Accessibility links

Iran Report: September 16, 2002

16 September 2002, Volume 5, Number 33

TEHRAN REMEMBERS 11 SEPTEMBER. Anonymous leaflets calling on Iranians to commemorate the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States were distributed in Tehran, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported, according to dpa on 10 September. The hardline daily urged the security forces to prevent such commemorations. It would seem that they took this advice to heart, with the "Financial Times" reporting on 12 September that "riot police resembling robo-cops roared around areas of central Tehran on Wednesday night, determined to snuff out any candlelit vigils." The British daily's Guy Dinmore wrote that large numbers of plainclothes Islamist militiamen were stationed around Tehran's Revolution Square, while police kept foot and motorized traffic moving, riot police were seen at Noor Square, and there were regular police at Mother's Square.

Iranian state television on 11 September broadcast an interview with Frenchman Thierry Meyssan, author of a nonsensical book called "L'Effroyable Imposture" (The Frightening Fraud). According to Meyssan, the Pentagon was not hit by an airplane. It was actually hit by an air-to-ground missile, Meyssan goes on to say, as was "the CIA's Tower Number Seven in Manhattan and a subsidiary building of the White House." Meyssan rejected the involvement of Osama Bin Laden in the attacks, because, "Only some senior American generals have such resources at their disposal." And Sabz Ali, described by Iranian state television as the official responsible for Iran's World Trade Center, said that the U.S. government and "Zionists" were behind the 11 September attacks. Sabz Ali explained that oil interests and the defense sector had economic motives, while the Zionists wanted to turn public opinion against Muslims.

RFE/RL's Persian Service interviewed some Iranian commentators about the tragic events of 11 September. Nationalist-religious activist Taqi Rahmani said, "The events of 11 September show that war of civilizations dominates the idea of a dialogue of civilizations." Rahmani went on to say that as a result of 11 September, Iran was put on the same side as most of the international community, and it also eliminated Iran's big enemy, the Taliban, from its eastern borders. Reformist journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi told RFE/RL's Persian Service, "America reached the conclusion that the biggest danger that it will face in the future is violence worshipping and extremist Islamic groups that will not hesitate to use violence to achieve their goals." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI VISITS SAUDI ARABIA. Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 11-14 September traveled to Saudi Arabia for what his private office described as a personal trip to make the minor hajj pilgrimage ("umra"). In Jeddah on 14 September, Khatami met with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah behind closed doors. Other participants in the meeting, according to IRNA, were the Saudi minister of defense, minister of interior, and the head of the intelligence and security organization. Afterward, according to Iranian state television, Khatami said, "I believe that Iran and [Saudi] Arabia are two important financial and spiritual poles in the region and under the current circumstances, which are rather sensitive, they are standing side by side because regional countries and the Islamic world are facing common threats."

A 12 September analysis by Tehran radio said that the timing of the visit is especially important in light of the impending crisis in Iraq. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz Al-Saud had visited Tehran in early August to discuss Iraq and regional affairs. Prince Saud said at the time that, "Our stance is one with Iran over the [possible] American military attack against Iraq," and he later said that Saudi territory could not be used to launch an attack against Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 August 2002).

Iranian university professor Davud Hermidas Bavand discussed the relevance of Khatami's visit to Saudi Arabia in an interview that appeared in the 14 September "Aftab-i Yazd." He said that Tehran-Riyadh relations should not be based on the Iraq issue. Moreover, the professor linked the current strengthening of relations with the apparent deterioration of Riyadh-Washing relations: "The reason that Arabs are moving closer to Iran is because their friendly relations with America has come to an end and the honeymoon between Riyadh and Washington is over. The Arab move toward Iran is more of a tactic rather than a strategic tie with Iran." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI CONDEMNS VIOLENCE IN AFGHANISTAN. President Khatami sent a message to his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, condemning the most recent bout of violence in Afghanistan, Iranian state television reported on 6 September. The previous day, an Afghan man tried to shoot Karzai as he was driven through Kandahar and a car bomb at a Kabul market killed at least 25 people and wounded many others.

Although Karzai escaped injury, Kandahar Governor Gul Agha Shirzai and one of Karzai's American bodyguards were slightly wounded. The attacker was killed when Karzai's bodyguards returned fire, as was one of the bodyguards and a bystander who knocked the attacker down, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" reported on 6 and 7 September. Karzai would later acknowledge that he had been somewhat reckless about force protection, but he refused to let the assassination attempt paralyze his government. Nevertheless, according to "The New York Times," military commanders from the U.S., Afghanistan, and the Turkish-led International Security Assistance Force agreed to step up security activities in Kabul.

