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Iran Report: February 25, 2002

25 February 2002, Volume 5, Number 7

WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN. The Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri, believed to be the second-highest official in Al-Qaeda and whose name appears on the U.S. Most Wanted Terrorists list, fled to Iran from Afghanistan and is being held in Evin Prison, "Hayat-i No" reported on 17 February. And an anonymous "senior Iranian politician" was quoted in the 12 February "Financial Times" as saying that Tehran is holding one or two high-level Taliban or Al-Qaeda figures "who would be of interest to the U.S." Tehran vociferously denies that al-Zawahiri is in Iran, but given the government's lack of credibility and Tehran's past relationship with Egyptian terrorists, such denials ring hollow.

Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani said, "Resalat" reported on 19 February, "The action of 'Hayat-i No' was contrary to the country's national interests, and basically the report is denied." The parliamentarian from Zanjan, Abolfazl Shakuri, said that he has not heard from any official or unofficial sources about al-Zawahiri's arrival in Iran. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied on 17 February that al-Zawahiri is in Iran.

One could question the veracity of Iranian officials on this issue, since they have contradicted themselves many times in the last two months (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 January, 4, 11, and 18 February 2002).

It is not unlikely that Ayman al-Zawahiri would seek refuge in Iran. Born in 1951 and later trained as a physician, the bespectacled al-Zawahiri became a leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad was founded in the 1970s and ideologically guided by Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, and its members assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Al-Zawahiri served three years in prison for his part in that killing. (A street in Tehran is named after Sadat's assassin, and the current Iranian charge d'affaires in Cairo has praised the assassin.) Iran and Sudan provide support to Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, from which it emerged, according to the government of Egypt.

The Egyptian Islamic Jihad eventually split into three branches, one of which is under the leadership of al-Zawahiri. This branch relocated to Afghanistan and is linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda. Al-Zawahiri was indicted for his part in the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and he is a signatory of bin Laden's fatwa that called for attacks against Americans. He is viewed as the brains behind the 11 September attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There is disagreement about his role in Al-Qaeda -- some see him as the number-two man and ideological chief, while others see him as the person who handles Al-Qaeda's financial operations and the real brains.

Tehran's support for Egyptian Islamic Jihad does not necessarily mean that al-Zawahiri is in Iran, but it does suggest that some Iranian officials would receive him warmly if he requested shelter. According to Western intelligence sources, members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad made their way to Iran from Afghanistan's Herat Province in December, "Frankfurter Allgemeine" reported on 18 February.

An Egyptian associated with Al-Qaeda, Mustafa Hamid (also known as Abu Walid), visited Iran in December 1995, according to U.S. intelligence reports cited in "The New York Times" on 31 December 2001. In 1996, furthermore, "a close ally of Mr. bin Laden sought out Iranian intelligence officers in Afghanistan to see if they would join forces with Mr. bin Laden to strike American targets." The Iranian intelligence personnel said they were willing to meet bin Laden in Afghanistan, but it is unclear if such a meeting ever occurred. An anonymous U.S. official told "The New York Times" that although there was no evidence of an alliance between Al-Qaeda and Iran, "Al-Qaeda operatives transiting Iran...would not be surprising." And although Al-Qaeda as an organized network has been disrupted, individual cells could be and probably are regrouping.

Al-Zawahiri and other Al-Qaeda elements may have left Afghanistan, but Western defense officials believe that some remain there. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers said during a 20 February press briefing in Kandahar: "[T]here are still significant -- we think -- pockets of Al-Qaeda and Taliban, there is still some leadership of those organizations that we think are still in Afghanistan, and until we do our best to eradicate those pockets I think we'll be here for whatever time it takes after that." And Colonel Giorgio Battisti, commander of the Italian detachment with the International Security Assistance Force, said that "many observers claim that terrorist groups are still on the move, even in Kabul," Milan's weekly "Famigliana Cristiana" reported on 17 February. (Bill Samii)

MORE FOREIGN GUESTS IDENTIFIED. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique had described on 13 February the investigation into the claim of Spanish nationality by a detainee in Iran, and Iranian parliamentarian Mohsen Tarkashvan was quoted on 13 February as saying that some Al-Qaeda members had been arrested (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 February 2001).

