Thomas Kean, chairman of the
Iran gave free passage to up to 10 of the September 11 hijackers just months before
the 2001 attacks and offered to co-operate with al-Qa'eda against the US, an American
report will say this week.
The all-party report by the 9/11 Commission, set up by Congress in 2002, will
state that Iran, not Iraq, fostered relations with the al-Qa'eda network in
the years leading up to the world's most devastating terrorist attack.
The bipartisan commission has established that between eight and 10 of the September
11 hijackers, who had been based in Afghanistan, travelled through Iran between
October 2000 and February 2001. The terrorists in question are believed to have
been the "muscle" - hired to storm the aircraft cockpits and overpower
crew and passengers.
Iranian officials were instructed not to harrass al-Qa'eda personnel as they
crossed the border and, in some cases, not to stamp their passports.
According to testimony received by the commission - based on information from
prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and about 100 electronic intercepts by the National
Security Agency - an alliance of convenience was established between the Shia
Muslim Iranian leadership and the Sunni terrorist organisation, well before
September 11, 2001.
The report is expected to confirm the claim by Thomas Kean, its chairman, last
month that "there were a lot more active [al-Qa'eda] contacts, frankly,
with Iran and Pakistan, than there were with Iraq".
It will further inflame tensions between Washington and Teheran, where hardliners
are threatening to restart its uranium enrichment programme, a key step towards
building nuclear weapons.
A commission official, quoted in the latest edition of Time magazine, alleges
that Iranian officials approached Osama bin Laden after the bombing of the USS
Cole in 1999, proposing a joint strategy of attacks on US interests.
A preliminary report from commission staff, released last month, stated: "Bin
Laden's representatives and Iranian officials discussed putting aside Shia-Sunni
divisions to co-operate against the common enemy."
The offer is said to have been turned down by bin Laden, who was reluctant
to alienate Sunni supporters in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, in the wake of September
11, Iran sheltered al-Qaeda militants fleeing Afghanistan.
The full report by the commission is also expected to endorse initial conclusions
that al-Qa'eda may have been involved in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers
complex in Saudi Arabia, when 19 American servicemen were killed. The attack
has long been blamed solely on Hizbollah, a Lebanese terrorist group backed
Iran was declared part of an "axis of evil", along with Iraq and
North Korea, by President George W. Bush in 2002. The report will add to pressure
for Iran's theocratic rulers to be the first target of a re-elected Bush administration.
Hawks within the administration want a concerted effort to overturn the regime
by peaceful means.
Some Bush officials are privately contemplating a possible military strike
against Iran's nuclear facilities before Russian fuel rods are delivered next
Teheran said yesterday that it had arrested an unspecified number of Iranian