Magazine article Insight on the News

Al-Qaeda Finds a Friend in Iran; Iran Continues to Provide a Western Haven for Al-Qaeda Terrorists Fleeing Afghanistan, Even as the U.S. Military Attempts to Cut off Southern Escape Routes to Pakistan. (Nation: War on Terror)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Al-Qaeda Finds a Friend in Iran; Iran Continues to Provide a Western Haven for Al-Qaeda Terrorists Fleeing Afghanistan, Even as the U.S. Military Attempts to Cut off Southern Escape Routes to Pakistan. (Nation: War on Terror)

Article excerpt

"Tomorrow I will travel to Nimruz province [on the Afghan border] for meeting in Iran.... It is easy to find place of appointment by using the measuring device.... If we don't meet in this world, we will meet in the next." Thus wrote someone called "Ibrahim" on Oct. 19, 2001.

The note was written during the U.S. military offensive in Afghanistan last year. It was found in the Kabul home of an Egyptian national identified as a personal liaison for Osama bin Laden, and it specified map coordinates and instructions on using the Global Positioning System, interspersed with religious rhetoric to encode operational orders. More importantly, it provides a rare glimpse into the covert relations between Iran and al-Qaeda.

Afghan officials showing the letter to INSIGHT identify locations for planned meetings between al-Qaeda and Iranian agents along Iran's eastern coast of Khorasan province, which separates landlocked Afghanistan from the Persian Gulf. The letter mentions latitude and longitude points as well as time differences between Afghanistan, Iran and Lebanon, indicating possible rendezvous with ships or aircraft.

"The operation may have involved the movement of al-Qaeda terrorists, arms, gold or even opium," says an Afghan intelligence officer who only would be identified by his first name, Idris. It also could concern the escape of dozens of al-Qaeda leaders into Iran, including two Egyptians who are on the FBI's Most Wanted list, Saif al-Adel and Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, believed to have participated in planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington.

While U.S. military resources are stretched in efforts to cut off al-Qaeda's southeastern escape routes into Pakistan, the back door that Iran is providing for Islamic terrorists seems untouchable. The Bush administration has denounced Iranian shelter for "dozens" of al-Qaeda members reported to be living at hotels and guest-houses along the Afghan border. But Idris tells INSIGHT that the traffic goes both ways and that terrorists hiding in Iran, who could number in the hundreds, also are infiltrating back into Afghanistan.

"Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some 20 or 30 al-Qaeda Arabs entered Afghanistan via Iran during the months of October and November 2001," says the senior intelligence official, who reports that the cross-border movements are protected by Iranian military units operating in areas of western Afghanistan where U.S. and other multinational forces have yet to venture.

Last February, Afghan President Hamid Karzai pressed Gen. John McCall, the British commander of the 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, to deploy European peacekeepers to counter Iranian moves in western Afghanistan. The operation never got beyond the planning stages.

ISAF may have encountered a battalion of the Revolutionary Guard's elite "Sepai Mohammed" special forces, based in the western Afghan province of Takhar, according to Afghan defense officials. "They hold large stores of arms and ammunition and are distributing them to friendly commanders," says an INSIGHT source.

A U.S. special-forces officer reports that brand-new Iranian-made AKS-74 automatic rifles, a modified version of the AK-47 produced at a Russian-built arms factory outside Tehran, are flooding Afghanistan. Most arms shipments are flown in from Iran by helicopter or move overland by truck.

According to intelligence reports, three Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers were killed last year in U.S. air strikes against the Taliban army's 17th Detachment in the western Afghan province of Herat, which now is ruled by Iran's close ally, Ismail Khan. Advised by as many as 10 Iranian generals who are operating undercover as Afghans, Khan is believed to be planning the creation of a "Western Federation" that eventually might challenge Kabul's rule. …

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