Unidentified foreign diplomats said they were summoned to Evin Prison in an effort to establish the identity and nationality of the detainees, including seven or eight French people, one British person, and maybe Belgians, Dutch, Saudis, and Spaniards, the "Financial Times" reported on 18 February. French Ambassador Francois Nicoullaud said that "a number of people -- less than 10 -- who say they are French" are in this group, and "we are going through the process of checking their identity and nationality," AFP reported on 18 February. Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koen Vervaeke confirmed that Mohammad Slitti, a Belgian male of North African origin, is among those detained in Iran, AP reported on 19 February. Slitti is wanted in Belgium in connection with the early-September assassination of Afghan resistance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 18 February, according to state radio, "They [those arrested] may support this or that person or may have helped the Taliban in Afghanistan, but we have not found a member of Al-Qaeda." And on the surface Kabul seems satisfied with this approach. On the eve of a visit to Tehran, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah praised Tehran's arrest of suspected Al-Qaeda. "I should say very briefly that the Islamic Republic of Iran has already cooperated with Afghanistan against terrorism. And they have promised us that should they find any suspect related to Al-Qaeda, they will inform our security authorities. And they have had such cooperation with us," Abdullah said on 20 February. (Bill Samii)

AFGHANISTAN'S KARZAI VISITS TEHRAN. Afghan interim administration chief Hamid Karzai arrived in Tehran on 24 February for a two-day visit, his first since taking power in Kabul in December. Karzai will be accompanied by his ministers of water and electricity, of agriculture, of commerce, of justice, of information and culture, of foreign affairs, of transport, and of reconstruction, Tehran radio announced on 21 February.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah described the main topics to be addressed during a 20 February press conference in Kabul: "What will be discussed in the Islamic Republic of Iran will be to strengthen the relations and to expand it in different fields. Only from a situation that a representative government in Afghanistan rules, and the political process moves ahead and stability prevails, can neighboring countries benefit. Not from any other situation." This could be interpreted as a hint that Iranian efforts to arm specific factions -- in Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif -- and to have special operations forces in Afghanistan are not appreciated and are viewed as potentially disruptive and destabilizing.

Moreover, Tehran is continuing its efforts to discredit the leadership of Kandahar Province. Mashhad radio reported on 13 February that U.S. forces broke into mosques and religious schools in Kandahar and seized about 100 clerics, and it went on to infer that they would be subject to "inhuman treatment." Herat Governor Ismail Khan speculated that Taliban leaders and their families were living in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. Ismail Khan added that the Taliban had "simply changed their uniforms," IRNA reported on 20 February. Such statements could have a destabilizing effect and might be addressed during Karzai's visit to Tehran.

Abdullah Abdullah also said that refugee issues would be discussed, Radio Afghanistan reported on 20 February. Tehran currently operates two camps for internally displaced persons inside Afghanistan, and there are approximately 1.5 million legal and illegal Afghan refugees living in Iran. Karzai is expected to visit one of the refugee camps in Iran.

Tehran also could be interested in discussing the extradition of Molla Wali, the Taliban commander responsible for killing eight Iranian officials and an IRNA correspondent in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998. IRNA reported on 27 December that Molla Wali had been arrested by Northern Alliance forces at the beginning of the month and was being held in Herat.

The future of former Afghan Premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has been living in Iran for the last few years, would not be a topic of discussion, however. Hekmatyar has been vocally opposed to the interim administration, and Tehran recently closed the offices of his party, the Hizb-i Islami, and asked him to tone down his rhetoric (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 and 18 February 2001). Iranian newspapers reported on 19 February that Tehran has decided to expel Hekmatyar, although they did not say where he will go. Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Akram Tahir Hassan rejected reports that Hekmatyar will head for Baghdad, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 20 February.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said the interim administration views Hekmatyar as an opponent, but it is not asking Tehran for his extradition. Abdullah explained that Hekmatyar is not even important enough to be discussed: "The trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran is [meant] to expand and strengthen the relations between the two neighboring countries. And this issue is more important than the issue of Mr. Hekmatyar." (Bill Samii)

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL VISIT TO IRAN DELAYED AGAIN. The Republic of Azerbaijan's president, Heidar Aliev, was scheduled to visit Iran in late February, but that day passed and no future date for his visit was set. And it seems unlikely that such an event will occur soon, in light of a 21 February report from the official "Iran" newspaper that two days earlier Iranian navy ships chased away an Azerbaijani border patrol ship that "illegally entered...Iran's territorial waters in the Caspian Sea." The paper added, "Over the past several weeks, there have been repeated instances of confrontation between the two countries' coast-guard vessels." Until this report, it seemed that Baku and Tehran had overcome the tension of July and August over Iranian military threats against oil exploration in a disputed segment of the Caspian Sea, and the delay in the presidential visit could have been related to U.S.-Iran relations or to Aliev's questionable health.

