Sunday Telegraph: About 25 al-Qaeda leaders, including three of Osama bin Laden’s sons, are running terrorist operations from their refuge in Iran rather than languishing under house arrest as the Teheran regime claims, intelligence officials have said. Sunday Telegraph
By Philip Sherwell in Washington
About 25 al-Qaeda leaders, including three of Osama bin Laden’s sons, are running terrorist operations from their refuge in Iran rather than languishing under house arrest as the Teheran regime claims, intelligence officials have said.
The disclosure comes as Maj-Gen James Dutton, the commander of British forces in south-eastern Iraq, reiterated on Friday that the technology for lethal new rebel bombs was crossing into the country from Iran.
A “top-ranking Western secret service agent” has told Cicero magazine that the senior al-Qaeda operatives, who fled across the border from Afghanistan into Iran after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, have been provided with a secure hiding place, logistical support and equipment by the Revolutionary Guards.
Cicero is a German investigative publication known for its strong intelligence contacts.
Iran claimed that it put the al-Qaeda leaders under house arrest after they crossed the border, saying it would put them on trial. But there has been no legal action and Teheran has also ignored requests from Saudi Arabia and the West for access to the wanted men.
United States intelligence sources have told the Sunday Telegraph that the group was living in compounds in eastern Iran guarded by al-Qaeda bodyguards. There have also been persistent but unconfirmed reports that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, might be in hiding near the Afghan-Iranian border rather than Afghanistan’s frontier with Pakistan.
The 25 members of the Iran-backed al-Qaeda hierarchy are said to include bin Laden’s oldest son Saad, often mentioned as an heir to his father, and his siblings Mohammed and Othman; the senior commander Saif al-Adel, who is the number three in the network’s military structure; and a spokesman Sulaiman abu Ghaith.
In an indication of the men’s continued involvement in acts of terrorism, Saudi intelligence recorded a telephone call from al-Adel in Iran in May 2003 giving orders for the Riyadh bombings that claimed more than 30 lives, including eight Americans, Cicero said.
The publication’s offices in Potsdam were raided in September by the German authorities seeking leaked intelligence documents after an article that exposed Teheran’s funding for the Iraqi terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and even gave his Iranian telephone numbers.
In his new book, Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, Ken Timmerman, a US expert on Iran, has also exposed the “rat run” across Iran used by al-Qaeda operatives before and since the fall of the Taliban regime.
Iran is run by Persian Shia hardliners and al-Qaeda is an Arab-led Sunni extremist operation – two schismatic Islamic factions that have a long and bloody history of antipathy. But they have forged their alliance around a shared hatred of the West, particularly America.
“The most immediate threat Iran poses is not its nuclear programme. It is the safe haven Teheran is giving al-Qaeda terrorists who are planning and directing jihad across the globe,” Peter Brookes, the senior fellow for national security at the conservative Heritage think-tank, said last week.
“If the US and its allies in the war on terror do not take firm action against Iranian support to al-Qaeda, the price in blood attributable to Osama bin Laden’s killers – in Iraq and elsewhere – will continue to soar.”