoring terrorism, often through hiring the al-Quds Forces of the Iranian military. Also in 1996, there was a new turn towards the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia where the state sponsors send forces, alongside Bin Laden to the region to assist the Moslems in their war with Serbia.
As part of the new campaign, groups which were not part of Hizballah International did decide to cooperate and form an alliance to coordinate their activities with the Iranian-sponsored movement. This included Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Lebanese Hezbollah, Osama Bin Ladens forces, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, Hamas, The Turkish Islamic Party, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Kurdish Peoples Party. The Islamic Change Movement, a group of organizations, also joined the alliance. Irans main instruments in the non-Hezbollah forces inside the alliance were Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas which work very closely with Iran. Efforts to assist operations in Saudi Arabia and East Africa continued, as a way to reduce American and Israeli power.
The alliance members held a meeting on September 20-23, 1997. The meeting included Ayman al-Zawahiri and an Al-Qaeda commander, where they all agreed to escalate the terrorist campaign. Plans were to begin for attacks on Turkey, Israel, and the USA.
Bin Laden decided the next month to begin preparing a base of operations more centrally located in Afghanistan to facilitate the coming offensives. Bin Laden intended to preserve his prestige and power in the revolution. Most of the Al-Qaeda forces went from Sudan into Pakistan and Afghanistan with the assistance of Pakistani intelligence, while at the same time coordinating the upgrading of capabilities with the anti-Indian militant forces backed by Pakistan in Kashmir, who were simultaneously planning for a new campaign. Bin Laden and Zawahiri soon held a meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan to talk about a new campaign to counter American influence all over the world, and Zawahiri became the leader of the major operational elements of Al-Qaeda, particularly the efforts against Egypt. Meanwhile, forces from the various terrorist organizations spread out into the Balkans, India, and Western Europe.
Later in 1997, Iran had a breakthrough in their planning for the Islamic revolutions. At the final meeting to prepare the details of the next campaign, about 20-30 organizations, or terrorist unions took part including non-Moslems! Al-Jamaah al-Islamiyah joined, as did the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, The Algerian Armed Islamic Group, various extremist factions from all over the world, the Armenian Secret Army, 17th of November based in Greece, and Latin American groups. Immediately after, Zawahiri issued a call for jihad on the United States and our allies in the Middle East if we did not withdraw from the areas of Islam. On November 17, 1997, Zawahiris forces attacked Luxor, Egypt and killed nearly 70 West European civilians. The campaign had begun.
In February 1998, Egyptian Islamic Jihad (already close to Bin Laden) joined the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, an umbrella over Al-Qaeda and all their associated groups. This new umbrella cooperated side-by-side with the Armed Islamic Movementsome analysts even suggest they are the same thing, as most of the groups were members of both umbrella organizations. Nevertheless, the worlds radical Islamic terrorist groups had united under the supervision of the several state sponsors of terrorism.
Yossef Bodanskys book, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America goes much further into details of how Iran may have been behind the major Al-Qaeda attacks, particularly the operations in Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Tanzania and Kenya. It shows how Iran works behind the various extremist unions, issuing restrictions and permits on terrorist entities depending on how they fit Irans interest. If you are interested, I suggest buying the book. Since I am unable to prove and verify Irans role in these acts, it will not be discussed here. However, what can be proven is how Iran has provided aid to Al-Qaeda.
In the mid-1990s, Iran began to diversify the types of terror sponsorship it would pursue. Rather than regular assassination and guerilla warfare-type training, new methods of attacks were expanded upon, a trend also seen in Iraq. Much of this upgrading would be seen later in the Palestinian Intifada uprising against Israel and by militants around the world in the late 1990s and the new millennium.
According to one of Yossef Bodanskys books, airline hijacks were involved in the training. The book however, was written in 1993. He is currently the US Congress Director of the Joint Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. There were two training facilities set up in Iran for advanced warfare involving aerial platforms. One was at Wakilabad, the other near Mashhad (where Al-Qaeda forces currently reside). Several former Iran Air pilots and Air Force pilots, including ones trained in the United States, served as instructors under the Revolutionary Guards and intelligence community. At the airfield at Wakilabad were a Boeing 707, Boeing 727 and a Boeing 747. Selected pilots were sent to train at the Won San Air Force Base in North Korea, where Korean pilots gave training over the course of one year. Military training for the air force and navy in North Korea traditionally teaches the tactics of the kamikazes. By 1995, at Salman Pak in Iraq, a similar training site was set up with a Boeing jet used for hijacking training, which witnesses confirm consisted of foreigners.
