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U.S. Accuses Iran of al-Qaeda Pact; Israeli Take on Tehran Assassination

by DAN GEIST

29 Jul 2011 03:45Comments

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Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

ThreeAlQaeda.jpg3:45 a.m., 7 Mordad/July 29 The U.S. Treasury Department accused the Islamic Republic on Thursday of making a "secret deal" with a branch of al-Qaeda to channel funds and manpower through Iranian territory to facilitate the group's activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Treasury announced that sanctions were being imposed on six al-Qaeda members allegedly responsible for conducting the operation -- Americans are barred from doing business with them and any assets they have under U.S. jurisdiction are to be frozen.

As reported in London's Telegraph:

Iran-based Ezedine Abdel Aziz Khalil, aka Yasin al-Sura, was named as a "senior al-Qaeda facilitator" who has operated from inside Iran since 2005 "under an agreement between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government."

Khalil launders al-Qaeda money and recruits from across the Middle East through Iran and then to Pakistan "for the benefit of al-Qaeda senior leaders," the Treasury said in a statement.

Pakistan-based Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, formerly Osama bin Laden's "emissary in Iran" was also named on the list. Rahman is currently al-Qaeda's overall commander in Pakistan's tribal areas, it said.

Four others -- Umid Muhammadi, Salim Hasan Khalifa Rashid al-Kuwari, Abdallah Ghanim Mafuz Muslim al-Khawar, and Ali Hasan Ali al-Ajmi -- were also named as part [of] the operation working through and in Iran, the Treasury said.

The Islamic Republic's government, whose ultimate authority is the Shia cleric who serves as Supreme Leader, has repeatedly disavowed any connection with the predominantly Sunni al-Qaeda. This past December, Iran's state news agency reported the arrest of seven alleged al-Qaeda members near the Iraqi border, even as Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast declared that no members of the group were hiding inside the country and that the Islamic Republic would never consort with terrorists. When Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by a U.S. assault team earlier this year, Mehmanparast stated, "We hope this leads to broader peace in the region. Iran believes there is no further excuse [for American troops] to occupy the region under the banner of the fight against terrorism."

In its statement on Thursday, the Treasury Department took a very different view: "Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world today. We are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran's unmatched support for terrorism." It described the alleged pact between the Islamic Republic and al-Qaeda as a crucial one for the group: "This network serves as the core pipeline through which Al Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia." The Wall Street Journal observed that

Thursday's announcement marked the second time Treasury has drawn a link between Tehran and Al Qaeda. In 2009, Treasury sanctioned an alleged Al Qaeda associate, Mustafa Hamid, whom officials said acted as an interlocutor to the group and Tehran. At the time, Treasury sanctioned three other alleged Al Qaeda operatives, including Osama Bin Laden's son, Sa'ad bin Laden, who had been detained in Iran.

When Saad bin Laden and his associates attempted to pass through Iranian territory after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, they were swiftly placed under arrest. In late summer 2003, the United States evidently rejected an offer from the Islamic Republic to trade them and other al-Qaeda operatives in Iranian custody for members of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO) based in Iraq, where the regime of Saddam Hussein had just fallen to U.S. forces. Saad bin Laden was apparently released in late 2008 and made his way to Pakistan.

For the Iran Primer, Patrick Lawson, director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, considers the potential impact of the Treasury Department's announcement:

The Treasury designation highlights that U.S. differences with Iran extend well beyond the nuclear impasse. Coming after a month of U.S. statements about stepped-up Iranian support for insurgents killing U.S. soldiers in southern Iraq, the designation suggests that U.S.-Iran relations would be tense or worse even if the nuclear impasse was resolved.

A further complication could be created by the lawsuit filed in May 2011 in New York federal court asking for damages from Iran on behalf of dozens of the 9/11 victims. The July 2011 Treasury designation strengthens the case that Iran is providing material support to al Qaeda, which under U.S. law could be sufficient to hold that Iran is liable for compensatory and possibly punitive damages for the 9/11 attack. Such a finding could create considerable political and practical difficulties for any effort to resume normal U.S.-Iranian relations.