Officials in Kandahar described the arrest of 14 men, and in Kabul the police said that they are holding two men, "The New York Times" reported on 7 September. There is still a lot of doubt about who is responsible for the two incidents. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said, "We do have some evidence from a variety of sources that it was likely it could have been the Taliban." There also is speculation that Al-Qaeda could be responsible for the attacks, or perhaps that former Prime Minister and Hizb-i Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was behind them. (Bill Samii)

HEKMATYAR STILL A FACTOR IN AFGHAN AFFAIRS. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's precise whereabouts have been something of a mystery since his expulsion from Iran in early 2002. Hekmatyar's aggressive and controversial statements and links between him, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda ensure that Afghan and other security officials will have an interest in him for quite a while. Hekmatyar's potential ability to exploit the ethnic Pashtuns' misgivings about the Tajik-dominated government, furthermore, suggests that he may be able to generate homegrown support to undermine Afghan President Karzai's pursuit of peace.

The chief of the Afghan national security office, Amrollah Saleh, announced the detention of three people associated with Hekmatyar in connection with the 5 September explosions in Kabul, Mashhad radio announced on 8 September. Saleh went on to say that urban bombings are the responsibility of Hekmatyar's Hizb-i Islami in its alliance with Al-Qaeda. Kabul Province security commander Lieutenant General Abdol Basir Salangi refrained from accusing a specific group, Kabul radio reported on 5 September, but he acknowledged that Hekmatyar has not made a secret of his antipathy to the Afghan government. Furthermore, just one day before the attacks, Military Corps No. 3 (in Gardez) spokesman Mohammad Ismail warned that, "According to our reports, the Taliban, Hekmatyar, Osama [bin Laden], and some foreign intelligence agencies are working for a new alliance to undermine security in Afghanistan," according to Afghan Islamic Press.

In an audio cassette that was distributed to news agencies on 12 September, Hekmatyar has condemned the Kabul bombing and denied any involvement by his party, Rawalpindi's "Nawa-i-Waqt" reported on 13 September.

Hekmatyar has done nothing to suggest that he has warm feelings toward the Karzai government or that he favors stability in his country. Islamabad's "The News" on 4 September carried extensive excerpts from a recent audiocassette of his comments. Hekmatyar dismissed Karzai for needing American personnel to protect him, and he said, "President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is the real ruler of Afghanistan." Hekmatyar also referred to the foreign troops in Afghanistan as occupiers and called for a Jihad against them. According to the Pakistani daily, the former Afghan prime minister criticized the Northern Alliance for acting at U.S. behest against the Pashtuns, thereby causing future instability and ethnic strife, and he claimed that 85 percent of these troops were operating in Pashtun-populated areas.

Hekmatyar rejected ISAF chief Major General Hilmi Akin Zorlu's claim that the Hizb-i Islami is associated with Al-Qaeda, "The News" reported. "General Zorlu is speaking the American language. He should provide evidence to back up his allegations against Hizb-i Islami," Hekmatyar said. Zorlu had said on 28 August that some members of Hekmatyar's Hizb-i Islami party were acting in solidarity with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to weaken the Kabul government, according to Anatolia news agency.

Hekmatyar is at pains to disassociate himself and his party from Al-Qaeda, possibly because such a relationship would show his dependence on foreign support and also because it could serve as justification for American action against him.

But Hani al-Sibai, the London-based director of the Al-Maqrizi Studies Center and an expert on Islamic affairs, said in a 25 August interview with Qatar's Al-Jazirah satellite television that Hekmatyar and the Arabs have been in touch for some time. "Hekmatyar was contacted through some Arabs. ...there are two groups of Arabs there: a group who are directly loyal to Mullah Omar. This group has said they will remain loyal to him even if the cost was their death, as they said. The other group is those who follow Sheikh Osama bin Laden and is called the Al-Qaeda organization. So there are two groups of Arabs there, and proof of this is that many operations have been carried out by the group that is directly affiliated with Mullah Omar," al-Sibai said, adding that: "As for Hekmatyar, it is clear that he is using his influence. Hekmatyar is not opposed to cooperation with the Arabs. There were, however, some differences with the former Taliban government. I believe that now their enemy is one: namely, the Americans. There is a military command to wage a guerrilla warfare."

