- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2000

A leading Iranian opposition group backed claims yesterday that defector Ahmad Behbahani worked for Iran's intelligence service and that it carried out the 1988 Pan Am airline bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The National Council of Iranian Resistance (NCR), also known as the People's Mojahedin, cited its own intelligence from Iran in claiming that Mr. Behbahani had been the Presidential Office's chief of intelligence.

Mr. Behbahani charges that the Pan Am 103 bombing was carried out by Iran, a claim that if proven would cast doubt on the premise behind the effort to convict two Libyan agents now on trial at a Scottish court in the Netherlands.

U.S. officials yesterday scoffed at the man's credibility and prosecutors in the Netherlands, where the Libyans are on trial, have said it would not affect the court case.

"I would take what has been reported thus far with a large grain of salt," said a senior U.S. official on condition of anonymity. "There seem to be a lot of holes in his story, and it looks like a rush to broadcast by CBS. There are a lots of reasons to question the veracity of his claims."

Brought to public attention by CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday night, Mr. Behbahani is in the custody of Turkish authorities in Ankara.

U.S. officials said yesterday he is being interviewed by U.S. intelligence agents to determine if he is who he claims to be and if he is telling the truth.

In Tehran, Iranian government officials also rejected the defector's claims.

"Since the establishment of Iran's [intelligence] ministry, no person named Ahmad Behbahani has been working with the ministry," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi as saying.

But Michael Rubin, a policy analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that Mr. Behbahani is known to outsiders as "one of the most important figures in the Iranian terror apparatus."

Mr. Rubin cited a 1996 report from the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group that details Mr. Behbahani's resume in Iranian intelligence.

Under the heading of "How the Murder Machine Works," Mr. Behbahani is listed as the head of the president's intelligence service.

"It is run by Ahmad Behbahani, a relative of [former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, and it designates targets for assassination," said the report.

According to the NCR, Mr. Behbahani was responsible for the assassinations of:

• Abulraham Qassemlou, leader of Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran in 1988 in Vienna.

• Kazem Rajavi, a human rights advocate murdered in Geneva in 1990.

• Former Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar, who was killed in Paris in 1991.

The NCR also blamed Mr. Behbahani for the killings of a number of lesser-known dissidents.

In the "60 Minutes" report, Mr. Behbahani claimed Iranian responsibility for the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 90 persons and the June 25, 1996, bombing of the U.S. military barracks in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 American servicemen.

He also claimed to have planned the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, in retaliation for the July 3, 1988, downing of an Iran Air passenger jet by the USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf.

The NCR yesterday said its sources inside Iranian intelligence confirmed the identity of the man in Turkey as Mr. Behbahani.

The NCR is described as a "terrorist" organization by the State Department although it has numerous backers from both parties on Capitol Hill.

It fought to overthrow the shah and has since turned its enmity toward the mullahs' regime in Tehran.

Two Libyans are on trial before Scottish judges in the Netherlands on charges they bombed the Pan Am airliner, killing all 259 persons aboard and 11 on the ground.

According to the NCR, which first announced Mr. Behbahani's defection May 24, the explosives for the bomb were transferred through the Frankfurt, Germany, airport by members of Iranian intelligence posing a Iran Air workers.

Mr. Behbahani is reportedly seeking asylum in the United States. He said he defected to Turkey because the Iranian government was trying to assassinate him.

Meanwhile at the trial in Camp Zeist, Netherlands, the defense cast doubt on the credibility of a key forensic scientist, whom they said failed to disclose crucial evidence at the 1976 trials in Britain of the "Maguire Seven." The convictions were later overturned.

Forensic scientist Thomas Hayes presided over both early explosives residue tests on debris from Pan Am Flight 103 and the uncorroborated tests that secured the wrongful conviction of the Maguire family on terrorist charges after a number of Irish Republican Army pub bombings.

That verdict was spectacularly quashed in 1991 on doubts over the tests, which purported to find nitroglycerin on the suspects' hands and gloves.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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