The high point of Aliev's visit to Tehran would have been the signing of a dozen agreements and memoranda, according to Interfax on 30 January and ANS TV on 11 February. Among these would have been a revised treaty on friendship and cooperation, as well as agreements on air and cargo transport, art, customs, education, health care, plant quarantine, sports, trade, and veterinary services. But on 14 February the 78-year-old Aliyev underwent prostate surgery in a Cleveland clinic. Presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev said the president "continues to run the country," "RFE/RL Newsline" reported on 19 February, but he noted that 7-10 days' convalescence after such an operation is normal.

Recent relations between Tehran and Baku have been warm. Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari visited Azerbaijan from 21-25 January, and during this time several security agreements were signed. Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov said the two sides' cooperation in battling terrorism and narcotics trafficking is essential, IRNA reported on 23 January, adding, "The current visit to Baku of the Iranian interior minister will be a crucial step toward greater cooperation by both countries' police forces." And Azerbaijani National Security Minister Namiq Abbasov said the memorandum of understanding signed by the two sides will expand the way for further cooperation in counternarcotics and border security, IRNA reported, and he said that Azerbaijan is ready to cooperate with Iran in counterterrorism.

Musavi-Lari said Iran and Azerbaijan have reached an understanding on the exchange of prisoners. He also said that Iranian businessmen are keen to work in Azerbaijan. The Iranian interior minister added that Iran is ready to cooperate with the international community in the fight against terror if it is conducted under the aegis of the United Nations.

There have been other signs of improving ties. Azerbaijan's minister of economic development, Farhad Aliev, visited Tehran in late December to prepare the way for the presidential visit, and Tabriz's "Mahd-i Azadi" reported on 17 January that he was leading a "high-ranking economic and political delegation." Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev met with Iran's ambassador, Ahad Qazai, and military attache Major General Musa Shahabi, Baku Lider TV reported on 15 January, to discuss problems between their countries and the regional political and military situation.

Baku also repaid some $10.8 million of its debt to Iran for electricity supplied to the Nakhichevan exclave, IRNA reported on 12 January. Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Yagub Eyubov explained that Azerbaijan owes $44.3 million for imported electricity, and it must repay $2.7 million every three months. Mir Fatah Qarahbaq, the managing director of Iran's Azerbaijan Regional Electricity Organization (AREO), said there is no limit to how much electricity Iran would export to Azerbaijan, IRNA reported on 21 February. According to an agreement between the two countries, the Republic of Azerbaijan is to export 50 megawatts over four months and 170 megawatts over another four months, while Iran is to export 50 megawatts during the four-month cold season.

President George W. Bush's late-January consignment of Iran to the "axis of evil" cast a shadow on these warming ties, and there was speculation in Azerbaijani newspapers about the impact of possible Iran-U.S. hostilities. A 2 February analysis in Baku's Russian-language "Ekho" said Baku must decide if it will continue to support the antiterrorism coalition or maintain neutrality so relations with Iran are not harmed. Political scientist Rasim Musabayov said, according to "Ekho," that Baku should oppose a military conflict between Iran and the U.S. because it would have a harmful effect on the Azeris in Iran and because it would cause tension on the southern border. And if Baku is to assist Washington in any such campaign, it should get security guarantees, such as the establishment of NATO bases on Azerbaijani territory.

Economic expert Orxan Karimov speculated that a conflict would benefit Azerbaijan because of the rise in oil prices, Baku's "Yeni Musavat" reported on 13 February. On the other hand, a conflict would delay the expected $100 million worth of benefits from the North-South Transport Corridor that Baku, Moscow, and Tehran discussed last year.

