Dubai again figured in a key intelligence affair when Tuesday, Feb. 23, an Iranian bomber forced down a Kyrgyzstan airliner heading out of the emirate to seize its most wanted fugitive, Abdol Malek Rigi, leader of the Baluchi Jund Allah underground movement.
He was shown in a triumphal Iranian TV broadcast being taken away in handcuffs, accompanied by four masked men.
Iranian intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi accused the UK, the US, Israel of "aiding and abetting" the Sunni Muslim Jund Allah, which is said to strike against Tehran government targets from a base in neighboring Pakistan. He said Rigi visited an American base 24 hours before his capture, but did not state its location.
He was arrested with two other members of his group. debkafile's intelligence and counter-terror sources term Rigi's capture a major coup for Iranian intelligence and correspondingly a resounding setback for Western clandestine operations against the Islamic regime.
The group's most devastating attack occurred on Oct. 18, 2009, when two Revolutionary Guards generals and more than 40 others, including 8 senior Guards officers, were killed in a suicide attack while on a visit to the southeastern town of Pisheen near the Pakistan border.
Gen. Nur Ali Shoustari, a victim of the attack, was the ground forces commander of the Al Qods Brigades, the Guards special arm for external terrorist operations in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. At the time, Tehran angrily accused the CIA, British MI6 secret service and the Pakistani SIS of orchestrating, training and funding Jund Allah's campaign.
Dubai has become a buzzing hive of international espionage, with terrorist leaders moving in and out with the same freedom as the anti-terror agents keeping tabs on them. For the Baluchi Sunni activist, it was the ideal venue for quiet meetings with his backers, including United Arab Emirates' and Saudi Arabian intelligence operatives.
Our intelligence experts say that with his capture, Iran has gone one better even than the liquidation of Hamas executive Mahmoud al-Mabhouh – also in Dubai – last month.
Iranian undercover agents, ordered to bring him in alive, must have been on his tail for months up to the moment when they could pin him down and nab him.
The sparse details filtering through from Dubai and Tehran by Wednesday morning, Feb. 24, indicate that Abdol Malek Rigi boarded Kyrgyzstan Airways flight QH454 bound from Dubai for Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, on Tuesday. He was not traveling with bodyguards. A group of Iranian special operatives were among the 119 passengers. The flight was intercepted as soon as it crossed into Iranian airspace near Bandar Abbas and forced by an Iranian warplane to land at a military air base.
Rigi, who was asleep, was woken up by Iranian agents, who arrested him and seized the papers and documents in his possession.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Intelligence minister Moslehi displayed an Afghan passport which he said the Americans had given Rigi. The arrested man, he said, had admitted at his initial interrogation, to having been in contact with US and British intelligence services.
debkafile's Iranian sources report Tehran is already going to town on "evidence" garnered from the Jund Allah to prove CIA and MI6 are sponsoring terrorist attacks in Iran, with every effort made to incriminate the Israeli Mossad as well.
A US spokesman in Washington denied all the Iranian charges as false and baseless. A British spokesman refused to respond to the news of Rigi's capture or Tehran's claims that he had been in touch with the British secret service.