- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

American intelligence agencies see considerable evidence that Iran is working to destabilize the interim government in Afghanistan and undermine U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country. Bill Gertz of The Washington Times reported Tuesday that Iranian intelligence operatives, including agents of Iran's spy service and special troops from Tehran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, are trying to weaken the new government headed by Afghanistan's interim prime minister, Hamid Karzai, who is scheduled to visit Iran next week. The Iranians also hope to prevent Afghanistan's exiled former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, from returning to the country.

According to U.S. officials, the Iranians have sent 200 to 300 Afghan Islamic fighters from Iran to the area around Mazar-e-Sharif during the past several weeks. The fighters are members of a Shi'ite radical group called Sipha-e-Mohammed, who trained in Lebanon with members of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, perhaps the world's most deadly terrorist group. (The Sipha group is also known as Afghan Hezbollah.) In an interview with The Washington Times, one U.S. official charged that Tehran was collaborating with the Kabul government's defense minister, Gen. Abdul Qassim Farhim, who recently visited Iran. Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad, the Bush administration's special envoy to Afghanistan, has said that Washington has lodged a formal protest with the Foreign Ministry of Iran. Mr. Khalilzad said that Iranian assistance to the al Qaeda terror network has involved helping them travel to other international locations outside Iran.

It should certainly not come as a surprise to anyone that Iran is collaborating with al Qaeda or working to subvert its neighbors. In his new book, "See No Evil," Robert Baer, a former CIA agent in the Middle East and Tajikistan, reveals that Osama bin Laden met an Iranian intelligence officer in Afghanistan in July 1996 "to hammer out a strategic relationship." A Tajik Islamic militant, who operated out of Afghanistan, brokered the alliance, which was aimed at facilitating a coordinated terrorism campaign against U.S. interests. Mr. Baer, who left the CIA in 1997 after a 21-year stint with the agency, writes that one of bin Laden's Egyptian associates visited Tehran to meet with Iranian intelligence officials.

Indeed, the federal grand jury that indicted bin Laden in 1998 for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania found 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." In December, Insight magazine's Kenneth R. Timmerman made a compelling case that senior bin Laden operatives have received military training inside Iran, as well as from Iranian personnel in Syria and Lebanon. Also, Washington cannot rule out the possibility that Hezbollah terror mastermind Imad Mugniyeh, a bin Laden associate, could have had a hand in planning the horrors of September 11. In short, the murderous regime in Tehran has a lot to answer for.

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