The former highest ranking CIA operative in Iraq, Robert Baer, says that in December of 1995, one of Osama Bin Ladens associates went to Tehran, for a meeting with several officers of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The following July, Bin Laden met with an Iranian intelligence officer whom was sent to Afghanistan to make the anti-American alliance stronger in coordination and trust. The cooperation soon extended to all sections of Al-Qaeda, including the Egyptian Gamiat group, whom established contact with Iran through Imad Mughniyah and Hezbollah. By late 1997, the CIA knew that Bin Laden had discussed coordination efforts with Iran and the prospect of destabilizing central Asia as part of the war against the West was brought up.
Most of the Iranian-Bin Laden cooperation was done through Ayman Al-Zawahiri. The efforts described above were the result of meetings with this man. Over the past decade, Zawahiri could often be spotted in Iran meeting with high-level government officials including the Minister of Intelligence and Security, Ali Fallahian and Ahmad Vahidi, the leader of the al-Quds forces, which consist of special forces operatives whom assist terrorists or carry out terrorist acts themselves. These forces are responsible for supervising covert support to militants.
Beginning in the summer of 2000, Osama Bin Laden alongside Syria and Iran began working to upgrade the militant capabilities in Lebanon and the areas of Palestinian resistance against Israel. New stages of Arab cooperation in the extremist realm led to reestablished ties between Syria and the Syrian branch of Muslim Brotherhood, which was tied to Al-Qaeda, and with Iraq by July 2000. The various Palestinian terrorist organizations and Hezbollah also began a ground-breaking chapter of cooperation. Iran even managed to build trust between Bin Ladens group and Syria by showing that they intended not to topple the Bashar Assad regime, but rather to work together.
In mid-July, Iran called for a meeting in Afghanistan between the head of Bin Ladens bases in Lebanon and representatives of other Palestinian groups. They agreed to coordinate activities, and that Al-Qaeda would receive safe harbor at Ein Hilweh, Nahr al-Bard, Hezballah-dominated areas in the Bekka Valley and the Palestinian refugee camp of Tripoli. In the Bekka Valley, Irans Hezbollah organization began training and arming the Al-Qaeda forces based there to integrate the forces into an anti-Israeli militant infrastructure. Keep in mind, any activities of Hezballah should be under the direct responsibility of Iran and sometimes, Syria, as the group is founded by, trained by, armed by, directed by, and accompanied by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and intelligence.
As the new network was build, Al-Qaeda contributed dozens of fighters to join the Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to work alongside Hamas and Islamic Jihad, more groups sponsored by Iran. Arafats forces took no action against Al-Qaedas movements once they were seen as non-threatening to the Palestinian Authority, which was promised by Iran. This resulted in Arafat giving permission to Syria, Iran, and radical Palestinian groups to facilitate Al-Qaeda escapes to the harbors made available by the Palestinian groups.
In Tehran on June 1, 2002, there was another terrorist conference to coordinate plans for the war on Israel. It involved most Iranian leaders, the founder of Hezballah, senior Iranian Pasadaran commanders from Lebanon, Syrian intelligence officials, Imad Mughniyah and an Al-Qaeda commander, alongside the Palestinian radical forces of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and PFLP-GC.
Before we go any further, one must understand the cycle of Iranian terrorism, regarding the United States, particularly in the Gulf. While some terrorist acts occur at a timely moment at the leaders wishes, the separate campaigns Iran launches go on a cycle. Beginning in March 1990, Iran began the three-phase terror escalation strategy: 1) Terrorism using local capabilities, loss of which would not hinder the movement for Islamic movement. 2) More advanced attacks using sleeper cells that depend upon sleeper networks, so as to avoid detection and enhance the capabilities of the attacks. 3) Spectacular strikes, usually with suicide bombers, and top-of-the-line trained militants that aim to incite the Muslim world and usually take place far away from Iran.
After each phase, a new terrorist sleeper network is planted so that any intelligence the West gains from the investigations into the operations does not hinder the subsequent plans of the Iranian regime. The Iranian-directed coordinated campaign, for the more decisive attacks (as opposed to small-scale bombings like that in Israel carried out by mediocre Palestinian groups with Iranian permission or support) utilize the manpower of Hezballah, sleeper cells consisting of Afghans (volunteers of the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviets, this is where Al-Qaeda associated branches come into play) and Sunni networks far away with local capabilities whose elimination does not affect the separate networks.
Regarding the Afghans, Irans contact with them, particularly through Ayman Al-Zawahiri began in May 1986 with a meeting at Ben Bella to unify the branches, as we discussed before. The initial components of the giant union of Islamic radicals included Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and intelligence, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the forces behind the Islamic Conferences in Europe, Hezballah, and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, operational branch of Al-Qaeda today, which were represented by Sheikh Umar Abdel-Rahman, mufti of the organization. Irans links to the inner circle of Al-Qaeda go back for over a decade. Beginning that summer, Iranian intelligence began funding Egyptian Islamic Jihad and providing technical assistance.