Former Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofiq Zulfugarov said in the 19 February "Ekho" that Baku should not necessarily heed Washington, it should pursue its own interests. He added, "It has been stated on several occasions that a number of disputed problems between the two countries [Iran and Azerbaijan] could be resolved during a meeting between the two presidents. Taking into account all the statements made to this end, I think that such a visit would be useful." (Bill Samii)

DIVISIONS IN AZERI NATIONALIST MOVEMENT. Tabriz-based ethnic Azeri dissident Mahmudali Chehragani recently described the situation his co-ethnics face in Iran. "The Persian-dominated regime in Iran is carrying out cultural execution which, like other crimes, should be dealt with by an international court," he said in the 14 February issue of Copenhagen's "Berlingske Tidende." Chehragani described the lack of Azeri education, broadcast media, and publications. Chehragani said in the Danish daily that his movement has several hundred thousand supporters, especially in the universities, and some its leaders are in prison.

Chehragani's attempt to register for the 18 February 2000 parliamentary election allegedly was prevented by the authorities, and he and his supporters in the National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan (NLMSA) subsequently faced numerous legal problems (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 and 17 January and 20 March 2000). Nevertheless, the extent of Azerbaijani support for Chehragani is questionable. He was rebuffed when he tried to meet with Republic of Azerbaijan parliamentarians in Strasbourg, Baku's "Yeni Musavat" reported on 23 January. Moreover, Chehragani was removed from the NLMSA leadership for having stated that he would struggle for the autonomy of southern Azerbaijan within the Iranian state and in line with the Iranian constitution, Baku's "525 Gazet" reported on 22 January.

There are other movements advocating the rights of Iran's ethnic Azeris. The World Congress of Azerbaijanis reported that a delegation led by Ahmad Obali met with a U.S. State Department human rights official to discuss the situation faced by his co-ethnics in Iran. According to Baku's "525 Gazet" on 30 January, he said the regime banned the Azeri Turkic language, destroyed historical Azeri monuments, and changed Azeri place names. He added that his compatriots are tortured and murdered in prison. The United Azerbaijan Association called on Azerbaijan's law-enforcement and security agencies to increase security around oil fields, industries, and factories in light of Iranian threats to bomb neighboring countries and close oil routes, Baku's "Sarq" reported on 9 February. (Bill Samii)

THE WARRIOR SPIRIT IN AZERBAIJANI PROVINCES. "The people of the border provinces, especially West Azerbaijan, created eternal odysseys during the eight years of holy defense, and the bravery of the youth of this province will remain throughout time," Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 21 January, "Entekhab" reported the next day. Rafsanjani singled out for praise the martyred commander and cleric Mehdi Bakeri as a model for the revolutionary and fighting Muslim.

A tribute to another martyr, the youthful Basiji Hussein Fahmideh, took place in Bonab in mid-November. Bonab District Basij Resistance Force commander Colonel Yusef Riazi said of Fahmideh, "This Basiji youth showed great courage and unselfishness and, by sacrificing his life for a sublime and noble cause, he gave a great lesson of altruism, devotion, and self-sacrifice to everybody," "Mahd-i Azadi" reported. Riazi also told the audience at this event that the enemy has placed the Basij "among the primary targets of its vicious attacks." He also lashed out at those who put Iran's interests at risk for the sake of U.S. interests.

Supreme leader's representative Hojatoleslam Kuhestani said during a speech to the Hazrat-i Abbas 1st Brigade of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps that the Iranian military successfully fought on many fronts in the 1980s, when it was not prepared. "Today," he added, "the children of the revolution are much better prepared to defend our divine government and Islamic homeland," "Mahd-i Azadi" reported in December. (Bill Samii)

TOMORROW'S LEADERS ARE TODAY'S PRISONERS. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi spoke at Tehran University on 19 February, and although this was welcomed as a move toward openness and accountability, he did not say anything very substantive. A former minister of education described the students' main concerns in an interview with "RFE/RL Iran Report."

Most of Hashemi-Shahrudi's speech, according to state radio, was about the Iranian government's anticorruption campaign. He added the warning that, "Foreign enemies intend to infiltrate and gain control of our national economy in order to plunder our wealth." Much of the question-and-answer session was dedicated to this subject, too, although Hashemi-Shahrudi avoided specifics. His answers to the few questions regarding currently imprisoned students were vague, and he said that investigations into the summer 1999 Tehran University incident and the summer 2000 Khorramabad unrest were continuing in some cases. Hashemi-Shahrudi did say, however, that his request of the supreme leader to pardon all the students involved in these cases was granted on the morning of 19 February 2002.

