WHILE IRANIAN PRESIDENT Mahmood Ahmadinejad's recent call to wipe Israel off the map has elicited a great deal of much-needed international condemnation, relatively little focus has been paid since to Iran's long-standing support for international terrorism. Thankfully, a recent article published in the German political magazine Cicero, titled "How Dangerous is Iran?" serves as a welcome supplement to the Iranian president's remarks that, among other things, argues that Iran is currently harboring the surviving al Qaeda leadership.
This information is by no means new. In September 2003 for example, the Washington Post reported that "after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the locus of al Qaeda's degraded leadership moved to Iran. The Iranian security services, which answer to the country's powerful Islamic clerics, protected the leadership." But the same article also claimed that after the May 2003 Riyadh bombings "the Iranians, under pressure from the Saudis, detained the al Qaeda group." Most news reports on Iranian support for terrorism since then have claimed that the al Qaeda leaders are being held in some form of light detention or perhaps loose house arrest.
According to the new information in Cicero, however, whatever the situation might have been in May 2003, it is no longer the case.
After spending some time addressing the disillusionment of the Iranian reformist movement in the wake of the triumph of Ahmadinejad and his hardline backers as well as the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program, the Cicero article shifts its focus to the issue of Iranian support for terrorism, leaving little doubt that the Iranian regime views terrorism as a legitimate means of achieving its policy objectives. A member of the Jordanian intelligence agency GID is quoted as saying, "Ahmadinezhad [sic] can and will use the terrorist card every time as extortion against the West . . . If Europe does not accommodate Iran in the dispute over the Mullahs' nuclear program, they will threaten terrorism against British soldiers in Iraq and French interests in Lebanon." If British accusations of explosives being shipped into Iraq from Iran for use against Coalition troops are any indication, this card is already being played.
The article's revelations, however, go far beyond that:
The author of this article was able to look at a list of the holy killers who have found safe refuge in Iran. The list reads like the Who's Who of global jihad, with close to 25 high-ranking leadership cadres of Al-Qa'ida--planners, organizers, and ideologues of the jihad from Egypt, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, and Europe. Right at the top in the Al-Qa'ida hierarchy: three of Usama Bin Ladin's sons, Saad, Mohammad, and Othman.
Al-Qa'ida spokesman Abu Ghaib enjoys Iranian protection, as does Abu Dagana al-Alemani (known as the German), who coordinates cooperation of the various jihadist networks throughout the world from Iran. They live in secure housing of the Revolutionary Guard in and around Tehran. "This is not prison or house arrest," is the conclusion of a high-ranking intelligence officer. "They are free to do as they please."
Saif al-Adel, military chief and number three in Al-Qa'ida, also had a free hand. In early May 2003, Saudi intelligence recorded a telephone conversation with the organizer of the series of attacks in the Saudi capital Riyadh that claimed over 30 victims, including seven foreigners, in May 2003. Saif al-Adel gives orders for the attacks from Iran, where he operated under the wing of the Iranian intelligence service.
For years, according to the findings of Middle Eastern and Western intelligence services, Iranian intelligence services have already worked together repeatedly with Sunni jihad organizations of Al-Qa'ida. "As an Islamist, I go to the Saudis to get money," the Jordanian GID man outlines the current practice of Islamist holy warriors. "When I need weapons, logistical support, or military terrorist training and equipment, I go to the Iranians."
The journalist who authored the article, Bruno Schirra, is no lightweight. In the spring of 2005, he wrote another piece for Cicero, titled "The World's Most Dangerous Man." An exposé of Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Schirra quoted extensively from German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) documents that collated data from German, American, French, and Israeli intelligence sources. These documents, some of which were classified, listed the Zarqawi's activities, passports, phone numbers, mosques used or controlled by his followers in Germany, and his benefactors. In addition to confirming much of the evidence presented by Collin Powell to the United Nations Security Council on the activities of Zarqawi's network in Europe, the documents also stated point-blank that Iran "provided Al-Zarqawi with logistical support on the part of the state." Schirra's ample use of classified documents in making his claims appear to have alarmed the German government--in September 2005, German authorities raided Cicero's Potsdam offices as well as Schirra's home at the order of then-Interior Minister Otto Schily. These efforts to learn the identity of Schirra's source prompted widespread outrage from the German parliament and, ironically, seem to have verified the truth of Schirra's original article.
As the United States continues to debate both internally and with its European allies over how to deal with Iran and its new president, it would seem that this new information, coming from a country that strongly opposed the Iraq war, would be a welcome contribution to the discussion.
Dan Darling is a counter-terrorism consultant for the Manhattan Institute's Center for Policing Terrorism.