According to Ali Mohammed, a former Al-Qaeda security chief whom testified during the trials after the 1998 embassy bombings, the organizations financial manager, Muhmud Salim met with Imad Mughniyah, an associate of the Iranian intelligence community, government, and Revolutionary Guards (and employee of Iran to take part in the business of terrorism sponsorship) in Sudan several times between 1992 and 1996, laying the foundation for tight cooperation between the two groups of extremists. Insight Magazine also has provided details from the court case that raise much worry.
The federal grand jury that indicted bin Laden in 1998 for the embassy bombings described the operational support al-Qaeda received from governments in explicit terms: "Al-Qaeda also forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States," the indictment says. Mohamed testified that "much of this type of training is actually carried out at a training camp there, in Iran, run by the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security." Even more damning comments were made by Mohamed under seal, because James Owens, one of the victims of the U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania, told the court at a sentencing hearing last month for the convicted bombers that "Iran provided the explosives for the bombings which have brought us here today." Despite this evidence of operational ties between Iran and the network that blew up the U.S. embassies, no Iranian official has yet been publicly indicted for the bombing.
Ali Mohammed goes on to say that as of October of 2000, he knew that representatives of Iran, Hezballah, Al-Qaeda, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with Imad Mughniyah himself were holding several meetings. At these meetings, shipments of arms to Egyptian Islamic Jihad (and thus Al-Qaeda, as E.I.J. is the groups operational arm) were discussed, and at one particular meeting, the Iranian representatives specifically pointed out they intended to use Hezballah as a proxy force for the cooperation. The meetings concluded with Hezballah agreeing to pass on their tactics used in Lebanon to the new Armed Islamic Movement (more specifically Bin Ladens forces, although they didnt have the widely known name of Al-Qaeda just yet) for use against Big Satan and Little Satan, particularly in the countries with their influence, specifically pointing out Saudi Arabia.
These contacts continued throughout the decade, mostly unnoticed, until the 1998 bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. According to captured documents during the investigation and trial testimony, Hezballah forces, Iranian government and intelligence officials and members of the Special Revolutionary Guard forces all had contact with high-ranking Al-Qaeda forces, and enjoyed at least one visit from Osama Bin Laden himself. At the meeting mentioned, Iran directed its Hezballah forces near Al-Qaeda safe havens to arm and train Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda, which had recently joined forces. At the meeting, Osama Bin Laden stressed that the organization needed to push aside differences with Shiite militants, specifically Iran and Hezballah, in order to pursue a common war against a common enemy.
Even when the Al-Qaeda and associated Islamic militant branches centralized into Afghanistan under Taliban rule, Iran assisted them. During the war in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance identified two instructors at an Al-Qaeda training camp at Shomali as Iranians, both of which previously had experience with Hezballah. Documents seized at the camp showed blueprints to seize an American embassy, run assassination missions, and formulas for enriched uranium.
The days prior to 911 also show Iran had an alliance with terrorists. Over the summer of 2001, the bulk of Egyptian Jihad forces that we would fight in Afghanistan began entering the country through Iran, crossing at Mashhad. But in the first week of September, Iran stopped the immigration to Afghanistan. Some in US intelligence suspect this means Iran had some idea of a major terrorist attack that was imminent, which could potentially incriminate the Iranian regime.
On September 11, 2001, immediately before or after the first attack, a senior Iranian government official called relatives in Los Angeles saying he was hoping to flee to the United States. The official explained that Irans media/propaganda machine hoped to blame the attacks on the Japanese Red Army, providing details of elements of the disinformation operations that did not play out until weeks later. What is known though is that immediately following 9/11, the government-controlled media (broadcasting into Lebanon) did in fact try to spin the facts to make it appear it was the Japanese Red Army.
And so we go back to the Insight Magazine report on November 9, 2001. In the investigation, they write:
A former Iranian-government intelligence officer who has defected to the West tells Insight during telephone interviews from Germany that he personally informed the FBI at the beginning of September of a plot by Iran to crash civilian jumbo jets into the World Trade Center and government buildings in Washington. A key element of the plot, which was code-named Shaitan der artash (Devil in the Fire), was the use of Arab "muscle men" to hijack the airliners. "Only the men leading the cells were Iranians," he says, "and they were recruited from among Iran's Arab-speaking population" in the southwest province of Khouzistan, bordering Iraq.....
The former intelligence officer says he received a coded message from inside Iran one week before the Sept. 11 attacks, signaling that the Shaitan der artash plan had been reactivated. He says he contacted the German intelligence agency, the BND, and the legal attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. U.S. government officials tell Insight that the FBI now claims it didn't receive the defector's warning until after Sept. 11.
