Monday, July 19, 2004

MSNBC - Iran denies cooperating with al-Qaida

MSNBC - Iran denies cooperating with al-Qaida

"Iran denies cooperating with al-Qaida
Tehran calls reports that leaders aided 9/11 hijackers ‘fabrications’

Updated: 9:15 a.m. ET July 19, 2004 TEHRAN, Iran - Responding to reports that some al-Qaida operatives blamed for the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States illegally passed through Iran, officials in Tehran are vehemently denying that the country’s leadership had any knowledge of plans for the attack or has cooperated with terrorists.

In the newest wrinkle in the controversy, an Arabic newspaper reported Monday that an Iranian general collaborated with Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahri, to enable about nine hijackers involved in the attack.

A general in the apparatus (Revolutionary Guard) coordinated with (al-Zawahri) to provide ’safe passage’ to around nine of those who carried out the attacks, the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper said.

The paper, which cited as its source an official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, did not identify the general. It said al-Zawahri, who requested the help, had links with the general going back to the early 1990s.

Government challenges newspaper
Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh challenged the newspaper to back up its story.

If they have concrete proof they should hand it over to the United Nations, and if they really trust their sources they should let us know too, he said at a weekly news conference when asked about the report.

An independent commission looking into the Sept. 11 attacks is expected to report this week that Iran may have facilitated the 2001 attacks in the United States by providing eight to 10 al-Qaida hijackers with safe passage to and from terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

Iran has acknowledged that some of the 19 attackers may have illegally crossed through the country from Afghanistan in the months before the attacks, but dismissed as fabrications U.S. reports that Iran may have helped in the assault.

It’s normal that five or six people may have crossed the border within a couple of months without our knowledge. ... Our borders are long and it’s not possible to fully control them, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters. Even more people may (illegally) cross the border between Mexico and the United States.

The spokesman said possible crossings through Iran occurred months before the Sept. 11 attacks but Iran has since increased border security.

Who knew Sept. 11 was going to happen? Asefi told reporters.

Acting CIA chief skeptical
Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin also said in an appearance on Fox News Sunday that there is no indication that the Iranian government was aware of the Sept. 11 plot.

Iran insists it has made a significant contribution to the war on terror by arresting agents of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network, but the United States accuses Tehran of harboring not cracking down on al-Qaida fugitives.

Tehran also complains that instead of rewarding Iran, President Bush included Tehran in the list of his axis of evil partners together with North Korea and prewar Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Asefi said Iran will remain committed to fighting al-Qaida.

Iran has proved it is against terrorists and extremism and that it is serious in fighting terrorists, he said.

Asefi said Iran was not surprised by the U.S. allegations.

The more we approach the (U.S.) presidential elections, we will witness more of such news fabrications, he said.

The spokesman said America was accusing Iran of harboring al-Qaida to cover its defeat in Iraq.

Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said last year that Iran was holding a large number of small and big-time elements of al-Qaida. Iran says it has handed over more than 500 suspected al-Qaida operatives, most of them Saudis, to their home countries.

Iranian officials also have said some al-Qaida terror suspects would stand trial in Iranian courts because they have committed crimes in Iran.

American counterterrorism officials have said a handful of senior al-Qaida operatives who fled to Iran after the war in Afghanistan three years ago may have developed a working relationship with a secretive military unit linked to Iran’s religious hard-liners. Iran has rejected the charges.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report."

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