|Sibel Edmonds Home|
-- Federal intelligence agencies are following President Bush's
The Bush administration's abrupt shift of focus from Iraq to its neighboring foe, Iran, came as an independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 hijacking plot put the final touches on a roughly 600-page report expected to outline longstanding links between the Iranian government and terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.
"We're digging into
the facts to determine" if there was an Iranian
Iran has sponsored devastating
terrorist attacks against U.S. interests,
While Washington has focused extensively on Iraq, evidence linking Iran to Al Qaeda has continued to accumulate.
Virtually from the moment of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the White House began searching for substantive links between Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, according to public accounts by several past and present administration officials.
That search has proved mostly fruitless.
In a television interview, Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey and chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, said his panel's inquiry had found that "there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq."
Earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a separate investigation of the administration's rationale for launching the war against Iraq, reported finding "no credible information" that Iraq possessed "foreknowledge of the 11 September attacks or any other Al Qaeda strike."
The independent Sept.
11 commission's report, scheduled for release
Iran's sponsorship of
terrorism, including attacks aimed at the U.S., is
In the hours after Sept.
11, Bush declared war not just on Al Qaeda, but on governments that
support it and other terrorist organizations. The
A frequent explanation for not pushing the Iranian connection harder is the administration's hope that Iran's radical Islamic government will eventually collapse from the inside, under pressure from a populace increasingly disillusioned with the stark fundamentalist doctrine espoused by the mullahs who have ruled Iran since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
While the administration watches for signs of change in Tehran, reports of connections between Iran and Al Qaeda have persisted, and in some cases evidence has even been made public by the U.S. government.
According to a 4-year-old federal warrant issued in an Al Qaeda-related case in New York, during the mid-1990s a senior Al Qaeda figure, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, negotiated an agreement among Al Qaeda, a Sudanese group and "elements within the Government of Iran" to plan joint attacks against the U.S. and Israel.
Robert Baer, a former
CIA officer who spent several years in the Middle
Earlier this year, a former MOIS officer, Hamid Reza Zakeri, testifying in a Sept. 11 conspiracy trial in Hamburg, Germany, said he had assisted with security for two meetings in early 2001 between senior Iranian officials and their Al Qaeda counterparts.
Some top-ranking Al Qaeda figures, including bin Laden's former security chief, Saif al-Adel, Saad bin Laden, and possibly al-Zawahiri, reportedly took refuge in the aftermath of Sept. 11 in the Iranian city of Mashad, near the Afghanistan border.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Tuesday as saying that even if Al Qaeda operatives had crossed the Afghan border into Iran, his government did not support them.
The Iranians also claim to have arrested Al Qaeda members who have entered their country from Afghanistan and say they plan to try some of them, but not all.
Visits to Iran
An Iranian connection with some of those who would become close to the Sept. 11 hijackers first surfaced in 1997, when German intelligence was tipped off by its French counterpart that Mohammed Haider Zammar, a Syrian immigrant and resident of Hamburg, had made repeated visits to Iran.
Zammar, now held in a Syrian jail, reportedly has confessed to recruiting, on behalf of Al Qaeda, a half-dozen Hamburg students who were to become the main Sept. 11 plotters.
One of the independent commission's findings to be announced Thursday, according to Time magazine, is that "Iranian officials issued specific instructions to border guards to facilitate the travel of Al Qaeda personnel in and out of the country, including orders that their passports not be stamped."
If true, that instruction
evidently included some of those directly involved
In December 2000, as
three of the four Sept. 11 hijack pilots were
According to German police
records, Binalshibh entered Iran on Jan. 31,
Six days before the hijackings,
when Binalshibh fled Hamburg for the
A former Al Qaeda associate,
Shadi Abdallah, who met Binalshibh in
In the summer of 2002,
when police in Milan searched the apartment of the suspected Al Qaeda
chief in Italy, they discovered what prosecutors
Post-Sept. 11 wiretaps
on other Al Qaeda suspects in Milan revealed
According to a subsequent
indictment, Saadi was overheard expressing his wonderment "at
the plentiful availability of funds that the Mujahadin
Beyond the question of whether the Iranian government has knowingly acted to assist Al Qaeda operatives lurks the larger question of whether the Iranians had some foreknowledge of the Sept. 11 hijacking plot.