To carry out the plan, a private company connected to the Iranian government purchased a Boeing 757 simulator through the European Airbus consortium 18 months before the attacks, the defector tells Insight. One of the individuals who purchased the simulator in Paris was in the United States on Sept. 11, he adds.
Hamid Reza Zakeri
Insight Magazine ran another amazing investigation on June 10, 2003. It was about Hamid Reza Zakeri, whom defected from the Supreme Leaders intelligence directorate, bringing along with him classified intelligence documents. Zakeri has testified to being in charge of the security apparatus surrounding at least two meetings inside Iran between Al-Qaeda and Iranian officials prior to 9/11. The secret document he gave to US intelligence was dated May 14, 2001, signed by the Minister for Information and Security, and quoted Khomeini in regards to how to handle the cooperation with Osama Bin Laden.
In the document written less than four months before the attack, Khomeini says to strike at [American] economic structure, their reputationand their internal peace and security....We should be very careful and very clever, so as not to leave behind any evidence that could negatively impact our future standing or policies.
At the end of the document, the Minister of Information and Security writes to his ministry to ...improve our plans, especially in coordination with fighters of Al-Qaeda and Hezballah to find one objective that is beneficial to both sides...The Leader [Khomeini] mentioned that we should limit our relations with Al-Qaeda to just two people, as beforeImad Mughniyeh and Ayman Al-Zawahiriand deal only with them.
Zakeri says the first meeting he was present at was held in January 2001 when Al-Zawahiri arrived in Iran (from Afghanistan) alongside 29 other Al-Qaeda officials for a meeting that would go on for four days. Zawahiri told my boss, Mustafa Hadadian, that they were planning a major operation against the United States and Israel. Zakeri says the meeting was at Varamin, just outside of Tehran. He testifies, After the meeting, 12 of them [Al-Qaeda officials] stayed in Iran. They were talking about their plans for the future, and that they had the same enemy as the Iranians. They said they were trying to build up one movement to cooperate together, and were asking Iran for operational support, equipment and money-laundering help in Dubai, as well as assistance with travel documents to help them travel from Iran to Europe. Ayman Al-Zawahiri told my boss that Al-Qaeda was very soon going to make a major operation against the United States.
Zakeri says Naleq-Nouri, former speaker of Iranian parliament and top aide to Khomeini, led the Iranian delegation and was assisted by Ali Akbar Parvaresh, former education minister and member of Section 43, the planning unit of the intelligence ministry. The success of the meeting led to Osamas sending of Saad Bin Laden to Iran on May 4, 2001. Flying from the Talebat border of Afghanistan, to the Damavand airfield near Tehran, he and three Al-Qaeda officials began their three-week stay, which would include at least one meeting with Iranian government officials.
At Khomeinis meeting house in Jamaran at the slopes of Elburz Mountains (just north of Tehran), the five members of the Leadership Council (the ayatollahs, Khomeini, and ex-president Rafsanjani) began discussing operations with Al-Qaeda representatives. Not long after, in the main hallway of the Ministry of Information and Security headquarters in Tehran was a new exhibit with models of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Camp David. Zakeri says: From the ceiling, a missile was suspended as if to strike the buildings. Death to America was written on its side in Arabic, not Farsi. Zakeri says that the same hallway often had pictures of dissidents targeted by Iranian intelligence, whom would die or disappear soon after their pictures were posted. Zakeri went to the US embassy in Azerbaijan on July 26, 2001, met with the CIA station chief, and warned of a something occurring on or around September 10th. Insight Magazine was unable to confirm if he really did make that prediction, but was able to confirm that the meeting took place.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Iran even helped forces that were part of the growing Armed Islamic Movement to expand worldwide into the menace we see today. Apart from helping Pakistan in the training and equipping of Kashmir-based militants, Iran often took a unilateral approach in these efforts. Even Pakistan often played only a minor role. From 1990 to 1991, Iran began helping Islamic radicals in the Philippines, particularly present-day Abu Sayyaf (one of Al-Qaedas Pacific branches) to build camps and general self-sustaining infrastructure. Often this was done through Iranian intelligence agents accompanying Hezballah. Present-day Moro Islamic Liberation Front also got help from Iran (and Pakistan) in making a network of camps, and establishing lines of supply and communication.
By 1994, the rebels numbered over 120,000 organized into 6 divisions, with an elite division of 6,000 veterans including Afghan mujahideen. Throughout the fall of 1994, reaching the height in October, Iran send huge amounts of experts (embedded into Hezballah) and supply to the radicals in the Philippines, landing on Mindanao. Even a few American-designed Stinger missiles are suspected of being shipped. By the end of the year, nearly 180,000 people had joined the rebellion.
