Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Iran 'is training the next al-Qa'eda leaders'
By Con Coughlin London Daily Telegraph Last Updated: 1:58am GMT 15/11/2006 Iran plotting to groom bin Laden's successor Uranium detected in Iranian waste dump Iran is seeking to take control of Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda terror network by encouraging it to promote officials known to be friendly to Teheran, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.According to recent reports received by Western intelligence agencies, the Iranians are training senior al-Qa'eda operatives in Teheran to take over the organisation when bin Laden is no longer leader.Rumours have been circulating about the state of his health for several months. Bin Laden, 49, who is known to suffer from kidney problems that require regular dialysis, has not appeared in one of his videotapes for more than two years, prompting speculation that he is dead. A leaked report from the French intelligence service, the DGSE, in September suggested bin Laden, who has a $25 million price on his head, had died of typhoid earlier this year.Even if he is still alive, intelligence officials are working on the assumption that his ability to control the organisation has been severely diminished, and that most of the day-to-day running is being undertaken by Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's Egyptian-born number two.Iran has always maintained close relations with al-Qa'eda, even though the Shia Muslim state is known to have many ideological and strategic differences with the terror group's Sunni leadership. Western intelligence officials now believe that Iran is trying to cultivate a new generation of al-Qa'eda leaders who will be prepared to work closely with Teheran when they eventually take control.Recent intelligence reports from Iran suggest the Iranians are particularly keen to promote Saif-al-Adel, a notorious al-Qa'eda operative who is wanted in the United States for his alleged role in training several of the September 11 hijackers.Al-Adel, 46, a former colonel in Egypt's special forces who joined al-Qa'eda after fighting with the Mujahideen against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, was named in the FBI's list of 22 most wanted terrorists that was issued after the September 11 attacks. He is also alleged to have been involved in the deaths of 18 US soldiers in Somalia in 1993 and the truck bomb attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Al-Adel has, technically, been living under house arrest in Teheran since fleeing to Iran in late 2001 with hundreds of other al-Qa'eda fighters following the US-led coalition's invasion of Afghanistan.For the past five years he has been living in a Revolutionary Guards guest house in Teheran together with Saad and Mohammed bin Laden, two of the al-Qa'eda leader's sons.Until 2003, al-Adel acted as bin Laden's security chief and since his arrival in Iran he is understood to have struck up a close personal relationship with several prominent Revolutionary Guards commanders. The Iranians are now exerting pressure on al-Qa'eda's leadership to make al-Adel the organisation's number three which, given bin Laden's poor state of health, would effectively make him number two. This would put him in a strong position to take control of the entire al-Qa'eda network in the event of Zawahiri being killed or being unable to continue running the group."This is an important power play by the Iranians and the prospect of al-Qa'eda and Iran forging a close alliance is truly terrifying," said a senior Western intelligence official. "They have had their differences in the past, but with the survival of both Iran and al-Qa'eda now at stake they realise it is in both their interests to have closer ties." Iran's attempts to forge closer links with al-Qa'eda are understood to have been ordered by President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who believes Iran and al-Qa'eda share similar aims — destroying the influence of America and its allies in the wider Middle East. Mr Ahmedinejad is also keen to strengthen the alliance in case Iran is subjected to United Nations sanctions over its refusal to halt its nuclear enrichment programme, which many Western governments believe is being undertaken as part of a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.If al-Qa'eda is agreeable to appointing al-Adel and other al-Qa'eda figures currently based in Iran to senior positions, the Iranians have agreed to provide training facilities and equipment. Links between Iran and al-Qa'eda date back to the early 1990s, when bin Laden was based in Sudan. According to the US 9/11 Commission report, Iran's Revolutionary Guards helped to train al-Qa'eda fighters, and the Iranians were suspected of helping al-Qa'eda to carry out the truck bomb attacks against an American military base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in June 1996 that killed 19 US servicemen.The growing links are being viewed with profound alarm in Western intelligence circles. Iran has a long history of sponsoring terror groups. The Revolutionary Guards were primarily responsible for setting up, financing, training and equipping Hizbollah, the radical Lebanese militia that now stands accused of plotting to overthrow the Lebanese government and seize power.Any increase in Iran's influence over al-Qa'eda could have potentially devastating consequences for international security. Al-Qa'eda has made no secret of its desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction — including "dirty" nuclear bombs.Intelligence experts believe that Iran will soon have the capacity to develop its own nuclear weapons and Teheran is also known to have developed a highly effective chemical weapons programme."We are looking at a Doomsday scenario here where al-Qa'eda finally fulfils its ultimate goal of acquiring weapons of mass destruction," said a senior Western intelligence official. "And unlike other terror groups, al-Qa'eda is perfectly willing to use them."