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The September 11 commission’s report, due out Thursday, says Iran may have facilitated the 2001 attacks on the United States by providing eight to 10 al Qaeda hijackers with safe passage to and from training camps in Afghanistan, press reports said yesterday.
Weekly magazines Time and Newsweek, in similar reports quoting congressional, commission and government sources, said Iran relaxed border controls and provided “clean” passports for the so-called “muscle hijackers” to transit Iran to and from Osama bin Laden’s camps between October 2000 and February 2001.
According to Time, the commission’s report says Iran at one point proposed collaborating with al Qaeda on attacks against the United States, but bin Laden declined, saying he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.
Newsweek said the Iranian finding in the commission’s report is based largely on a December 2001 memo discovered buried in the files of the National Security Agency.
The memo, according to Newsweek, says “Iranian border inspectors were instructed not to place stamps in the passports of al Qaeda fighters from Saudi Arabia who were traveling from bin Laden’s camps through Iran.”
Time said commission investigators “found that Iran had a history of allowing al Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border,” a practice they said dates back to October 2000.
Iranian officials, Time said, issued “specific instructions to their border guards … not to put stamps in the passports of al Qaeda personnel and otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier.”
“The new discovery about Iran’s assistance to al Qaeda,” Newsweek said, “is among the most surprising new findings” in the 500-page report compiled by the non-partisan commission.
Former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke, who in a recent book said President Bush’s administration was obsessed with involving Iraq in the attacks and had ignored intelligence on Iran, told Newsweek the commission’s report confirms that.
The day after the attacks, Mr. Clarke said in his book, Mr. Bush told him: “See if Saddam (Hussein) did this. See if he’s linked in any way.”
Although there was no evidence linking Iraq to the attacks, Newsweek quoted Mr. Clarke as saying “there were lots of reasons to believe (al Qaeda) was being facilitated by elements of the Iranian security services. We told the president that specifically. The best evidence we had of state support (for al Qaeda) was Iran.”
Time said the Iranian offer to collaborate with al Qaeda to attack the United States was made after the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors as the ship was being refueled in Yemen.
“But the offer,” said the weekly, “was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.”
Time said much of the new information about Iran “came from al Qaeda detainees interrogated by the U.S. government, including captured Yemeni al Qaeda operative Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, who organized the … attack on the USS Cole.”
The New York Times, meanwhile, reported yesterday the commission’s report would recommend creation of a cabinet-level post that would take power from the CIA, FBI, National Security Council and Pentagon to oversee intelligence gathering said to have been lacking before and after the September 11 attacks.
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