Informant tipped off FBI
Five months before Sept. 11, a longtime informant for the FBI reported that Al Qaeda was planning a devastating terrorist assault in which the weapons were to be commercial airliners.
According to two sources
familiar with that interview, the informant was
Law enforcement officials who have reviewed the April 2001 interview and at least one follow-up conversation insist that the informant's information, by itself, could not have led the bureau to the Sept. 11 plotters.
But the real significance
of that information, according to a law
"His `subsource' was somebody back home" in Iran, said the law enforcement official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. In the wake of Sept. 11, the official said, it appeared that "somebody in Iran had some knowledge of something" related to Sept. 11.
Talking to `the Asset'
Although the Asset has lived in the U.S. 25 years and speaks some English, the FBI has had trouble understanding him in the past. To guard against any misunderstanding, the two FBI agents assigned to interview him in April 2001 brought along an FBI translator fluent in his native language, Farsi.
The interview followed
the standard FBI format. The agents posed their
According to the law
enforcement official, "there was talk about terrorists
It was the FBI agents'
impression, the official said, that the target of the
The FBI's translator, a former Iranian police colonel named Behrooz Sarshar, does not recall any mention of a hijacking to Afghanistan. But Sarshar, then a career FBI employee assigned to the translation section of the bureau's Washington field office, does remember the Asset saying the attacks might take place in the U.S. or Europe, and also that the terrorist-pilots were "under training."
After checking his notes
from the interview, Sarshar said that, in addition
Sarshar describes the
Asset as part of an informal worldwide network of
Some members of the network
still travel back and forth to Iran, Sarshar
According to Sarshar, the two FBI agents who interviewed the Asset were not visibly surprised by his report. It was his impression, Sarshar said, that the agents weren't sure whether to believe their informant, and that even the Asset wasn't convinced his information was true.
A few weeks after the
initial interview, however, the agents and Sarshar
Despite the coincidence of timing, none of the Asset's statements appear to have formed the basis for a controversial CIA briefing paper given to President Bush on Aug. 6, 2001.
"There was other sourcing for that," the law enforcement official said.
Headlined "Bin Laden
Determined to Strike in U.S.," the briefing paper,
Sarshar retired from the FBI in 2002 after an FBI agent complained to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility that Sarshar had discussed, "outside a secure setting," a federal anti-terrorist prosecution in Los Angeles on which he had worked.
Since leaving the FBI,
Sarshar has been questioned by staffers for the
Translator answers questions
In February, Sarshar spent several hours answering questions in a secure conference room with staff members of the Sept. 11 commission. FBI Director Robert Mueller, who expected to be asked about the case during an appearance before the commission in April, was surprised when the commissioners never raised the question, according to aides.
At 67, Behrooz Sarshar
still carries himself like the Iranian police
In a recent two-hour interview, the first he has granted, Sarshar emphasized that he admires the FBI's professionalism and has no wish to damage that agency or his adopted country. Nor, he says, has he sought personal publicity.
His only interest, Sarshar
said, is in helping "create a better system to
Sarshar agrees that the
information from the Asset, by itself, could not
But he sees it as a vital piece of a puzzle that was never fully assembled. A few months after Sept. 11, Sarshar sought out the Asset for a final conversation. The man was "very proud" of the information he provided to the FBI, Sarshar said. "But he was also very angry," Sarshar says, that the puzzle had not been completed in time.
Sibel Edmonds Home
|Home Last 5 Days NewsBytes Archive Links|
Original Content Copyright © BreakForNews.com 2004