WHY IRAN PROTECTS AL-QAEDA?
By Nawaf Obaid*
BEIRUT (IPS) As the Saudi officials have stated that Iran has failed to hand over any of the al-Qaeda terrorist it is supposed to hold, a senior Saudi oil and security analyst said since the demise of the Taleban, Iran has become a sanctuary for al-Qaeda, making it the only place in the world where both Shiite and Sunni terrorists have found haven".
On Monday 24 August, press reports, citing Irans ambassador in Riyadh, Ali Asqar Haji, suggested that Iran had handed over to Saudi Arabia a number of al-Qaeda members. However, the individuals, like the 16 Saudis Iran turned over last year, are merely foot soldiers
But on Sunday, Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Amir Nayef Ben Abdelaziz, in an interview with the pan Arabic daily Al Hayat, denied the report, saying that so far Iran has refused to cooperate with Saudi Arabia over the al-Qaeda.
Irans refusal to grant access to over a dozen of senior Saudi-born al-Qaeda suspects is disturbing, says Mr. Nawaf Obaid, a senior Saudi oil and political analyst.
"What the Saudis want are the ringleaders of one of the last functioning al-Qaeda cells with regional command and control powers. Intelligence officials also believe that members of this group know the identities of dozens of al-Qaeda operatives dispersed in Saudi Arabia, Europe and the United States", according to Mr. Obaid.
That is why Saudi officials are keen to interrogate the suspects. In the last few months, however, Iran has hindered this effort.
"To be more precise, radical Iranian clerics have hindered these efforts. Irans moderate President, Mohammad Khatami, has promised to hand over the Saudi al-Qaeda suspects. However, Saudi security officials were twice rebuffed when arriving to pick them up", Mr. Nawaf Oaid wrote in the Beirut based The Daily Star.
In the most recent attempt, Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, the assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs (the highest civilian administrator of the Saudi Arabian General Security Service), was told he would not be allowed to see the prisoners. A senior general in the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency who oversees coordination with Irans Intelligence Ministry was furious. According to him people close to Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran are holding up the extradition because they fear theyll be implicated
"This episode highlights the strength of Khamenehi and the radical clerics who follow him. Khamenehi controls several powerful state security organs, including Irans Revolutionary Guards and the newly created Foreign Intelligence Service. Both report directly to Khamenehis Office of the Supreme Leader, entirely bypassing Khatamis government", Mr. Obaid added.
In the past few years, American, Saudi and other regional intelligence services have compiled a detailed dossier on the extremists within these institutions and their connections to international terrorism.
The 1996 Khobar bombing in Saudi Arabia serves as an example. Ali Fallahian, the former Iranian intelligence minister who is believed to have orchestrated the attack, now serves as a top adviser to Khamenehi. General Ahmad Sharifi, the "case officer" who oversaw the group that carried out the bombing, is an adviser to the Revolutionary Guards military operations chief. And Ibrahim al-Mughassil, the Saudi Shiite who organised the operation from Saudi Arabias Eastern Province, has found refuge in Iran with his two main accomplices.
Since the demise of the Taleban, Iran has become a sanctuary for al-Qaeda, making it the only place in the world where both Shiite and Sunni terrorists have found haven. US, Saudi and Pakistani intelligence officials have concluded that the radical wing of Irans Revolutionary Guards has harboured numerous top al-Qaeda operatives, of which the three most dangerous are Said al-Adel (Osama Ben Ladens chief of global operations), Saad Ben Laden (Osamas son and a regional al-Qaeda leader) and a third man who is yet to be identified. With help from Revolutionary Guards radicals, the so-called "Tehran trio" masterminded the recent suicide bombings in Riyadh that killed 34 and injured over 200, according to the analyst.
Since the bombing, Saudi intelligence officers have uncovered much information about al-Qaedas operations within the Kingdom and the groups connections to Iran.
One of the leaders of the cell that carried out the attacks, Ali Fagasi al-Ghamdi, has been talking to Saudi agents since he turned himself in last June. Ghamdi identified the Tehran trio as the masterminds of the bombing and Turki al-Dandani as the main leader of his cell (a cousin of Dandani is the unidentified third of the trio). Dandani was killed in the northern Saudi province of Jouf while attempting to flee to Iraq. Saudi intelligence officials believe he was heading to Iran, to reunite with his comrades.
Ghamdi has provided an inside view of the structure and operations of the al-Qaeda cells, of which eight to 10 are now believed to be operating in Saudi Arabia. Supposedly, Ghamdi and Dandani were sent to establish a new cell because al-Qaedas ranks had thinned and it lacked the manpower to carry out attacks in the kingdom.
But since al-Qaeda cells are purposely kept isolated from each other, only those who recruited and dispatched the operatives know their identities and plans. Perhaps dozens of militants can be traced back to the Tehran trio, and this explains why Saudi authorities are extremely anxious to interrogate them.
Unfortunately, Iranian "custody" of these individuals puts them effectively under the protection of the extremists. This may for a time shield Revolutionary Guards officers with blood on their hands, but in the long run an alliance between Iranian officials and al-Qaeda cannot hold.
"International pressure and domestic anger will eventually break the bond, especially if another terrorist attack can be attributed to the actions or inaction of Iranian officials. In that case, they may meet the same fate as the last group of radicals who made common cause with Al-Qaeda, the repressive Taleban thugs in Afghanistan", the author concluded. ENDS IRAN AL-QAEDA 11003
Editors note: Mr. Nawaf Obaid is a Saudi oil and security analyst. He is the author of a forthcoming book, "Saudi Arabia Since 9/11".
He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star
Highlights and some editorial works are from IPS http://www.iran-press-service.com/
Someone should ask Ali Fallahian about his opinion on Hussein Khomeini and the late Hakim.