The kidnap and murder of five American troops in Karbala on Jan. 20, is now seen by American investigators as the first hit of a new Iranian Revolutionary Guards retaliation program for forcing the release of the operatives US raiders captured in Irbil on Jan. 11.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 286 of Jan. 19: Iran’s Footprint in Iraq – Deeper than Supposed)
The New York Times reported on Jan. 31 that the attackers, described as “using American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers, may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry.
“A senior Iraqi official said the attackers had carried forged American identity cards and American-style M-4 rifles and had thrown stun grenades of a kind used only by American forces here.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror and intelligence sources take this conclusion a step further. They report that the gunmen who abducted the American soldiers in Karbala – and then shot them dead execution-style – belonged to a special commando team of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, which was sent to Iraq for this mission.
The team was made up of intelligence officers who speak American English and were trained to masquerade as US troops, kidnap US soldiers and hold them as hostages for bargaining.
These officers are from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other Arab countries, who studied in the US and can talk like Americans – even in the idiom of US troops. Teams of these masqueraders roam at large in Iraq, clad in American uniforms, armed with US weapons and driving stolen American vehicles.
US military officials also strongly suspect that high-ranking Iraqi Shiite officers betrayed to Iranian contacts the time and location of a meeting between American and Iraqi officers at the Najef governor’s compound, from which the US soldiers were snatched. The meeting was called to discuss how best to secure the pilgrimage marking this week’s Ashura festival.
Tehran desperate for release of high-profile captives
Tehran’s plan was to snatch a group of US soldiers and hold them hostage against the release of the 8 Revolutionary Guards paratroops in American custody. However, according to our intelligence sources, the plan went awry for some unknown reason and the Iranian commandos decided to execute their captives before making a fast getaway from the Karbala region.
Tehran views this operation as a fiasco because it did not achieve its goal. At the same time, Iranian intelligence has not been put off its plan to take American soldiers hostage in Iraq. Its chiefs are determined to do whatever it takes to obtain the release of the third top man of the Revolutionary Guards al Quds division, Col. Fars Hassami, who DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports is not the only high-profile Iranian officer in American hands. Another is Mohammad Jaafari Sahra-Rudi, who was the kingpin of Iran’s terrorist operations in large parts of Iraq. His long record includes leading the Iranian death squad which assassinated Iran’s Kurdish Democratic Party leader Dr. Abdol-Rahman Qasemlou in Vienna in 1989. Austrian security services caught the assassin but sent him back to Iran as part of a secret transaction between the two countries.
Qasemlou operated in Iraq under his real identity and even met with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani just a few days before he was captured in the American raid of the Iranian “liaison office” in Irbil last month.
Tehran shows signs of getting desperate. With every passing day that US interrogators spend grilling its top agents, more secrets are being spilled about Iranian networks in Iraq, as well as their ties with al Qaeda groups and the Sunni insurgent and terrorist groups still loyal to Saddam Hussein’s Baath.
Soldiers with blue eyes and fair hair – beware!
The Iranians have explored every channel they can think of to break the agents out of American custody. When they realized that the United States was adamant about holding on to them, the heads of the Revolutionary Guards decided to go ahead with their campaign of abductions against US troops in Iraq. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad approved.
The most radical wing of the Revolutionary Guards is accompanying the campaign with explicit threats.
Reza Zaker, a RG officer who personally took part in more than one clandestine attack on American soldiers in Iraq and other foreign missions, signed an article appearing Monday, Jan. 29, in the RG weekly Sobh-e Sadeq. He warned that American soldiers risked being kidnapped “not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan, India, South America, Europe, the Central Asian Republics, the Caucasian etc.”
The article went on to say: “For loyal adherents of the Islamic Republic to kidnap American soldiers anywhere in the world is easier than robbing a container of Chinese knock-offs.” Reza Zaker claimed: “Iran has a detailed list of American soldiers with blue eyes and fair hair.” And, for good measure: “Iran can liquidate Israeli Mossad agents anywhere on earth, kidnap or kill British spies, and also grab the boats and ships of Western security forces.”
The Iranian Internet site Asr-e Iran, which speaks for the same radical RG faction, warned American troops would pay a heavy price for President George W. Bush’s okay last week for US forces to capture or kill Iranian agents.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources add: At the beginning of this week, the heads of Iran’s intelligence and subversive networks in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf Arab emirates were recalled urgently to base in Tehran for updates and drilling in new security precautions against capture by American soldiers or agents.
Key operatives were kept at home base until the threat blows over.