Iran Moves More al Qaeda Fugitives to Lebanon
Two hundred thousand Iranians shouting Death to America marched through Tehran’s streets on the 23rd anniversary of Khomeini’s Islamic revolution. They heard president Mohammed Khatami declare America’s mistaken policies were partly responsible for the September 11 bombing, but nothing of their government’s share in whisking al Qaeda leaders to safety from Afghanistan, or its role in the Middle East web of terror.
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly, in its last issue of Feb. 8,reported from its military and intelligence sources that,with Tehran’s active assistance, one of Osama bin Laden’s five top operatives, Zayan al-Abdeen Mohammed Hussein, better known by his nom de guerre of Abu Zubeidah, made it to Lebanon. There, he shelters behind a security wall made up of his own 30-35-man band of al Qaeda henchmen, some 50 Iran-backed Hizballah, Lebanon-based agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Palestinian operatives mustered by Yasser Arafat’s man in South Lebanon, Sultan Abdul Ayan, strongman of the local Fatah militias. Syrian intelligence officers are not far away.
Abu Zubeidah’s whereabouts were pinpointed by Israeli intelligence at the end of January and flashed to Washington.
Since then, American troops, including special forces, have poured into Turkey, Israel and Jordan, preparing a major operation to throw the net over the wanted man. US military spy satellites and manned and pilot-less surveillance planes have been diverted to keep tabs on his every move and make sure he does not escape.
Nabbing Abu Zubeidah would be the biggest coup of the US war on terror, sorely needed after the failure to bring any prominent al Qaeda leaders to Camp X-Ray in Cuba – and especially after the tall, authoritative man killed last week by a missile fired from a pilotless CIA plane near the Ahawar Kili caves in south-eastern Afghanistan, turned out not to be the ex-Saudi terrorist.
Abu Zubeideh is the first member of bin Laden’s five-man inner operational team to be located for sure since the war in Afghanistan began on October 7 – one, moreover, who is directly implicated in the September 11 assaults in New York and Washington, the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 and the attack that crippled the USS Cole in Aden harbor two years later.
At the same time, debkafile‘s counter-terror sources do not think he is as big a fish in the terror network as is believed by US intelligence and some circles in Afghanistan. He almost certainly did take part in those major operations, but mostly on the logistical rather than the operational side. He is believed to have run al Qaeda’s training facilities around the world, including Afghanistan, for a time, between 1998 and 2001, after which he was mostly engaged in providing passports, funds, arms and explosives for terrorists on the move.
Iranian leaders know his presence in Lebanon was uncovered as a result of the Israeli military intelligence investigation of the Karine-A arms smuggling affair. The top al Qaeda man was found to have enjoyed safe passage through Iran and to have been made welcome for several days on the Iranian island of Kish near the Straits of Hormuz, the same island from which the Karin-A took on its contraband arms cargo for the Palestinians.
Abu Zubeideh reached Lebanon aboard yet another of the arms ships plying the clandestine Iranian sea route ferrying weapons to terrorist end-users – the Hizballah in Lebanon, Palestinians in Jordan directed by Arafat to plot against King Abdullah II, and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.
Later, the Americans discovered that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s hardline Hezb-e-Islami faction took a hand in getting Abu Zubeideh through to safety. This Afghan extremist has vowed to fight the Americans and bring down the Karzai interim government in Kabul. To appease Washington, the Iranians two days ago shut down his offices and training centers and announced plans to expel him.
Tehran may vehemently deny complicity in removing al Qaeda men out of America’s reach, but, in defiance of sharp warnings from Washington, the ayatollahs are still at it.
debkafile‘s military sources report that American intelligence has just got wind of an Iranian Kurdish escape operation. In the last week of January, a 200-strong group of Kurdish al Qaeda fighters reached the Afghan-Iranian frontier. Members of the Jund al-Islam, an extremist group, hailing from the Urman district of the Shouman region of northern Iraq, they were destitute, without food or water, and on the point of turning themselves in to local tribes who would have handed them over to the authorities in Kabul.
Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen in the area offered them an alternative. The Kurdish militants would be given food, water, fresh ammo supplies, a few days rest and 500 dollars each, to be flown from Iran to Lebanon and join the Hizballah.
They accepted and in early February, reached Hizballah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards training camps in the BeqaaValley of east Lebanon. Within a week or two, US intelligence to expects to find them moving south to join the Abu Zubeidah contingent.