Both before and after the event, several commentators welcomed the opportunity to hold a question-and-answer session with Hashemi-Shahrudi. Editorials in "Noruz" (19 February) and "Aftab-i Yazd" (21 February) suggested that this was a welcome step toward greater accountability. "Aftab-i Yazd," however, complained that answers about the performance of the courts were vague and were no better than those provided by the Judiciary's public relations department.

The format of the session was staged, according to an observer, with students submitting written questions and without an opportunity to follow up. "RFE/RL Iran Report" asked Manucher Ganji, who served as minister of education from 1976 until the end of 1978 and who is in contact with young Iranians now, what he thinks are some of the students' main concerns.

"It's a question of what kind of society they are living in. Hashemi-Shahrudi himself wrote [in a journal called "Faslnameh-yi Huquqi"] that every year 600,000 new people go into prisons. And he said that people are waiting -- you have something called habeas corpus that an individual must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of his arrest -- he himself said that there is an individual who has been waiting 21 years to be brought before a judge. Twenty-one years, he said!" Hashemi-Shahrudi's article compared imprisonment to putting fresh water in a sewer pipe and expecting fresh water to come back out.

Ganji went on to say: "The youth of Iran, they see what is happening in their country. They see the condition of the economy of the country. They see the arrests of journalists. They see the disappearances. They see the serial killings. They see how they are treated." The youth think about the future and they are dissatisfied, Ganji said, whether they are from big cities or little villages. He added, "They participated in the revolution against the Shah because they wanted freedom and they wanted to have a system of justice."

A day after Hashemi-Shahrudi's speech, Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat) leader Ali Afshari described the "intolerable psychological and physical torture" he had undergone in prison. Afshari added that his captors had forced him to read a prepared statement that appeared as a televised confession.

Ganji told "RFE/RL Iran Report" that Afshari was very brave to be so open. He also may have guaranteed his own safety: "The more public you go, the less danger for the individual. The more you keep quiet, the more the danger of your being arrested and being put back in prison. But I think he did a brave thing, and there are people like him who keep others fighting for the liberation of their country. There are many like him."

Ganji predicted that Iranians like Afshari are the key to Iran's future. "The leaders of tomorrow's Iran are inside Iranian prisons. The young people of Iran, the brave people of Iran!" he said. (Bill Samii)

MORE MAYORS FACE DIFFICULTIES. Tehran's mayor recently resigned due to factional disputes and incompatibility with the Tehran Council over how to resolve municipal issues (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 February 2002). Mayors in some other Iranian cities -- Bandar Abbas and Ahvaz -- are facing similar problems.

Several months have passed since the Bandar Abbas council dismissed Mayor Mohammad Sharif-Shahvarzi. And despite the efforts of the Bandar Abbas governor to persuade the council to work cooperatively, no new mayor had been chosen by mid-January. Mr. Haydaripur, the council head, told "Omid-i Sahel" weekly that four out of nine members of the council do not attend meetings when they are to vote for a new mayor, and just five votes is insufficient. All nine members, however, voted unanimously for the dismissal of the previous mayor. Haydaripur, who is one of five Islamic Iran Participation Party members in the council, said the council members who boycott the voting for a new mayor actually want the council to run municipal affairs.

The mayor of Ahvaz, Mr. Suleimani, survived the council's effort to interpellate him, "Nur-i Khuzestan" reported in mid-January. In a secret ballot, Suleimani received five votes in his favor and two against him. One council member complained that the municipal staff had grown unreasonably and this precluded the provision of good service. Another council member expressed concern that the municipal budget had doubled but nothing had been done in the municipality. Ms. Mavalizadeh also said the mayor refused to be accountable. She referred specifically to the Qarz-ul-Hassaneh Fund (which makes interest-free loans) and complained that the municipality refused to provide any documentation to the auditing division and it would not disclose how the fund had performed. (Bill Samii)

MISSING SOLDIERS AND MINES. The remains of 75 Iranian and 59 Iraqi soldiers who died in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War were exchanged at the Dehloran, Ilam Province, border point on 17 February, IRNA and INA reported. Colonel Feisal Baqerzadeh, who is in charge of the Joint Staff Command's Missing in Action committee, said the two sides have agreed to undertake in the near future joint search operations in Iran's Meymak and Iraq's Mandali regions. The search for MIA remains has accelerated in the Fili, Al Imara, Zeyd, and Shalamcheh axis, Baqerzadeh said.