Al-Qaeda field commander Abu-al-Layth al-Libi was not very reticent in an interview published by the Algerian newspaper "El-Youm" on 28 July. Al-Libi said: "Our brethren in the Taliban have told us that they are having meetings and [conducting] contacts [with other Afghan leaders]. They said that they now have direct contacts with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.... But the Taliban have said that they cannot work with him if, for example, he is not in favor of the legitimate government [of Afghanistan], that is, the Taliban government.... I would like to say that Hekmatyar has specialists whom the Afghan arena is now in need of. As we know, the Taliban's expertise and specializations in the realm of military science do not match, or let us say, are not equal to what Hekmatyar possesses in this field."

It is possible that the "Libyan" is exaggerating the extent of contacts with Hekmatyar in an effort to show that the Taliban remains a viable fighting force. Or it could be that he is trying to flatter Hekmatyar and thereby garner his support. Whatever the reason, it is obvious that Hekmatyar will continue to be a factor in Afghan affairs for the foreseeable future. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN DENIALS ON AL-QAEDA LACK CREDIBILITY. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 8 September said that Iran has nothing to do with sheltering Al-Qaeda members. This is not the first time that Tehran has issued denials about Al-Qaeda personnel being in Iran, and Iranian officials themselves have contradicted previous denials. This lack of Iranian credibility concerning Al-Qaeda is a hindrance at a time when such accusations have increased.

During the 8 September press conference, Kharrazi denied that Iran is sheltering Al-Qaeda terrorists, and in the Iranian diplomatic style, he then leveled a counteraccusation. Kharrazi claimed that Iran possesses documents showing that the U.S. is "organizing bandits and terrorist groups against the Islamic Republic," according to IRNA. "Washington is supporting the terrorist groups to confront Iran and, at the same time, accuses the Islamic Republic of helping the Al-Qaeda terrorism network," Kharrazi said. Kharrazi complained that the White House has become a violent bully since 11 September 2001, and he accused Washington of trying to propagate hostility toward Islam. Kharrazi also said, "Today, we announce once again that whoever has any intelligence on the network can forward it to us and we will immediately follow up [on] the matter."

Some of the information that Kharrazi seeks is available in American and British newspapers.

Two top figures in Al-Qaeda, Saif al-Adel and Mahfouz Ould Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian), are being sheltered in Iran, "The Washington Post" reported on 28 August. Dozens of other Al-Qaeda figures are holed up in the Iranian cities of Mashhad and Zabol, according to Arab intelligence sources, "who are outside Saudi Arabia and did not want their names or countries disclosed." The two named personalities control the terrorist organization's military committee and its ideological or religious committee, respectively, according to the anonymous sources. According to unnamed "officials in Arab countries," some captured Al-Qaeda personnel said under interrogation that the Iranians forced them to leave, but in some cases, they provided false documents or cleansed the terrorists' passports of incriminating stamps while other figures were allowed to stay in Iran.

An official at Iran's United Nations mission denied the presence in his country of al-Adel and Walid, according to the "The Washington Post." White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters on 28 August, "U.S. government officials -- senior officials -- have repeatedly said that some Al-Qaeda personnel are in Iran, and so that remains a concern. And no country, as we have repeatedly said, should harbor terrorists. And so we would call on and urge the Iranian government not to offer any terrorists safe haven."

About one week later, anonymous "European, Pakistani, and U.S. investigators" were cited as saying that Al-Qaeda and Taliban financial officers had shipped gold from Pakistan to Sudan using Iran and the United Arab Emirates as transit points. Although officials are uncertain about the actual amount of gold, "The Washington Post" reported on 3 September, they say that it is significant and shows that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have access to a large amount of money. "European and U.S. intelligence officials" also said the gold shipments show that "Iranian intelligence units allied with the country's hard-line clerics" are playing a role in "protecting and aiding" Al-Qaeda.

"The Washington Post" did not specify if these are units from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security or the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, both of which have been identified by the U.S. State Department as playing a role in Iranian sponsorship of terrorism. "European terrorism experts" said that they had "credible reports" that some of the gold went to Sudan via Iranian aircraft. A "senior European intelligence official" said that it appears that Sudan is becoming a financial and business center for Al-Qaeda.

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh rejected the report, according to Reuters on 4 September, saying that: "There have always been claims. Some of the American press, taking special stances in line with Israel's interests, have fanned the fire." Sudanese Internal Affairs Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, as quoted by the "Al-Sahafi Al-Douli" newspaper, also rejected "The Washington Post" report, according to Reuters. He said, "It is a lie...Sudan is fighting terrorism and it has no links with Al-Qaeda and Taliban or any other elements with connections to them."

"We have solid proof that Al-Qaeda has been able to move in and out of Iran," said Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Hilal Uddin, according to the 7 September "The Daily Telegraph." The British daily described raids by American personnel along the western border of Afghanistan, and acting Afghan military intelligence chief Aman Khan said: "The new focus is in the west, rather than the east and Pakistan where it has been going on now for most of a year. This is an area where Al-Qaeda has managed to maintain a foothold under the cover of smugglers."