The plaintiffs' filing in the May lawsuit asserts that two defectors who worked in the Islamic Republic's Ministry of Information and Security have testified that Iranian officials had "foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks" and provided "direct support for, and sponsorship of, the most deadly act of terrorism in American history." The defectors' names and verbatim testimony were not made public, but submitted to the court under seal.

In 2004, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly referred to as the 9/11 Commission, concluded that it had "found no evidence that Iran...was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack." While the commission declared that there was "strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers," it added a significant caveat: "At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation."

***
RezaeiMourning.jpgWhile the assassination of an Iranian scientist in front of his Tehran home over the weekend has already slipped from the attention of Iran's sanctioned media, Haaretz, the relatively liberal Israeli daily, on Thursday ran a fascinating article on the incident.

As Tehran Bureau's Muhammad Sahimi reported, there has been considerable confusion over not only the murder victim's field of expertise and most recent employment, but his very identity. According to some reports in the Iranian media, he was 46-year-old Dariush Rezaei Ochbelagh, a physics professor at Mohaghegh Ardabili University who also worked with Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. According to others -- including IRNA, the official state news agency -- he was 35-year-old Dariush Rezaeinejad, an engineering student who had no involvement at all with the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.

Remarkably, even after the apparent victim's funeral earlier this week, the confusion remains: the picture seen here is identified by Lebanon's Daily Star as from the funeral of Rezaeinejad. Yet the caption to a picture clearly taken moments before or afterward at the very same event is captioned by Haaretz, "Mourners at the funeral of Dariush Rezaei-Ochbolagh." (It might be observed that the photo on the coffin looks much more plausibly like a 35-year-old than a 46-year-old; however, we have no evidence that this image of the deceased is a recent one.)

Yossi Melman, Haaretz's intelligence and military affairs correspondent, writes,

It is of utmost importance to identify the murdered man. Saturday's assassination in Tehran was the fourth such effort over the last 20 months. The three previous assassinations, all in Tehran as well, were of scientists associated with Iran's nuclear program. Two of them, Masoud Ali Mohammadi (January 2010) and Majid Shahriari (November 2010), were killed, and the third, Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, was injured in November 2010. When the latter recovered, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed him to head the country's Atomic Energy Organization.

All these incidents followed a similar pattern. They were aimed not merely at scientists connected with Iran's nuclear program, but specifically at those who worked in weaponization, the last stage before nuclear weapons production, in which fissionable matter is combined with a detonator to form a bomb or warhead. All the assassinations took place near the targets' homes, as they were entering or leaving their cars. Their wives were nearby, and some of them were injured, too. Another common denominator is the modus operandi: A pair of motorcyclists approached the target and either fired at close range or attached bombs to their cars.

All the signs say the assassinations were carried out by a daring and determined organization that did not hesitate to operate in Tehran (in the latest case, the killing took place close to a Revolutionary Guard base not far from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security). This organization has precise information about the targets' addresses, their daily routine (though they presumably tried to vary their routines for security reasons) and what kind of security they had.

While Melman refrains from making any direct claim, the suggestion is strong that the "daring and determined organization" in question is Israel's national intelligence agency, Mossad. He continues,

[I]f the murdered man was an engineering student rather than a nuclear scientist, there is no doubt that it was a serious mistake. And if so, it will undermine a tactic that has been viewed as a means of "punishing" Iran and those involved in its nuclear program. [...]

[T]here has been a heated debate in the inner circles of the intelligence community, and also outside it, about just how effective these assassination campaigns are and whether they achieve their goals. There is no definitive answer. But even those who support the use of assassinations know this is a weapon of last resort and that their use must be minimized.

If it turns out that the wrong man was killed in Tehran, this argument will heat up again. But even if this was not a case of mistaken identity, it seems very doubtful that assassinations -- even if they hit the right targets and succeed in sowing fear among the scientists -- will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Iranian officials have consistently denied that they have any interest in acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear munitions. Last month, the Islamic Republic hosted its Second International Nuclear Disarmament Conference.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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