- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2020

Iran “facilitated” the movement of al Qaeda terrorists through its country, including September 11, 2001 attackers and for years was a critical channel for money and arms, according to the 9-11 commission report and internal Osama bin Laden documents.

Experts say the late Qassem Soleimani surely knew of and directed the terror partnership since he has headed since 1998 Iran’s Quds Force. It is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization and an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which dominates Iranian society. On Jan. 3, Maj. Gen. Soleimani was killed in Baghdad by a U.S. drone missile attack on his car on orders of President Trump.

“There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers,” said the commission, known formally as The National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States.

Osama bin Laden called Iran “our main artery” for men and money.

Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said none of this would have happened without Gen. Soleimani’s blessings.

“Qassem Soleimani was the second most powerful man in Iran after the Supreme Leader,” Mr. Rubin told The Washington Times. “He didn’t just run overseas operations and those involving Iranian relations with terror groups, he formulated and developed them. There was not a single operation of any significance which he did not approve if not oversee.”

“This extends backwards not only into Iran’s support for proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, but also to its ties to Al Qaeda,” Mr. Rubin added.

“Simply put, the 9/11 hijackers never would have been able to train in Afghanistan had it not been for Soleimani’s support and Iranian free-passage. The same holds true for Iran’s subsequent safe-haven to senior Al Qaeda operatives in IRGC bases inside Iran.”

Al Quds creates and aligns with other terror groups in the region, training, financing and directing them as it is today in Iraq.

The 9-11 Commission’s 2004 report paid close attention to how bin Laden’s terrorists moved in and out of Afghanistan, its headquarters in an alliance with the now-ousted Taliban regime.

Its report said Iranian border officials were under orders not to stamp the visas of al Qaeda travelers.

One commission source was Tawfiq bin Attash (known as Khallad), who bombed the destroyer USS Cole in 2000.

“Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan,” the report said. “For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda.”

Two other commission sources were the jailed Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the 9-11 master player, and an associate, Ramzi bin al-Shibh.

“KSM and Binalshibh have confirmed that several of the 9/11 hijackers (at least eight, according to Binalshibh) transited Iran on their way to or from Afghanistan, taking advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports.” the report says. “They deny any other reason for the hijackers’ travel to Iran.”

The report said that evidence didn’t show that Iran knew of the pending attack on the World Trade Center and targets in Washington. But it also called for the government to investigate this link further.

The commission also said that al Qaeda terrorists received training from Hezbollah, the Iran-created terror army in southern Lebanon which works closely with Gen. Soleimani.

There is more evidence of an Iran-al Qaeda working relationship. It is found in millions of pages of documents seized by Navy SEALs when they raided bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout and killed him in May 2011.

The papers show Iran was a vital safe passage for al Qaeda members to move in and out of the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, with many on their way to kill Americans in Iraq

Gen. Soleimani was particularly active in 2005-11, sending his Quds operatives into Iraq to train Shiite militia members, like the ones operating in Iraq today, on how to target and blow up U.S. troops. The U.S. says Gen. Soleimani was responsible for 603 American deaths and thousands wounded.

In a letter to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007, bin Laden warn him not to attack Iran for its assistance to Shia militia, some of whom fought Masri’s terrorists.

“You did not consult with us on that serious issue that affects the general welfare of all of us,” bin Laden wrote Masri, who had made public threats. “We expected you would consult with us for these important matters, for as you are aware, Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication, as well as the matter of hostages.”

Masri was killed in 2010 by U.S. troops. He was succeeded by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who fled to Syria and founded the brutal Islamic State terror army. Once U.S. troops left under orders of President Barack Obama, ISIS invaded Iraq, taking swaths of territory in northern and western Iraq.

Mr. Trump, who approved the strike on Gen. Soleimani, also OK’d the Army Delta Force raid in November that resulted in al-Baghdadi’s death by suicide bomb.

Iran helped al Qaeda in other ways. It provided a home for one of bin Laden’s sons, Saad and for Said al Adel, an al Qaeda military leader under indictment for the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa.

The U.S. killed Saad in a 2009 air strike.

The picture adds up to two organs of terror, Shia Iran and Sunni al Qaeda, cooperating in their shared hatred of the Untied States.

“That supports the conclusion that bin Laden’s relations with Iran’s dictatorship were convoluted, a mix of cooperation, competition, distrust and opportunistic collusion,” James Phillips, a Heritage Foundation Middle East expert, said at the time bin Laden papers were released in 2016.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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