The possibility of any country or organization cooperating with Al-Qaeda is chilling. A 9 September article in "The Washington Post" cited "U.S. intelligence officials" who believe that graduates of Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan will try to launch attacks. The newspaper said that up to 15,000 people could have graduated from the camps, and several hundred people who have been through the camps or have connections with Al-Qaeda are in the U.S. "The New York Times" reported on 10 September that up to 20,000 people could have graduated from the camps.

An anonymous "senior intelligence official" said that "there is no overt presence anywhere" of Al-Qaeda, and its remnants probably have hidden in the more inaccessible and lawless regions of the planet, "The Washington Post" reported. American officials are focusing on Iran's eastern provinces and four other parts of the world: the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier region, Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Northern Iraq, and Yemen. And a new Al-Qaeda leadership has emerged. "American intelligence officials" say that they have identified about 20 such figures, "The New York Times" reported on 10 September, and the U.S. military has designated Ayman Al Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, and Saif al-Adel as "Tier One" leadership figures. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN-ISLAMABAD COOPERATION AGAINST AL-QAEDA. During a meeting with visiting Pakistani Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari requested greater cooperation in preventing Al-Qaeda personnel from entering Iran, Iranian state television reported on 3 September. Musavi-Lari added, "In order to follow up on the issues being discussed, joint committees have been established which will discuss the two countries' border concerns and problems."

Musavi-Lari was asked about the precise number of Al-Qaeda members who had entered Iran during a joint press conference the next day. He said, according to Iranian state television, "The Islamic Republic of Iran has sent individuals who had entered Iran illegally and who may possibly have been in contact with the existing groups in Afghanistan back to their countries." He added, "The affiliation of these individuals [to Al-Qaeda] should be investigated by their own governments." One hundred fifty people had been arrested, according to Musavi-Lari, and because this number could be inflated by inclusion of family members, it is not possible to give an exact figure.

Haider expressed his pleasure that Iran and Pakistan had agreed to increase their efforts to prevent Al-Qaeda personnel from finding shelter, IRNA reported on 4 September. Haider said that Islamabad does not allow Al-Qaeda militants to cross the border into Iran. In what could be a related development, more than 40 Pakistanis were apprehended as they tried to cross their border into Iran, Islamabad's "The News" reported on 13 September. (Bill Samii)

JEWISH PARLIAMENTARIAN CALLS FOR PARDONS. In an 11 September meeting in New York with religious representatives, Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi said: "Many of the existing disputes among the followers of the divine religions, including the allegation of [Muslims'] enmity against Jews, do not exist in reality. These are misconceptions created by some ideologists in the West," according to Iranian state television. Kharrazi called for a dialogue of religions.

In Iran, meanwhile, Maurice Motamed, the Jewish minority's parliamentary representative, called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to pardon the Jews who were imprisoned in Shiraz two years ago on espionage charges (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 July 2000), "Hambastegi" reported on 26 August. Motamed's other demands, which were voiced during an open session of the parliament, could have a more long-term impact on Iran's religious minorities.

Motamed expressed the hope that his fellow legislators would approve a bill that grants the same amount of blood money ("diyeh") for religious minorities as it does for Muslims. Motamed also called for laws that would grant equality to minorities in matters of inheritance, retribution, and testimony.

Motamed also said that religious minorities still face difficulties in securing government employment. "Unfortunately, in spite of clear orders given by the president for elimination of these discriminations, we are still witnessing advertisement for employment without mentioning religious minorities as eligible candidates for employment," Motamed said, according to "Hambastegi."

Just days later, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that an Iranian court awarded a murdered Christian's family the same amount of blood money that a Muslim would have received. IRNA reported on 1 September that the family of a murdered Christian cleric was awarded 150 million rials ($18,750). Haik Hovsepian-Mehr was killed in 1994; either by an Iranian opposition group, according to governmental allegations, or by Iranian government agents as part of the extrajudicial "serial murders." (Bill Samii)

PRESS CLOSURES HAMPER OVERSIGHT OF GOVERNMENT. President Khatami and members of his cabinet visited the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of Iran's Islamic Revolution, on the first day of Government Week (24-31 August). Speaking afterward, Khatami stressed the importance of the public's being able to supervise the government and the state via the media and its elected representatives, Tehran television reported on 24 August. "Therefore," Khatami said, "we will have to accept the principle of criticism in our society in order to make progress." Yet the continuation of press closures makes it very difficult for the media to serve as the government watchdog or the voice of public criticism.

