Aside from his playboy son and model daughter, Osama bin Laden has a jihadist scion called Saad, aged 29, whom he has not seen for seven years. Since the Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan in 2001, Saad bin Laden has been living in Iran, most of the time apparently under house arrest.
This week, Western security officials in London disclosed the contents of a letter written by al Qaeda's No.2 Ayman Zawahri and addressed to al Qaeda activists in Iran, including bin Laden Jr. It was dispatched shortly after car bombers attacked the US embassy in Yemen on Sept. 17, killing sixteen local people.
Zawahri expressed al Qaeda leadership's appreciation for Iran's “generosity” in “monetary and infrastructure assistance”, without which the group would not have been able to carry out the Sanaa operation.
He also thanked Iran for having the “vision” to help the jihadists establish a new foothold in Yemen after having to abandon most of their Iraq and Saudi bases.
The security officials, who released the letter, confirmed that Iran had provided al Qaeda fighters moving between the Middle East and Asia with a strategic transit route. They found it interesting that Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) had bridged the Shiite-Sunni divide to assist the Sunni fundamentalist al Qaeda's terrorist networks.
Al Qaeda operatives as Tehran's vehicles of terror
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources round out this picture by naming another high-ranking al Qaeda operative, who has spent the last seven years in Iran with Saad bin Laden. He is Saif al Adel, one of the organization's senior operations officers and an intimate of both Osama and Zuwahri.
In 2004, Tehran let al Adel loose to mastermind a string of deadly attacks in the Saudi capital. Today, Iran is using bin Laden junior to pursue its objectives in Yemen.
Although embarrassed by being caught out in covert operations, Tehran has not responded directly to the charge of abetting al Qaeda's attack on the US embassy in Sanaa. By a roundabout route, Iranian journalists with ties to Iranian intelligence, writing in Singapore and Pakistan on-line publications, have accused the Bush administration of drumming up the charges to set the scene for a US or Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites.
But more than this is going on:
1. The reasons for American embassy in Damascus to be evacuated on Dec. 30 immediately after the US struck an East Syrian center of cross-terror activity in Iraq: Washington was tipped off that in addition to a possible Syrian revenge attack on the embassy, Iranian intelligence elements in Syria might hire Islamic extremists to hit the compound using the same methods as the attack on the US embassy in Sanaa.
2. The heavy Iranian intervention in the Yemeni rebellion led by Hussein al-Houthi with a massive injection of weapons and money.
Yemen – a vibrant hub of conflict
DEBKA-net-Weekly 355 on June 4 (Iran within a Hand's-Breadth of its First Base on Saudi Border) described how Iran for the first time in its history was coming close to acquiring a strategic foothold in the Arabian Peninsula on Saudi Arabia's doorstep, with access to the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa.
One of the reasons Tehran so strongly denounced Somali piracy, aside from the obvious threat to its merchant shipping, is the fact they had brought a large Western naval presence to neighboring waters and interfered with Iran's plans to seize control of the Gulf of Aden by infesting its waters.
Because of tense activity in and around its shores, Yemen is building up into a key hub in the US-Saudi conflict with al Qaeda backed in this country by Iran. This development awaits the attention of the incoming US president Barack Obama and his security team, defense secretary Robert Gates and putative national security adviser Gen. James Jones when they deal with Iran.
Yemen president Ali Salah is skillfully skipping from side to side in an effort to come out of any confrontations unscathed.