Due to differences with a commander in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Abu Sayyaf split apart (but did not fight with the MLF), now being led by a graduate from an Iranian training camp. In 1995, Abu Sayyaf formed back the alliance with MLF, and the militants became a crucial part of Al-Qaedas network of terrorism. The next year, Iran withdrew most forces from the Philippines including Hezballah to avoid the political ramifications. Iran had successfully covered up their role, and instead of risking being caught in the act, withdrew as the new terrorist infrastructure had already reached self-sustaining capabilities. Nevertheless, Hezballah still often helped recruiting efforts overseas, and graduates from Iranian and Hezballah camps were encouraged to join the group.
In fact, many of the Latin American recruits for Al-Qaeda were initially recruited by Hezballah. This is certainly the case in 1996 and afterwards when new Hezballah networks were propped up in Uruguay, Chile and Argentina that expanded as time went on. Using its connections in the Pacific, Hezballah networks expanded in Thailand, Australia and Indonesia (possibly contributing to the current Al-Qaeda branch there, known as Jeemah Islamiyya). Even today, the representatives of the various terrorist groups belonging to the Armed Islamic Movement meet at the Triple Border where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina meet, to coordinate terrorism. Mughniyah himself has met with Al-Qaeda representatives here. According to intelligence, this is where Western Hemisphere-based terrorism was planned and coordinated between several groups including Islamic Jihad, Hezballah, Al-Qaeda, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, etc., for during and after the war in Iraq.
By early May, the US was pressuring Iran to hand over Al-Qaeda and extremist forces being harbored in their territory, with the knowledge of the government. It has been reported that Iran demanded that members of the opposition forces, Mujahideen-e-Khalq be handed to them first, which the US refused to do. According to some reporting, one of those harbored in Iran was Saadoon Mohammed Abdul Latif, also known as Abu Wail, who was an Iraqi intelligence officer who served as Iraqi liaison with Bin Laden by visiting in Afghanistan in 1999. Also hidden in Iran was Ayub Afghani, an Al-Qaeda explosives expert and senior leaders of Ansar al-Islam, an Al-Qaeda branch formerly in northern Iraq. Also from Iraq was Al-Qaeda associate Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, head of a terrorist poisons network and weapons of mass destruction efforts, and who also has been given the responsibility of finding safety for hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters using his expertise in false documentation and escaping the authorities.
Iran has become a major base for Al-Qaeda operations. In fact, the military commander of the group and the #3 ranking leader, Seif al-Adel, organized the May 12th bombing attacks on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in Iran. The head of logistics, Saad Bin Laden, Osamas oldest son, as well as the head of training, Abu Mohammed Masri, are also in Iran forming this command group.
Seif al-Adel has coordinated Al-Qaedas cooperation with local extremist groups including those in Morocco and Pakistan to launch attacks. He also oversees the security of the organization and distributes money and propaganda to Afghanistan-based forces from Iran. Working alongside Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi (whom escaped to Iran between March 19th and 29th from Iraq) and Saad Bin Laden, Saif al-Adel coordinates his actions wtih the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Intelligence Ministry. It is believed at least 500 Al-Qaeda connected or associated persons are in Iran despite their claims of expelling them. The strategy behind this is to use the groups profound influence to launch terrorist attacks that cannot be traced back to Iran, and to promote Iranian influence in Afghanistan and Iraq. The most dangerous detail not mentioned yet is that Seif Al-Adel is currently in the process of activating sleeper cells in Western Europe and the United States.
Iran enjoys a tremendous advantage due to this. According to Ali Nouri Zadeh of the Arabic paper, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, if any attacks or militant circles are traced to Iran, they simply remove them from their territory. Iran is careful not to reveal their role in terrorism (unless it is Palestinian resistance). Immediately after the May 12th Riyadh attacks, Seif al-Adel and Saad Bin Laden left Iran (but returned later). Other forces of Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam began moving back into northern Iraq, Afghanistan, or the triple border between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. An investigation in February revealed an Al-Qaeda network centered in Tehran, Mashhad and Zahedan. Saad Bin Laden, al-Adel, and Abu Khaled at the time were all living in a safehouse under the ownership of the Special Revolutionary Guards in the Bamk Abroad district.
Israeli intelligence says that the reason for a heightened alert in Saudi Arabia which occurred about a week before the May 12th attacks on Riyadh, was that Western intelligence had picked up suspicious amounts of electronic chatter among Al-Qaeda cells around Saudi Arabia, and simultaneous movement of operatives from the Pakistani-Afghani tribal areas to Abu Dhabi, Yemen and Qatar through Iran. Saad Bin Laden, Seif al-Adel, Abu al-Walid, and Al-Masri were all supervising the movement from Iran.
