Friday, June 24, 2005
Al-Qaida finds safe haven in Iran. (Hat tip: bgmacaw)
Somewhere north of Tehran, living perhaps in villas near the town of Chalous on the Caspian Sea coast, are between 20 and 25 of al-Qaida’s former leaders, along with two of Osama bin Laden’s sons.
Men such as Saif al-Adel, the former military commander of al-Qaida, and Suleiman Abu Ghaith, the bespectacled bin Laden spokesman, are not in hiding but rather in the care — or custody — of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
“They are under virtual house arrest,” not able to do much of anything, said one senior U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
How they got there and what will happen to them is one of the more intriguing stories of the war on terror, one that is filled with secret movements, stolen communications and a failed attempt at a prisoner exchange involving Iranian dissidents.
Al-Qaida’s leadership had been divided into consultative and management councils, both of which reported to bin Laden.
The consultative council, the “al shura,” was viewed as the more critical to the terror network's continued operations. Its members, including bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, would flee east to cities in Pakistan. There, over the next few years, many key players would be picked up and bundled off to interrogation centers with great regularity. Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaida’s recruitment and training leader — known as the “dean of students” — was arrested in Faisalabad. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, its operations commander, was grabbed in Rawalpindi; two of his deputies, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Abu Faraj al Libbi, were taken in Karachi and Multan, and other lesser figures were regularly rousted by Pakistani forces.
The management council went west, to northern Iran, where the United States had little sway and the Iranians had little interest in pushing for their arrests. The group included al-Adel and abu Ghaith; Shaik Said, al-Qaida's chief financial officer; Abu Hafs, al-Qaida’s personnel director; the two top aides to Zawahiri; and a mysterious Yemeni, Abu Dahak, who served as al-Qaida’s ambassador to the rebels in Chechnya. On a personal level, two of bin Laden’s teenage sons, Sa’ad and Hamza, also were taken to Iran.