Was Rigi's arrest by Iran staged?
by MEIR JAVEDANFAR in Tel Aviv
24 Feb 2010 04:56
Before and again soon after his arrest, Iranian authorities accused Rigi of having ties with the West. During the troubles in Northern Ireland, the IRA highlighted the ties between loyalist paramilitary forces and the British army and intelligence services with the slogan "Collusion is no illusion." The same statement could well be applied to Jundollah's relations with U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agencies.
One indication is the relative freedom with which Jundollah has operated in the West. Organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah are unable to run radio stations and collect funds in Europe. The same restrictions have not been imposed on Jundollah, despite its reported links with Al Qaeda and its record of attacks inside Iran, some of which have targeted civilians.
The quality of the organization's intelligence and the deadly effectiveness of its attacks also suggest that it has received help from foreign intelligence agencies. American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh alleged during the Bush era that the CIA was supporting the organization, and there has been no sign that those ties were severed after Obama's election.
A stark indication was the twin suicide attack staged by the group on October 18, 2009. Jundollah operatives managed to assassinate Brigadier General Nourali Shoushtari, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard's ground forces, as well as four other senior commanders. It is very difficult to believe that an organization thought to have at most 3,000 supporters in Iran, centered in one of the country's poorest regions, would be able to access the funds and intelligence gathering resources required for such an operation on its own. The group has pulled off several other spectacular assaults, including an attack on Ahmadinejad's bodyguards.
The circumstances of Rigi's recent capture are as mysterious as his exact whereabouts have been during the past few years. Some Iranian sources, such as the Tabnak news agency, said he was "arrested abroad," offering nothing more specific. By contrast, Iran's English-language Press TV reported that he was captured on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. And according to the AP, lawmaker Mohammad Dehghan told the official IRNA news agency that Rigi was "flying over the Persian Gulf en route from Pakistan to an unidentified Arab country when his plane was ordered to land inside Iran."
After that first wave of reports, the Tehran-based news analysis site Iran Diplomacy, run by Iran's former reformist foreign minister Kamal Kharazi, offered still a different version of events. According to Iran Diplomacy, Rigi was arrested with the help of Pakistani intelligence officials, who took action after "consulting" with the United States. Of particular note, the site claims that Rigi was arrested while "he was in hospital."
This is where the story becomes fascinating. It is very possible that Iran Diplomacy is right and Rigi was in fact arrested in a hospital abroad by Pakistani agents. It is entirely plausible that the Iranians, desperate to show that their intelligence agency has both the capacity to find its targets wherever they may be and the power to force foreign planes to land in its territory, asked the help of the Pakistanis in staging the entire incident. It is very possible that the Pakistan government now sees Jundollah as a liability, and has decided to remove the organization from its soil. This makes much more sense than the version of the capture that involves forcing Rigi's aircraft to land in Iran. If the operation was not staged, there would have been a huge outcry from the foreign nation where the plane is owned. However, not a sound has been heard from any other country about a forced landing. It appears quite possible that if any plane was involved, it was an Iranian one.
The staging of such an operation would come at a helpful time for Iran's intelligence agency, which is growing increasingly concerned about its loss of legitimacy at home and the defection of several of its scientists abroad. The "spectacular" arrest of Rigi may repair some of the damage. It can also be used to send a message to members of the opposition outside the country that the long arm of Iranian intelligence can find them anywhere. But without Pakistan's help, it would have been extremely difficult, both militarily and diplomatically, for Iran to carry out such an operation. In the case of Abdolmalek Rigi's arrest, Pakistani collusion -- this time with Iran -- is indeed probably no illusion.
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