- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

In a development that's certain to make supporters of U.S. rapprochement with Iran inside the Bush administration uncomfortable, a growing body of evidence suggests that members of Tehran's terror network may well have been involved with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda in planning the September 11 suicide attacks, which killed upwards of 3,000 people. Writing in the Dec. 3 and Dec. 31 issues of Insight, Kenneth R. Timmerman has made a compelling case that senior Iranian officials and members of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah (the most prominent among them being fugitive Lebanese killer Imad Mugniyeh) have long worked together in planning terrorist operations. He also suggests that bin Laden operatives have received military training inside Iran, as well as from Iranian personnel in Syria and Lebanon. "We know that Mugniyeh has a relationship to bin Laden," a U.S. official told Insight. "Did he have a role in planning the outrages of September 11? We can't rule it out."
One long-standing myth is that religious differences between the Iranian terror network, which is predominantly Shi'ite Muslim in orientation, and bin Laden, a Sunni, will prevent them from joining to carry out terrorist attacks. But in reality, both bin Laden and the Iranians have always been able to put aside doctrinal disputes when it comes to attacking the West. According to an affidavit by FBI Agent Daniel Coleman, which was based on information provided by former al Qaeda members, bin Laden personally exhorted his followers to "put aside differences with Shi'ite Muslim terrorist organizations, including the government of Iran and its affiliated group Hezbollah, to cooperate against … the United States and its allies."
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was briefed on the subject of Iran's ties with bin Laden on Oct. 26 and was "floored," several sources told Insight. The highly classified material showed a pattern of connections between the Iranian government and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which joined forces with bin Laden's group in February 1998 to form an organization calling itself the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. Bin Laden's deputy former Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is believed to have masterminded the September 11 attacks repeatedly traveled to Iran during the 1990s as the guest of senior terrorist operatives, among them Ahmad Vahidi, head of a special operations unit which conducts foreign terrorist operations. In addition, the respected British defense publication Jane's reported in October that during the past two years, Iraqi intelligence officers were shuttling between Baghdad and Afghanistan, meeting with bin Laden, Mugniyeh and al-Zawahiri.
Indeed, the federal grand jury that indicted bin Laden in 1998 for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa said that "Al Qaeda also forged alliances with the [ruling] National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States." Ali Mohamed, who pleaded guilty last year in New York to five counts of conspiracy in connection with those bombings, testified that he arranged security for a meeting between Mugniyeh and bin Laden when the latter was based in Sudan. He added that Mugniyeh's Hezbollah "provided explosives training for al Qaeda." Mr. Timmerman's Dec. 31 Insight article outlines Mugniyeh's terrorist history in chilling detail. His "credits" include the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon and the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut. He is also known to have personally tortured and murdered CIA Beirut Station Chief William Buckley and U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, and he planned the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, in which 29 died and 242 were wounded. Two years later, he bombed a Jewish community center in Argentina, killing 86.
State Department officials (apparently determined to achieve a rapprochement with Iran) have been downright dismissive of reports linking Mugniyeh, Iran and bin Laden in recent interviews with Mr. Timmerman. But FBI and U.S. intelligence officials believe the evidence is mounting that Mugniyeh and bin Laden, et al. have been working together closely. This is an issue that needs to be investigated thoroughly not whitewashed in the hope of improving relations with Iran.

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