What goes around comes around.
Iranian agents patented the systematic kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s. In 1979, the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic held the entire US embassy in Tehran hostage for 222 days.
A copycat went to work in Iraq three weeks ago and abducted Iran’s consul-general in the Shiite town of Kerbala. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the region reveal that Fereydoun Jahani has begun singing his head off to his captors about his government’s most secret plans of subversion in Iraq.
Our intelligence sources report that Jahani was snatched by agents of Iraqi defense minister Hazem Shaalan, on orders from the CIA, in one of the most audacious intelligence operations mounted so far to uncover Iran’s plans for Iraq. He was caught sitting in an Iranian embassy car surrounded by diplomatic pouches stuffed with top secret intelligence documents. They included encryption keys used by the Iranian consulate in Najaf – its codes are changed daily or weekly – and a list of Iraqi agents with whom Jahani was to rendezvous and for whom he was to serve as handler.
They were led to him by four Iranian spies posing as Iranian chamber of commerce representatives, who were arrested earlier in a joint CIA-Iraqi security operation. This quartet parted with a bonanza of valuable leads, one of which fingered the Karbala consul.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources discovered that the captured diplomat was held until recently in an Iraqi intelligence safe house in Baghdad under tight CIA supervision. He has since been transferred to the high security al-Aameriah prison.
As an officer in the radical Revolutionary Guards of Iran, with wide experience in espionage and subversion, Jahani was trained to withstand torture. The first two days, he stayed mum, despite physical pressure. But his interrogators, who included Farsi-speaking former intelligence officers from the fierce Iraq-based Iranian opposition group, Mujahideen al-Khalq, finally managed to break him. The CIA gave Jahani two options: Tell us all you know and get a free ticket to the United States along with a new identity and a promise to try and bring your family out of Iran, or die a horrible death under torture.
It was a no-brainer: Jahani disgorged a torrent of secrets that stunned his new American friends. He supplied key details of a Tehran plan to bring about thousands of deaths in Iraqi cities by mega-terror attacks instigated on the eve of the US presidential election in November.
He exposed the extent of Iran’s cooperation with Moqtada Sadr‘s followers, the sums transferred to him and the arms Tehran bought from Baath guerrilla chiefs for arming the firebrand Shiite cleric’s Mehdi Army militia.
The Americans learned that a vast numbers of Iraqi army weapons stores were diverted by their former commanders to hideouts. They were being used as a huge stockpile for the insurgent war against US troops and offered for sale to the highest bidders – Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Iranian purchasing agents.
On August 9, by which time Jahani had pretty well come clean, Iraqi intelligence officers raided the Baghdad offices of the Iranian news agency IRNA. There they picked up Mustafa Darban, a senior staffer in supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s special bureau for coordinating subversive activities in Iraq. Darban was on assignment as controller of agents and liaison officers in Baghdad and Sunni Triangle cities, including Fallujah.
Darban was an important catch, credited with having a lot more information than the Karbala consul on Iran’s plans for Iraq and the identities of its agents there. Two of Darban’s Iraqi assistants, Khoffaji and Mohsen Madani and his local driver Abu Ali, a member of the Iranian ring, were also picked up.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly has learned that Darban has also succumbed to persuasion and begun talking, although he was tougher to crack than Jahani.
The American-Iraqi breakup of several Iranian rings in Iraq could not have been timed worse for Tehran. As the military noose tightened around Sadr holed up in the Imam Ali Mausoleum with his men, Khamenei’s man in Baghdad, Darban, gave out incriminating testimony of the radical Iraqi Shiite’s plan to proclaim within days the establishment of an independent Shiite republic in Najef.
Aware of the net closing in as a result of disclosures by captured key agents, Iran’s charge d’affaires in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, has ordered Iranian clandestine network leaders in Iraq to go underground and cut off communications with Tehran until further notice.
Not all of Iran’s undercover men and liaison agents managed to slip away in time. DEBKA-Net-Weekly revealed last week that Iraqi agents acting on US directions have arrested more than 100 Iranian agents in Najaf and Karbala in the past two weeks. Some were given away by Jahani, Darban and others under interrogation.
On August 8 and 9, US troops ransacked Najaf’s hotels, big and small, and lodging houses for Muslim pilgrims, and took more than 60 Iranian agents or suspected operatives into custody. Similar operations were conducted in Karbala, Basra and Baghdad.
While heavily dented by these operations, Iran’s massive network of spies and subversives in Iraq has not been completely wiped out. This network is well compartmentalized, each of its several arms working independently of and in ignorance of the others.
US intelligence is aiming to uncover the identities of the liaison officers who are the vulnerable links connecting the various arms.
Iraqi defense minister Shaalan has meanwhile received a death threat from Tehran unless he releases Jahani, Darban and the other captive Iranian agents without delay. The Iranians warn they would make sure his assassination is laid at the door of the CIA and that the Iraqi street is told that he had been disposed of because “he knew too much” about US intelligence activities. Backing up its threat, Iran boasts that the heads of two Shiite tribes, the Najaf and the Divaniyah, have already hired assassins for the job.
Shaalan is not taking the threat lying down. “They’ll soon learn who they’re dealing with,” he said, promising to lay bare the full extent of Iran’s conspiracies and acts of subversion against his country.
But even as its top agents are picked off in Iraq, Tehran is very much on the go. The Iranians continue without pause to run quantities of arms into Iraq from Iran and Syria. The smuggled hardware is stored in secret depots in Baghdad, Nasiriya, Basra, al-Kut, al-Amara, Samarra and Baqouba, to name a few of their locations.
According to our Iranian sources, some 235 al Qaeda fighters have completed a special sabotage course at a training facility the Revolutionary Guard’s al-Quds Brigades have set up near the city of Saghez, across the border from Iraq. The “graduates” are then smuggled into Iraq.