Iran`s al-Qaeda confusion
Iran announced prematurely this week that it had renewed full diplomatic relations with Egypt. It added, as a sweetener, that a street in Tehran had been renamed Intifada street from Khaled Islambuli street, after the Egyptian who assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981. Egypt denied that ties had yet been resumed, but agreed that contacts between the two countries were continuing. debkafile reports on these contacts, which hinge on the extradition of the Egyptian terrorists that Iran says it is holding.
In May 2003, a month after the fall of Baghdad, Iran requested that an Egyptian delegation should come to Tehran to discuss renewing relations. The delegation went, and since then three or four senior Egyptian diplomats and intelligence people have been stationed in Tehran.
The Iranians, as a gesture of goodwill, told the Egyptians that Sayef al-Adal, a senior operative of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, who was responsible for organizing the May 12 2003 attack on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, was in Iran. They later said that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of Islamic Jihad and Osama’s bin Laden’s deputy, was also in Iran. They also named Showqi Islambuli , the brother of President Sadat’s assassin, and gave Egypt a list of some 60 Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda operatives.
The Egyptians want some of these men extradited, and Iran appeared to be carrying out similar negotiations with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and the US. Jordan wants the extradition of Abu Mus’ab Lal-Zarqawi, an al-Qaeda operative whom the Turks accuse of being responsible for attacks on Jewish and British buildings in Istanbul in November 2003. Iran apparently agreed that the named men should be extradited to their country of citizenship.
But what is totally unclear is whether all or any of these men are actually detained by the Iranian authorities or are just known to have passed through Iranian territory. Their presence is said to be known to the Iranian authorities and they appear to have been, or are being, kept under surveillance. But does it go beyond this? In fact, the muddle goes even deeper.
The Iranians eventually told the Egyptians that Sayef al-Adal , who had presented an Egyptian passport, was now presenting a Kuwaiti one. Even more confusingly, they said that al-Zawahiri’s name was on the list by mistake. It appeared that forged passports, perhaps originating in Bahrain, were around the place. Kuwait and Bahrain then told Iran that they had no such citizens and were not interested in extradition.
On July 22 2003 Egypt made its position clear. General Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s intelligence minister, arrived on a secret visit toTehran with a message from President Hosni Mubarak to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei : ” Either you extradite the Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda operatives that you have said you have or diplomatic ties will not be resumed.” debkafile sources report that Suleiman waited all August in Tehran without getting a clear answer from Iran, and eventually returned empty-handed. This remains Egypt’s position.
The latest twist in the story was reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly on January 2 2004. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.
On December 29 Iran surprised Egypt and the US by saying it had arrested Ahmad Khasan al-Nadush Khayer (nom de guerre Siyasiya), the operation chief of Islamic Jihad’s and al-Qaeda’s special forces. Khayer, an Egyptian whose real name is Abdullah Muhammad Ragab, is a close associate of al-Zawahiri.
A senior official told debkafile that US counter-terrorist authorities would like nothing better than to speak with Khayer: “If anyone in al-Qaeda knows when and where the fundamentalist terrorists mean to strike in the coming days or hours, Siyasiya is that man. But we have to be realistic. After all, we are dealing with the Iranians and aside from their claim to have arrested him. We may not hear a word of him ever again.”
The very fact that Iran reported that it was holding Khayer shows that it is renewing its efforts to achieve ties with Egypt. But the history of evasions and contradictions makes Egypt ultra-cautious. Egypt’s foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, said on January 7th that the two countries are discussing the possibility of renewing their relations. This, in effect, is a repetition of Omar Suleiman’s message last summer: “Extradite wanted Egyptian terrorists and we will resume diplomatic relations. Otherwise not.”