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Iran, Osama and 9/11
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 28, 2007
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Thomas Joscelyn, an expert on the international terrorist network. He has written extensively on al Qaeda and its allies, including Iran. He is the author, most recently, of Iran’s Proxy War Against America, a booklet published by the Claremont Institute and available for download at its web site. (Click here to download the booklet.)
FP: Thomas Joscelyn, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Joscleyn: Good to be here Jamie.
FP: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia has sparked great controversy. Yesterday, Ahmadinejad announced in front of the U.N. General Assembly that Iran will defy U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that his regime suspend its uranium enrichment.
What should the American people know about Ahmadinejad and the regime he represents?
Joscelyn: Ahmadinejad is a puppet for the Ayatollah and his attending mullahs, who have the real power in Iran. This clerical regime, which rose to power in 1979, is intrinsically opposed to America and her allies throughout the world. When they chant “Death to America,” they mean it. The Iranian regime is also dedicated to revolution. That is, they want to export the Iranian revolution throughout the Middle East and the world. And they have often done so on the backs of terrorists.
Iran has provided vital assistance to terrorist organizations in at least all of the following nations/areas: the Palestinian territories (Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad), Lebanon (Hezbollah), Egypt (the Islamic Group and Egyptian Islamic Jihad), Sudan (a variety of terrorist groups), Somalia (Sunni terrorists), Algeria (an al Qaeda affiliate), Saudi Arabia (Saudi Hezbollah), Southeast Asia (various terrorist groups, including affiliates of al Qaeda), Iraq (both Sunni and Shiite terrorist groups), Afghanistan (Iran now even arms the Taliban, its one-time enemy), the Gulf States, and elsewhere.
So, Iran is the fountainhead of terrorism.
Much of the public outrage over Ahmadinejad’s visit has focused on Iran’s ongoing support for our terrorist enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his nation’s burgeoning nuclear program. These are, of course, legitimate and grave concerns. Unfortunately, however, there has been little focus on the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda, despite the fact that the relationship reportedly dates back to 1990.
FP: What evidence ties Iran to al Qaeda as early as 1990?
Joscelyn: According to Lawrence Wright in his book The Looming Tower, a top al Qaeda operative named Ali Mohamed told the FBI that Ayman al Zawahiri and the Iranians agreed to cooperate on a coup attempt in Egypt in 1990. The Iranians have long targeted Hosni Mubarak’s regime and so they were very willing to assist Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad (“EIJ”) in a coup attempt. According to Mohamed, the Iranians gave Zawahiri $2 million and trained his EIJ operatives for the coup attempt, which was ultimately aborted.
Coming from Ali Mohamed, this is especially damning testimony. Mohamed was one of the U.S. Government’s star witnesses during the trial of some of the al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the August 7, 1998, embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Mohamed himself admitted to his involvement in the embassy bombings – he did the surveillance that was used to plan the operation. He also looms large in al Qaeda’s early history: he compiled al Qaeda’s first training manual, trained bin Laden’s security guards, helped organize al Qaeda’s move from Afghanistan to the Sudan in the early 1990’s, and was trusted by Zawahiri to penetrate America’s intelligence and military establishments (he even feigned cooperation with the CIA as an informant and went on to become a sergeant in the U.S. Army).
So, Mohamed’s testimony is good evidence that the Iranians and al Qaeda were cooperating all the way back in 1990.
FP: And the cooperation didn’t end there, did it?
Joscelyn: No, it did not end there. There is evidence of cooperation between Iran, Hezbollah and al Qaeda from 1990 through the present. I go into more detail about this evidence in Iran’s Proxy War Against America, but let me provide some of the highlights here.
According to the 9/11 Commission, the Iranians and al Qaeda held discussions in the early 1990’s. During the embassy bombings trial we learned that one of these meetings involved a sit down between Imad Mugniyah, who is Iran’s master terrorist as well as Hezbollah’s chief of terrorist operations, and Osama bin Laden. As a result of these meetings, Iran and al Qaeda agreed to cooperate on attacks against America and Israel. Al Qaeda terrorists were then trained in Iranian and Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon, Sudan and Iran.
Mugniyah had a profound impact on al Qaeda’s transition from an Afghani-based insurgency group into an international terrorist empire. As a result of the cooperation between Mugniyah and bin Laden, al Qaeda consciously modeled itself after Hezbollah in many ways. As Lawrence Wright notes in The Looming Tower, there are good reasons to suspect that al Qaeda even adopted the use of suicide bombers because of Hezbollah’s influence. I think that prior to 1993 (there may be an isolated incident or two prior to then), suicide attacks were an anathema to Sunni Islam. They were strictly prohibited. The Shiite Hezbollah, however, had used suicide bombers since as early 1983, when Mugniyah’s suicide truck bombers destroyed the U.S. embassy and the U.S. Marine Barracks in Lebanon. Zawahiri and al Qaeda adopted suicide attacks as their modus operandi only in the early 1990’s, after Hezbollah had shown them the utility of such operations.
According to Bob Baer in See No Evil, the CIA uncovered evidence that Mugniyah helped facilitate the travel of an al Qaeda terrorist en route to an attack on the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan in 1995. In June 1996, according to Gerald Posner in Why America Slept, the CIA obtained reports from a terrorist summit in Tehran. The reports indicated that al Qaeda, Iran and Hezbollah had agreed to step up their attacks on American targets throughout the Middle East. A few days later, on June 25, 1996, Hezbollah – under direct orders from Tehran – bombed the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia.
