9/11 commission to implicate Iran
* Iran says it has dismantled Al Qaeda groups
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: New “evidence” on Iran-Al Qaeda contacts will be disclosed in the 9/11 bipartisan Commission’s final report expected to be released next week, according to Time magazine.
A senior US official told the weekly newsmagazine that the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and 10 of the 14 “muscle” hijackers, namely those involved in gaining control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subduing the crew and passengers, passed through Iran between October 2000 and February 2001. Sources also said Commission investigators found that Iran had a history of allowing Al Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. This practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guards - in some cases not to put stamps in the passports of Al Qaeda personnel - and otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.
According to Time, it was told by a “senior official” that the report would note that Iranian officials approached the Al Qaeda leadership after the bombing of USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the US, but the offer was turned down by Osama Bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his Saudi supporters.
The report will also say that the Iran-Al Qaeda contacts were discovered and presented to the Commission at the end of its two-year plus investigation into the sources and origins of the 9/11 attacks. Much of the new information about Iran came from Al Qaeda detainees interrogated by the US government, including captured Yemeni Al Qaeda operative Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, who organised the October 2000 attack on USS Cole, and from 100 separate electronic intelligence intercepts by analysts at the National Security Agency. The findings were sent to the White House for review only this week. But Commission members have been hinting for weeks that their report would have some “Iran surprises”.
However, reports Time, the Commission comes to no firm conclusion on Al Qaeda’s involvement in the Khobar disaster in Saudi Arabia. Since 9/11, the US has held direct talks with Iran and through intermediaries concerning the fate of scores of Al Qaeda members whose presence is Iran it has acknowledged, including an unspecified number of senior leaders, whom one senior US official called al Qaeda’s “management council”.
AFP adds: Iran’s intelligence minister announced on Saturday that his services had smashed Al Qaeda operations in the country, amid fresh allegations from the US that the clerical regime has been cooperating with Osama Bin Laden’s network.
“The Intelligence Ministry has identified and dismantled all the Iranian branches of the Al Qaeda movement,” Ali Yunessi was quoted as saying. “We have stopped the terrorist acts of Al Qaeda. If we had not done so, we would have had security problems.” Mr Yunessi gave no further details. But his statement coincided with US media reports that the September 11 commission in Washington has concluded Iran may have facilitated the 2001 attacks on the US. Time and Newsweek, in similar reports quoting congressional, commission and government sources, said Iran relaxed border controls and provided “clean” passports for the so-called “muscle hijackers” to transit Iran to and from bin Laden’s camps between October 2000 and February 2001. The commission’s report says Iran at one point proposed collaborating with Al Qaeda on attacks against America.
Iran has frequently been accused of harbouring and not cracking down on the group. Iran, which was hostile to Afghanistan’s Taliban and Al Qaeda, has fiercely denied allegations that it is supporting the group. In 2003, Iran confirmed it was holding senior Al Qaeda members, but has refused to identify them. Diplomatic sources and Arab press reports have pointed to the possible presence in Iran of the movement’s spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Gaith, and its number three, Saif al Adel, as well as bin Laden’s son and Al Qaeda heir, Saad.
In February, Spain’s top anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon alleged Al Qaeda had a “board of managers” operating in Iran. But the Iranian government has responded by criticising what it sees as a failure by US troops in Iraq to crack down on the People’s Mujahedeen, the main Iranian armed opposition group, which Washington considers a terrorist organisation. It has said the detained group members could go on trial here, but that the process could take years.