Pakistan Intelligence Aided Iran’s Seizure of Jund Allah leader
Tehran's triumphant version of its coup in capturing Abdul Malek Rigi, leader of the Sunni Jund Allah movement of Baluchistan, Tuesday night Feb. 23 was nearly spot-on, although the claim that it was carried out solely by Iranian intelligence agents was untrue.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources confirm that the wanted man did indeed board Kyrgyzstan Airways flight QH454 taking off from Dubai to Bishkek, capital city of Kyrgyzstan, with 119 passengers aboard, among them a posse of Iranian agents disguised as tourists.
Rigi really was woken up rudely from sleep when the flight was intercepted by Iranian fighter jets and forced to land at an Iranian military airbase – except that the plane did not come down at Bandar Abbas as officially claimed, but, according to our information, at Shiraz in southwest Iran.
Four masked Iranian agents then arrested the Jund Allah leader and impounded his papers and documents.
Among them was an Afghan passport which Iranian intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi told a press conference Thursday had been provided by the Americans. He claimed that Rigi admitted to links with US and British intelligence at his first interrogation session.
Moslehi was also correct in reporting that Rigi had been sighted 24 hours before his arrest at an American military base. He did not name its location, but DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources disclose that the Jund Allah leader had visited US headquarters at Kandahar, South Afghanistan, Monday, Feb. 22. From there, he flew to Dubai, possibly by civilian airliner operated by the US military, on his way to Bishbek and the large American base nearby at Manas.
A serious blow to covert US operations among Iran's minorities
This sort of information in Tehran's hands makes it hard for Washington to deny the close US military and intelligence officials maintained with Jund Allah and its leader. And America's covert operations for assisting Iran's disaffected minorities in their struggle against the Islamic government in Tehran cannot conceal the painful blow to their plans delivered by Iran's exploit.
Some Middle East intelligence sources call Rigi's capture Iran's biggest intelligence coup since July 12, 1989, when Iranian agents killed Abdelrahman Qassemlou, leader of the pro-independence Iranian Kurdish movement-KDPI upon his arrival in Vienna to negotiate autonomy with emissaries of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The army of agents and hit-men Tehran fielded for snaring the Jund Allah leader and extracting him from his base in Pakistani Baluchistan was no smaller than the purported Israeli team, which executed the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh hit in Dubai in late January.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources disclose that Iran achieved its objective in two stages:
1. Islamabad has long resisted Tehran's demand to surrender the Jund Allah leader, ever since October 18, 2009 when his operatives managed on to kill two Revolutionary Guards generals and eight other commanders in a suicide attack in the southeastern Iranian city of Pisheen, near the Pakistani border.
Pakistan stood by its refusal – even after Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Jafari bluntly accused US and British services of being behind what was clearly a disastrous attack and threatened them with "crushing" punishment.
Tehran sidesteps Islamabad, which then plays ball
At some point, Tehran decided to sidestep Islamabad by heavily bribing Pakistani officials and intelligence officers in Baluchistan to smuggle Rigi out to Iran. An estimated $10 millions was eventually spent on this maneuver. But it was money down the drain; in January, the Pakistani bribe-takers refused to play ball with Iran's insistence on its own special forces going into their territory and grabbing their quarry just like US special forces were allowed to operate in Pakistan against al-Qaeda and Taliban.
2. In the middle of some heavy haggling over how the wanted man was to be seized and delivered to Iran, Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency, ISI, stepped in with an offer to hand the Jund Allah leader over to Iran against Tehran's pledge to refrain from activating the intelligence and special operations units it maintains under cover inside Pakistan, as well as keeping Pakistan's role in the affair very dark.
The ISI intervened when they saw the Iranians had been sitting on Rigi's tail for five months and had discovered his hiding place near the Pakistani Baluchi capital of Quetta.
The Iranians accepted the ISI offer. Saturday and Sunday, February 20-21, Pakistani intelligence officers passed to their Iranian colleagues the pertinent information for monitoring the wanted Baluchi's movements in Afghanistan and let them know he was scheduled to land in Dubai on Tuesday, February 23 en route for Kyrgyzstan.
Pakistan takes revenge for being excluded from Afghanistan's future
Islamabad kept its promise and did not giver the game away to Washington for three main reasons, reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources:
1. The Pakistanis were bent on preventing the Americans whisking the Jund Allah leader and his men to a safe haven to frustrate their deal with Iran.
2. They too have a stake in immobilizing the Sunni Jund Allah movement because its struggle for Baluchi independence embraces not only the Iranian province but also its twin in Pakistan. While the ISI would have preferred to keep Rigi under its watchful eye inside Pakistan Baluchistan, sending him away for years as a hostage in an Iranian prison was seen as good solution for Islamabad as well.
3. The Pakistanis have a large bone to pick with the Americans for attempting to cut them out of diplomacy on the future of Afghanistan (as mentioned in another part of this issue). SIS strategists decided that Islamabad needed to win friends for extra leverage to outmaneuver US plans for Afghanistan.
The obvious partner appeared to be Tehran, which too is excluded from those plans.
With these motives in mind, Pakistani intelligence strategists went into action to satisfy Tehran's ambition to catch the Jund Allah leader, a move which also knocked the legs out from under the US covert destabilization effort against the Islamic Republican regime.