The 9/11 Commission found that in addition to strong evidence of Iran’s involvement, there were also signs that al Qaeda played a role in the Khobar Towers bombing. Al Qaeda had reportedly been planning a similar operation in the months prior to the attack and intelligence officials found that bin Laden was congratulated by senior al Qaeda members, such as Ayman al Zawahiri, shortly thereafter. Contemporaneous reports by the CIA and the State Department noted that Iran and al Qaeda were both suspects. Therefore, although we don’t know for sure, there is, at the very least, a strong possibility that the Khobar Towers operation was a joint operation between Iran, Hezbollah and al Qaeda.
The 9/11 Commission found that the al Qaeda cell in Kenya, which was responsible for bombing the embassy there on August 7, 1998, was trained by Hezbollah for the operation. The 9/11 Commission also found that there is evidence that Iran and Hezbollah facilitated the travels of 8 to 10 of the hijackers responsible for the September 11 attacks.
There is strong evidence that Iran helped al Qaeda and Taliban members escape from Afghanistan in late 2001 and, therefore, evade American justice. Finally, Iran harbors senior al Qaeda leaders such as Saif al Adel (al Qaeda’s military chief) and Saad bin Laden (Osama’s son and heir) to this day.
This is just some of the evidence of Iran’s involvement in al Qaeda’s terror.
FP: So in your opinion, what is the strongest evidence of Iran’s support for al Qaeda?
Joscelyn: The simultaneous suicide bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998. As I explain in Iran’s Proxy War Against America, there is strong evidence that: (1) Bin Laden and al Qaeda deliberately modeled the attack after Hezbollah’s simultaneous suicide bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks and a headquarters for French paratroopers in Lebanon in 1983. (2) According to the 9/11 Commission, Iran and Hezbollah trained at least one of the cells responsible for the attack. They showed them how to execute this type of operation. (3) There is evidence that Iran supplied al Qaeda with a large amount of explosives used in the attack. (4) Iran gives safe haven to the senior al Qaeda terrorist wanted for his involvement in the bombings, Saif al Adel, to this day.
Therefore, we have Iran and Hezbollah inspiring, training, arming and giving safe haven to the al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the embassy bombings. And this was al Qaeda’s most successful operation prior to 9/11. If this isn’t support for al Qaeda, then I don’t know what is.
FP: So wait a minute then, could it be fairly said that Iran was, to one extent or another, behind 9/11?
Joscelyn: I do not think that Iran was “behind 9/11.” I think that, just as the 9/11 Commission found, there are open questions about Iran’s and Hezbollah’s involvement in the September 11 attacks. If you read pages 240 and 241 of the 9/11 Commission’s final report very carefully you realize there are a lot of dots connecting Iran and Hezbollah to the travels of 8 to 10 of the 9/11 hijackers. However, the 9/11 Commission sort of kicked the can down the road, so to speak, on this issue. The commissioners called for further investigation into this matter in 2004, but more than three years later no such investigation has been launched. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this booklet.
I would also point out that the 9/11 Commission did not cover all of the threads potentially tying Iran and Hezbollah to 9/11. As Newsweek first reported, Ramzi Binalshibh – al Qaeda’s point man for 9/11 – made a very suspicious trip to Iran during the planning stages of the operation. And shortly before the attack he left Germany on a flight that landed at Tehran International Airport. Thus, one of the main al Qaeda conspirators involved in 9/11 found it convenient (or something more?) to travel to Iran during the key stages of the 9/11 plot. Binalshibh reportedly told his CIA interrogators that there was nothing to any of this, but one has to wonder if he wasn’t simply lying. And certainly we shouldn’t take his disavowal at face value.
FP: Some on the left will no doubt accuse you of trying to bolster the case for a war with Iran. How would you respond to this allegation?
Joscelyn: I think this hits on a big problem we face right now as a nation. The discourse has become too politicized. The focus in this nation is largely on our own domestic political situation and the Bush administration. I think we would be better served by asking more of the tough questions about al Qaeda that need answering.
In the booklet, I explicitly argue that an invasion of Iran would be disastrous. I do not think that military strikes should be taken off the table entirely, but I have doubts about their efficacy. And force may be required to stop Iran’s sponsorship of terrorists who are killing American servicemen inside Iraq. But the point of the booklet is not to advocate for a particular course of action. The reason I wrote it was to stir debate about what I think are a significant body of facts and evidence tying Iran to al Qaeda. I don’t think the public interest is served by pretending that none of this evidence exists.
FP: Why is there such reticence to engage the evidence of Iran’s involvement with al Qaeda?
Joscelyn: It seems to me that al Qaeda is an enemy we have never really understood. Ignorance is widespread. We face a large network of terrorists, but many prefer not to get into the nuts and bolts of how they actually work. For example, we often hear that the Sunnis of al Qaeda and the Shiites of Iran and Hezbollah are incapable of cooperation due to their theological differences. A cursory examination of Iran’s and al Qaeda’s behavior reveals, however, that this is nonsense. When it comes to facing their common enemies the two have been more than willing to set aside their differences. In fact, Iran has long supported Sunni terrorists, including groups such as Hamas, which is the ideological cousin of al Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission also explicitly found that ideological or theological differences did not prevent Iran and Hezbollah from cooperating with al Qaeda.
More than six years have passed since 9/11. I think it is about time we got rid of some of our more shallow assumptions about our terrorist enemies.
And perhaps we should start asking President Ahmadinejad why it is that his nation harbors scores of al Qaeda terrorists to this day.
FP: Thomas Joscelyn, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Joscelyn: Thank you Jamie.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at email@example.com.