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2004-07-19

Another Campaign of Misinformation? Leaked 9/11 Report Cites New Evidence That Iran Cooperated with al-Qaeda Before Attacks

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Leaked accounts of the final 9/11 Commission report due out this Thursday says the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 9/11 hijackers passed through Iran in the year prior to the attacks. We speak with Middle East and Iran Expert at Baruch College Ervand Abrahamian. [Includes transcript]

The final report of the bipartisan commission investigating the Sept. 11th attacks is due out this Thursday and leaked accounts of the report have already appeared in the press.

According to one leaked account in Time Magazine’s Online Edition, the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 14 so-called "muscle" hijackers passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001.

Commission investigators also found that Iran had a history of allowing al-Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. Accoring to Time, this practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guards to facilitate their travel across the frontier. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.

Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin said yesterday that the United States has known for "some time" about the al Qaeda passage through Iran. In response, Iran acknowledged that suspected al-Qaeda members involved in 9/11 may have passed through its territory, but insisted they would have done so "illegally."

The 9/11 report will also note that Iranian officials approached the al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but the offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.

Time Magazine says 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 October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and from as many as 100 separate electronic intelligence intercepts culled by analysts at the NSA.

  • Ervand Abrahamian, Middle East and Iran Expert at Baruch College, City University of New York. He is the author of several books on Iran including Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic (University of California Press, 1993) and The Iranian Mojahedin (Yale University Press, 1984). His latest book is Inventing the Axis of Evil: The Truth About North Korea, Iran, and Syria (New Press, June 2004).

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by the Middle East and Iran expert at Baruch College in New York City, part of the City University of New York. He is the author of several books on Iran, including Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic as well as The Iranian Mojahedin, We welcome you to Democracy Now! Very good to have you with us.

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, professor, what do you think of what "Time" is saying will be in the 9/11 commission report?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: I think it’s partly some truth in it, partly fantasy. You know, I think the political impact of it is the fantasy part. I think where there is some truth is that Al-Qaeda people and other people across the border, because there is really no border. It’s a vast no-man’s land between Iran and Afghanistan. If Iran could, they would have built a fence there, but it’s just too wide a border. In fact, there are weakly armed clashes between Iranian authorities and smugglers. Iran executes something like 300 smugglers a year, drug smugglers coming across from Afghanistan. They have really no control over that border so, its possible Al-Qaeda people have crossed that border. But the fantasy part is that there is actually collusion between the Iranian regime and Al-Qaeda. This just doesn’t make sense. The Iran and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were in a state of war. Iran accused Al-Qaeda of actually carrying out terrorist acts coming across the same border, blowing up mosques in Iran. Al-Qaeda and Taliban actually massacred a large number of pro Iranian people in Afghanistan, including Iranian diplomats. We forget that the afghan war was really a war by proxy. Iran was supporting the northern alliance against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and Iran was actually quite happy with the united states eventually invaded and got rid of the Taliban. So, to argue there is collusion between Iran and Al-Qaeda seems fantasy. I mean, its possible–anything is possible. It’s possible that people from outer space have come down to help Bin Laden, but it’s — unless one has really hard evidence, one can’t take that as a political fact. Here what I think they’re doing is taking some truth about people crossing the border and bringing it to a conclusion that there is really collusion between very unlikely forces.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor, the allegation that Iranian officials approached the Al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the "USS Cole" off the coast of Yemen and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but turned down by Bin Laden?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Again, it’s possible, but it’s — it seems very unlikely since Iran had considered Bin Laden as sort of their — one of their primary enemies. And if you are going to do some sort of very dubious acts like collaborative bombing, you want to trust who you are doing it with. It seems very unlikely that they would be that bizarre in behavior. It would be politically very bizarre for them to do, though.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is your political analysis of why this is coming out or who is presenting this intelligence?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Well it’s a rerun of basically what we saw with Iraq. The neocons have targeted Iran. It’s 20 years they have been talking about the need to remove the regime. So, for them, Iran is as dangerous or even more dangerous than Iraq. At the moment, obviously, with the elections coming up in the United States, it doesn’t make sense to talk about another war and another invasion. But they want to keep Iran basically on the back burner so, the American public remembers Iran as a threat and once the election comes, if bush wins, Iran will be brought to the front burner, and it would be easy to actually demonize Iran as a major threat. Stories like this basically keeps Iran there in the focus — in the radar screen as a threat. I suspect after November, if the bush administration is still there, the neocons also implement their long — basically long desired policy of regime removal in Iran. So it would be a rerun of the Iraqi situation. Again, the same stories, insinuations, use of some rumors people saying, well, they heard this, they saw that, and then these become facts and then Iran then is considered as an imminent threat to the united states.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. Iran has acknowledged in response to these leaks coming out about what the commission will say, the suspected Al-Qaeda members involved in 9/11 may have passed through its territory but said they would have done so illegally. You would probably say the same is true for the United States. Obviously, the hijackers came into the United States?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Yeah. Here, of course, people don’t really — that border is really a no man’s zone. You can get smugglers. You go across. It’s not just drugs. It’s weapons, bombs. Individuals. People like Al-Qaeda are trying to escape; one route would have been there. Another route, of course, is Pakistan. So, it’s possible that some came through Iran. We know Al-Qaeda people were arrested in Iran and Iran has admitted they have them, but they’re under arrest and some of them have been repatriated actually to the country where they will face prosecution. Are going to be prosecuted in Iran for having committed crimes in Iran. But then to jump from that to say if there was actually collusion between the two to carry out joint bombings of the United States seem as big leap. So, I think it sort of part of this disinformation war that will continue on Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Your forthcoming book is called —

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Is called Inventing the Axis of Evil. It’s actually just come out. It’s a book on Iran, North Korea and Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for joining us. Professor Ervand Abrahamian is a professor at Baruch College in the city of New York. When we come back, Cynthia McKinney.

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