The command centers for Al-Qaeda and associated militants such as Ansar al-Islam in Iran were said to be in four areas. Up to 600 operatives and associates were in the province of Khorasan at Tayebat (12 miles from the border of Afghanistan) and near Garmab (60 miles away from Mashhad). In the province of Baluchistan there were two locations for cells at Zabul and Zahedan, where Revolutionary Guards forces were stationed. The week after the attack, the United States cut off diplomatic contacts with Iran and demanded the extradition of terrorists and cooperation with the Riyadh investigation.
This could also be due to the suspicion that Iran may be at times harboring Osama Bin Laden. The most common view held right now is that the he and Ayman Al-Zawahiri often find harbor in the southern Assir province of Saudi Arabia in the Empty Quarter Desert (which is not controlled by the Saudi government), and the area which extends onto the Yemeni border. From here, it is believed they very often travel to the Pakistani tribal areas, sometimes slipping into Afghanistan, and sometimes slipping into Iran where the borders of the three countries meet. Other people hold that they are always in the Pakistani and Afghani tribal areas, where some have even said they are often at the Hindu Kush Mountains.
Nevertheless, the suspicion towards Iran in regards to their location is justified. According to Italian intelligence, Osama Bin Laden often meets with his oldest son, Saad in Iran, traveling freely throughout Iran to consult with his groups leadership. In early May, it is said that Osama and seven senior aides including Al-Zawahiri went to Iran, and were spotted in Tehran, where they are believed to have authorized the May 12th Riyadh attacks (and the other attacks throughout the spring) putting Seif al-Adel in charge. Attacks on Turkey, Pakistan and Italy were reportedly discussed. The reports finish with saying that the delegation carried Iranian passports, identifying themselves as businessmen.
In the face of US threats, Iran claimed it had detained senior Al-Qaeda in the country but would not hand them over to the United States, but rather would send them to their homelands after being identified. Even today, in the second week of July, there is still identification going on and the militants are still detained. The definition of detained appears to be loose, as it can mean they are under arrest, but really in police possession while being allowed to continue their work. Iranian authorities have said there are some 350 Al-Qaeda in their possession.
The Al-Qaeda spokesman, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, was leaked to the press (probably on purpose) to be among those detained. Immediately, Egypt began contacting Iran about sending Egyptian nationals home for prosecution. At least 14 Egyptian terrorists are believed to be given safe haven in Iran, particularly those involved in the 1998 embassy bombings.
Among those harbored: Mustafa Hamza, conspirator in a plot to kill Egyptian president Mubarak in 1995; Abdul Rahman Khader, leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and conspirator in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan in 1995; leading members of Gamiat Islamiya including members of the Shura Council like Muhammed Shawqi Islambuli, the brother of the assassin of Anwar Sadat.
The War in Afghanistan
Around the first week of October 2001, Imad Mughniyah, a senior intelligence official from Iran, and an Iraqi intelligence official close to Saddam Hussein met in Mashhad. Knowing the American onslaught was near; it is likely this had to do with preparations for the import of militant forces.
Ever since winter 2001-2002, when the American forces toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan, these forces have been welcomed in Iran, for the proper amount of money. Most of the forces that escaped to Iran are in northern training camps, while more important officials moved to Tehran, Qom, and Mashhid. Upon significant pressure, Iran would transfer selected militants to northern Iraq and/or Syria and Lebanon to bolster the Hezballah forces. By December 2001, Israeli intelligence reported that hundreds, possibly thousands of foreigners harbored in Afghanistan had escaped a very large portion of which escaping through Iran. It was said that they escaped using drug trafficking routes in Baluchistan, with full awareness of Iranian intelligence. Most of those escaping were Saudis, which makes the observer question the significance of the Saudi-Iranian alliance (as it relates to terrorism investigations, as we saw when the Saudis covered up incriminating evidence against Hezballah and Iran in the investigation into the Dhalan bombings and Khobar Tower bombings).
Iran also traditionally interferes in Afghan relations to sway factors in the politics in their favor. Such covert operations dramatically increased before 9/11 (it is reported that Iran assisted Al-Qaeda in killing the Northern Alliance commander just days before 9/11 by providing transportation and security) and had another acceleration once Western forces attacked Afghanistan. According to an American special ops officer, the Iranian-modified AK-47 flooded Afghanistan in increasing numbers during the fighting. Press reports also indicate that three officers from the Revolutionary Guards were killed in the bombing raids at Herat on Taliban and Al-Qaeda sites. Herat has always been a site for Irans active measures, and today is ruled by Ismail Khan, a man who openly admits ties to the government of Iran. According to an Insight Magazine investigation, Khan has ten Iranian generals serving under him whom are suspected of being involved with resistance forces against the new post-war government. One of the generals, General Blokian of the Revolutionary Guard, previously assisted Hezballah based in southern Lebanon, and now trains resistance forces loyal to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. On the other hand, to manipulate the forces consisting of the Northern Alliance, Iran supported ethnic Tajik factions in the Alliance.