But even as the search for MIAs continues, more Iranians are killed. Baqerzadeh said that 52 people working for his committee have been killed during their search activities. Mines left over from the war contribute to the continuing casualties. Provincial police in Ilam Province said that mines and unexploded ordinance injured five people in separate incidents during the 14-21 February period, IRNA reported. The victims were grazing their cattle in the border cities of Ilam, Dehloran and Mehran. A 10 February mine explosion injured two shepherds near Dehloran, IRNA reported. Over 500,000 hectares of land in Ilam Province remain to be cleared. The deputy commander of the army ground forces said that more than half of the 1.5 million hectares of mined land have been cleared, state television reported on 13 January. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS' PILGRIMAGE ASSUMES ANGRY TONE. About 2.5 million people are expected to attend the Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca this year, and last year some 85,000-88,000 of them were Shia and Sunni Iranians. In light of recent global events, Saudi Arabia has stepped up security precautions, employing digital eye-scanning and fingerprinting of the visitors, and surveillance cameras have been in use for several years. At the same time that Riyadh is showing its recognition of the sensitive climate, observers in Iran are encouraging the pilgrims to engage in political demonstrations.

"Hajj is the beginning point and the infinite source of this great and holy jihad," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said as he called on Muslims to safeguard their unity and solidarity. Solidarity is essential, Khamenei warned in a message carried by IRNA on 20 February, because "[t]he unbridled world arrogance led by the United States along with the pugnacious policies of the Zionist regime [are] taking advantage of the current gap and division in the Islamic world." Khamenei added that the U.S. is terrorizing the international environment, and he accused the U.S. of terrorism. Iran has been a specific target of the U.S.: "The Islamic Iran has paid a heavy price in fighting against the terrorists who were inspired and trained by the United States and Israel."

Publications such as "Kayhan International" (18 February), "Jomhuri-yi Islami" (30 January), and "Resalat" (23 January) voiced similar sentiments. "Jomhuri-yi Islami" said that the hajj "must turn into a hub of general fury and hatred against America.... America is the 'Great Satan' and the personification of 'century's mother-of-all-evil.'" People who are against such an action, according to the hard-line daily, "are either alien to the rationale of hajj and have not comprehended it fully, or perhaps they wish to stand on ceremony before America, and are one way or another indebted to the Great Satan." The newspapers urged people to participate in the "Disavowal of Infidels" (Baraat Az Moshrekin) ceremony.

This event was held on 21 February at the Arafat Desert. Its theme was to "display opposition to the arrogant powers led by the U.S. and support the Intifada of Muslim Palestinians," according to Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri, who has been the supreme leader's representative at the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization since 1991 and who leads the pilgrimage delegation. In June 1993 Reyshahri was prevented from returning to Medina from Mecca by Saudi authorities after Iranian pilgrims held illegal demonstrations, and in May 1995, Reyshahri led another illegal demonstration at the end of the pilgrimage. Iran boycotted the pilgrimage from 1988-91 because a 1987 Iranian rally resulted in clashes with Saudi security forces and more than 400 deaths.

The resolution passed at the end of the event, according to IRNA, condemned U.S. and Israeli measures against the Palestinian people, denounced President George W. Bush's remarks about Iran, and expressed readiness to defend the revolution and Iran's territorial integrity. An Azeri theologian said that such an event is unacceptable, according to the 21 February "Ekho." Nariman Qasimoglu said, "[Y]ou cannot use religion for political goals, which attests to the weakness of Iran's position. In any case, in accordance with Koranic logic, we cannot politicize religion."

Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also voiced unhappiness with the Disavowal of Infidels ceremony during his Id al-Adha sermon on 23 February. From his perspective, it was not sufficiently active: "I am not satisfied with this level [of activity] in the hajj.... We are not using this divine opportunity according to our divine laws."

For the Shia pilgrims, an important additional part of the pilgrimage is the Komeyl supplication held in Medina next to the Baqi cemetery, burial site of the Prophet Mohammad and his daughter Fatima, and of the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth Shia Imams. "Kayhan International" complained on 7 and 18 February that the poor condition of the Baqi cemetery presents a negative impression about the Saudi rulers. (Bill Samii)