A court in Qazvin Province suspended the weekly "Hadis-yi Qazvin" on 22 August, and five days later it suspended temporarily the weekly "Nameh-yi Qazvin" for publishing "insulting materials and lies as well as instigating public opinion," IRNA reported on 27 August. The Press Court in Tehran, furthermore, banned the daily "Guzarish-i Ruz" and sentenced editor Mohammad Mahdavi-Khorrami to 28 months in prison, IRNA reported on 27 August. The Tehran public court passed a verdict stating that "Hamshahri," the daily affiliated with the Tehran municipality, could only be distributed in Tehran, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 8 September.

A 24-page daily tabloid called "Gulistan-i Iran," which recently hit the newsstands, was closed temporarily on 15 September on the orders of Press Court judge Said Mortazavi. Managing director Foruzan Asif-Nakhai had described it as "a newspaper by the third generation for the third generation," "Hayat-i No" reported on 31 August. Also on 15 September "Vaght" weekly was closed on the basis of publishing photographs of women and of personalities from the monarchic period, AFP reported. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN BROADCASTING INTENSIFYING ARABIC PRESENCE... Al-Alam, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's new Arabic-language satellite television channel, transmitted its test card on 28 August, according to BBC Monitoring. The station's website is available at On 30 August, the Elaph website from London reported that Al-Alam is being produced in connection with a "Lebanese media team" and it would specialize in news in Arabic and English. Moreover, IRIB intends to open a permanent office in Baghdad, according to the "Tehran Times" of 17 August, citing Baghdad's daily "Babel". This office would be used for Al-Alam and for Iran's Sahar satellite broadcasts. The IRIB officials met with Iraqi Communications Minister Muhammad Said as-Sahhaf, who gave his tentative approval pending successful completion of the legal formalities. A six-member team from the Islamic Republic News Agency is also in Baghdad to report on living conditions there. (Bill Samii)

...AND IRAN MAY GET FOREIGN SATELLITE PROGRAMS. Said Ismaili, director for audio-visual production at the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, announced on 8 September that the legislature's Cultural Committee has approved the establishment of a cable network that would make available satellite television programs that do not violate Islamic tenets, IRNA reported. After the parliament and the Guardians Council approve the legislation, Ismaili said, the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone will set up the cable network. Private ownership of satellite dishes is currently illegal and the security forces routinely confiscate such equipment (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 October 2001 and 6 June 2002). (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN SATELLITE PROJECTS PROGRESSING. The managing director of Iran's Remote Sensor Center ("markaz-i sanjish az rah-i dur"), Mr. Amidian, announced that Iran is cooperating with China, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Thailand in building a multipurpose satellite that will be launched within the next three years, Iranian state television reported on 3 September. Parts of the satellite are being built by Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics and by the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone.

One day earlier, Mr. Izadi, the director of the Zohreh national satellite project, was interviewed on Iranian state radio. He said that the platform of the Zohreh satellite is being manufactured in Russia. Izadi went on to say: "Its telecommunications and computer sections are being manufactured by two prominent European companies. Finally, it will be assembled in Russia and it will be launched by a Soyuz missile from Russia to the Islamic Republic's position in orbit and it will be turned over to the Islamic Republic." Izadi said that Iran is waiting for Russia's Avi export company to sign a contract, and the signing of that contract will start a 30-month timetable during which the satellite would be built and launched into orbit. Two satellite control stations would also be set up in Iran. Subsequently, Iran's television and telecommunications networks would be transferred to their own national satellite.

Members of parliament have criticized the Zohreh satellite project's connection with a Russian firm of dubious reliability, and some Iranian press outlets have questioned the country's need for such a costly project (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 May 2002 and 3 June 2002). (Bill Samii)

TURKEY-IRAN GAS DISPUTE RESUMES. Turkish Energy Minister Zeki Cakan said that his country stopped importing Iranian gas on 24 June because of its low quality, Anatolia news agency reported, according to the 10 September "Financial Times." Cakan said that the imports would resume once the gas quality was upgraded.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh dismissed the Turkish complaints about the quality of Iranian gas, IRNA reported on 9 September, and he said, "Iran is ready to dispatch international inspectors to test the gas quality." There were several delays in starting the gas exports, and there also is concern that Turkey cannot absorb both the imported Iranian gas and the Russian gas that it expects to begin importing soon. Under the "take-or-pay" agreement it signed with Iran, however, Turkey is financially liable even if it does not take the gas it has agreed to buy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 February 2002 and 29 April 2002). (Bill Samii)