Today Iran still supports the Hekmatyar forces allied to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda whom lead a rebellion against the Western forces in Afghanistan, as well as the new government there. Even the former deputy chief of finance for the Taliban, and the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Taliban have said that Iran is supporting Hekmatyar and the regrouping terrorist forces, allowing them to have just as much funding as they did before 9/11.
The fact that Iran has assisted Al-Qaedas campaign of terrorism during the war in Afghanistan should be a sign that the hope that Iran will quit the business is faint. It appears that Irans very foundation as a radical Islamist government depends upon serving the forces of evil, even if it means confrontation with American forces. Iran, immediately after the war in Afghanistan began, provided safe haven for militants from a wide range of groups to assemble across the border in eastern Iran, where a militant camp was detected by US spy satellites. An obstacle course and rifle training (primarily used for guerilla warfare and targeted killings) have been seen from the birds eye.
Iran originally intended to, if possible, ignite a regional war with Israel if Iraq was attacked, feeling that their regime would be in peril if such a war was successful. As war came close, seeing how this was not the route to take as conditions was not ripe (including the fact that Palestinian militants were unable or unwilling to launch spectacular attacks to provoke Israel), Iran with Syrias help chose another tactic. The Iranian regime cooperated with Saddam Husseins Iraqi regime in the past few years but of course, a more trustworthy regime would be more favorable. Iran aimed to keep the Coalition forces bogged down in Iraq as long as possible while assisting radical Shiites in winning the government over, through democratic means or by coup.
As early as February, the Iranian-backed force called the Badr Brigades (more like an extension of the Revolutionary Guards) crossed into northern Iraq. This group consists of 5,000 Shiites used to expand Irans influence in the post-war environment. At the exact same time, Iran began shipping light and medium weapons to Ansar al-Islam, the Kurdish branch of Al-Qaeda based in northern Iraq (and sponsored by Saddam Husseins regime as a way to persecute the rebellious Kurdish forces). Not long after, their northern offensive meant to hinder cooperation between Coalition forces and Kurdish rebels was launched. This can be seen as a forced bargaining tactic, as it was reported that Iran promised the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and other Kurdish forces that Iran would assist against Ansar forces in return for a promise of extended Shiite influence in Iraq.
It was decided in March that paramilitary units would be sent to five Shiite cities to begin sporadic resistance once Saddam Husseins fate was sealed. The five cities initially targeted for Shiite upheaval was Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Basra, and Kirkuk. It is interesting to note these were the same sites of fighting with volunteer foreign terrorists, as well as Al-Qaeda cells. As part of this effort, Iran purchased Kuwaiti and Saudi military uniforms. If the Shiites were rejected the representation they deserved in the government (so Iran would have great influence in Iraq) or the Americans were preparing to confront Iran in any way, the plans were to cooperate with Baathist remnants and foreign volunteers for the resistance. A branch of Hezballah was established in northern Iraq specifically for this purpose, and according to Israeli intelligence, there was evidence that truck bombings were part of the contingency planes.
During the beginning of the campaign, Iran donated $2 million to their agents in the Shiite communities in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to incite the peoples. Part of that money was shifted to build a command center at Ahuaz in Kohzestan province to oversee the covert warfare. After learning that portions of Iraqs Republican Guards planned to merge in with the population and fight from the underground, Iran sold communications equipment, as well as agreed to temporarily harbor senior commanders if they were in transit.
Within one week, efforts to recruit and distribute militants in Umm Qasr, al-Amara, the Faw Peninsula and Basra began. Shiite extremists temporarily got public eye and power as the lack of control allowed their pour to source in central and southern Iraq, particularly around the oil fields. Not long after, six Hezballah insurgents were captured along the Syrian border, planning some form of an explosives attack on American soldiers.
By April 22, especially in the time up to the annual Shiite pilgrimage in Iraq, thousands of Badr Brigades had entered Iraq as an Iranian proxy force. Entering from Kurdistan, they established base in areas of Baqubah in the Diyala region near Baghdad, while a second force established base in Nasariya, Najef and Karbala. Iran also ordered Hezballah, while Arafat ordered certain extremists under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority to enter Iraq so as to recruit and incite people amongst the crowds. Fortunately, there were only a few violent protests and minor bloodshed, and the plot to incite the Shiites into either bribing for overwhelming power in the government or to begin anti-American revolution had failed. This led to the beginning of the end of the power of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which had hoped to win by democratic means.
Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a terrorist group that opposes the Iranian regime, which disarmed and surrendered to the US and provided valuable intelligence, has confirmed all this. The group (which has not targeted civilians for many years) claims to have captured four of the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards in Nandalr, Iraq which had infiltrated with the goal to cooperate with the Badr Brigades to incite revolution. Immediately after, American officials confirmed that thousands of Iranian agents had been organizing anti-American demonstrations in Shiite towns, and had been assisting Hezballah political activities in the country.
The failure to incite revolution led to, while still capitalizing on anti-American sentiment, Iranian forces to try to destabilize any type of post-war government. Beginning April 8th but continuing for the next few months, religious edicts were issued in Iran and in Iraq by clerics and mullahs on the extremist payroll, calling for Shiites to use all efforts to seize administrational jobs or to incite others to peacefully remove the American presence. Clerics in Najaf began funding and appointing clerics to cities, who are given responsibility to appoint officials that run everything from civil defense forces to civilian infrastructure construction. This even resulted in Coalition forces arresting a Shiite self-proclaimed mayor.
Parts of this effort aim to have pro-Iran Shiites take power over pro-American Shiites and then to gain higher power, as the Shiites is the majority in Iraq. To do this, assassinations and intimidation of unhelpful Shiite leaders must occur to frighten the rivals. This tactic began on April 10th, with the assassination of Ayatollah Abdel Majid el-Khoei, believed to have been done by Iranian special agents.
Disappointed with the incitement campaign, efforts resumed to win politically, by having favorable Shiites in critical centers of power in Iraq. During the first two weeks of May, approximately 2,000 Iranian elite troops expanded the infiltration campaign to include 11 Iraqi cities. In cooperation with the Badr Brigades, the extremists hoped to appoint mayors and governors in power to undermine US rule. The cities targeted included Karbala, Najef, Hillah, Kufah, Diwaniyah, Kut, Nasariya, and Amarah.
Soon after, Iran set up four Arabic radio stations, hired hundreds of indoctrinated mullahs to go into major mosques, and began preparing for a sequel to the Lebanon episodes of the 1980s. Now, in July, Iran is using eight radio stations to incite attacks, while moving selected Hezballah and Al-Qaeda experts into northern Iraq to work alongside the Baathist militant resistance. Israeli intelligence has reported that Iran even sometimes does surveillance activities for these terrorists, including sending intelligence officers to investigate potential attacks on American command-and-control sites in the Gulf and warships. At Irans disposal is said to be at least 5 senior commanders of Al-Qaeda located in Tehran and Mashhad, and according to the unconfirmed report, about 1240 low and mid-ranking operatives associated with Bin Ladens forces.
It is easy to mistake Iranian-backed Shiite attacks on Coalition forces for Baathist militants. It has been alleged this was the case in the killing of 6 British soldiers in Iraq, in a Shiite-dominated town said to have been infiltrated by Iranian agents, and occupied by the Shiite forces known as Badr Brigades and also the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an Iranian-backed umbrella organization of Shiite extremists.
Like in Afghanistan, we see Iran overtly and covertly assisting elements loyal to terrorist forces of all kinds (Al-Qaeda, miscellaneous groups and foreign volunteer batches, even Baathist loyalists which have formed alliances with the Islamic radicals and terrorists). As presented, there seems to be a pattern with a cycle that is unlikely to be broken. The motive for Irans government, Islamic revolution and the perceived threat of the United States in the region and in the world is one that will drive terrorism for a time to come. The only option to make is either to succumb to Irans wishes, which would throw the USA out of the region, result in the destruction of Israel, and in further expansion of hostile elements, or to confront this threat in escalating fashion.
Ryan Mauro has been a geopolitical analyst for Tactical Defense Concepts (www.tdconcepts.com), a maritime-associated security company, since 2002. In 2003, Mr. Mauro joined the Northeast Intelligence Network (www.homelandsecurityus.com), which specializes in tracking and assessing terrorist threats. He has been published in WorldNetDaily.com, Newsmax.com, StrategyPage.com, WorldTribune.com, HomelandSecurityUS.com, JRNyquist.com and in the Turkistan Newsletter (Turkistan Bulteni). He is a frequent writer for Milnet.com as well. He has appeared on radio shows including The Al Rantel Show, WIBG Radio, WorldNetDaily Radioactive with Joseph Farah, Jeff Nyquist Program, Kevin McCullough Show, Laurie Roth Show, Tovia Singer Show, Stan Major Show, and Preparedness Now. His book "Death to America: The Unreported Battle of Iraq" is scheduled to be published in the coming months. He publishes his own web site called World Threats. Mr. Mauro may be reached at email@example.com