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Iran Report: October 15, 2001

15 October 2001, Volume 4, Number 39

TEHRAN DENIES HOSTING SEVEN 'MOST WANTED TERRORISTS.' The main focus of recent counterterrorist activities is Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. Three recent American measures also touch on Iran indirectly.

President George W. Bush announced on 10 October the creation of a most-wanted list of 22 international terrorists, and seven of them are believed to be linked with Iran. Notably, no Iranian officials are on the list, although the Iranian government has been identified in related indictments -- which may indicate Washington's willingness to let bygones be bygones if the suspects are handed over for prosecution.

Four of the men on the list -- Ahmad Ibrahim al-Mughassil, Ali Said bin Ali el-Hoorie, Ibrahim Salih Mohammad al-Yacub, and Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed al-Nasser -- were indicted for the June 1996 bombing of a U.S. Air Force housing complex in al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 American servicemen and wounded 372 other Americans. Iran was referred to almost 40 times in the indictment, but no Iranians were actually identified. Instead, the indictment named 13 Saudis and one Lebanese, and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that, "[T]he charged defendants reported their surveillance activities to Iranian officials and were supported and directed in those activities by Iranian officials" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001).

Three other men on the list -- Imad Fayez Mughniyah, Ali Atwa, and Hassan Izz-al-din -- are members of Lebanese Hizballah. They were indicted for their parts in the June 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, when they tortured and then murdered Robert Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver. Mughniyah, who headed Hizballah's special security apparatus, is responsible for many of the kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon. Hassan Izz-al-din was in charge of Hizballah's foreign relations.

Most of the other individuals on the list are linked with Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda organization.

On 5 October, furthermore, the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism released its annual list of terrorist organizations. Featured on the list were: Hamas, Hizballah, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), all of which are linked with Iran, according to the State Department's annual global terrorism report. Also on this list of terrorist organizations is the anti-Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO), which is backed by Iraq.

President Bush issued an Executive Order in late September calling on U.S. financial institutions to freeze the assets of 27 people and groups suspected of funding terrorists which said that financial sanctions "may be appropriate" for foreign persons that support or associate with foreign terrorists. The terrorists identified in this list include the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the IMU, but the main focus was on bin Laden and his associates.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill described the second stage of this finance-oriented process on 12 October when he discussed the addition of more names to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) by the Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). O'Neill said, "Secretary [of State Colin] Powell and I notified all financial institutions in the United States to block the assets of 39 additional persons and entities that are either wanted terrorists or who are known to financially support terrorism." O'Neill went on to say that the list affects businesses and charitable bodies that funnel money to Al-Qaeda and to the most wanted terrorists.

A reward of up to $5 million is being offered for the capture of any of the fugitives on the most-wanted terrorist list. There are suspicions that the seven people named above are now in Iran, but Tehran has never admitted this and it rejected the Khobar indictments as baseless. On 11 October, furthermore, an "informed Iranian official" said the claims that Iran is sheltering the terrorists are "baseless and unfounded," IRNA reported. And in Baalbek, Sheikh Muhammad Yazbak of the Hizballah political council said, according to IRNA on 12 October, "It is an honor for the party that the name of Hizballah is put on America's list of terrorist groups." (Bill Samii)

OIC CONDEMNS TERRORISM BUT DOES NOT SAY WHAT IT IS. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi described the communique issued by the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference after its emergency meeting on 10 October as a "practical guide for fighting against terrorism," IRNA reported on 11 October. Journalist Robert Fisk described the OIC meeting a bit differently in the 11 October "Independent." Fisk said that the common theme of all the speeches was "please don't kill innocent Afghans, but -- whatever happens -- don't bomb Arab countries."

Kharrazi's spin on the conference seems overly optimistic, just as Fisk's seems overly dismissive. In fact, the final communique contained some of the points that Tehran and Beirut favored, albeit in a watered-down form. Beforehand, Kharrazi said that there should be a distinction between terrorism and "nationalist, freedom-seeking struggles," IRNA reported on 10 October. And Beirut's "clear position," noted the Lebanese daily "As-Safir" on 9 October: "Hizballah is above suspicion."

The final communique rejected any link between terrorism and the right of Muslim, Arab, Palestinian, and/or Lebanese people to pursue "self-determination, self-defense, sovereignty, and resistance against Israeli, and foreign, occupation and aggression." Israel, moreover, was warned not to exploit the current situation to "justify its aggression against the Palestinian people," while the UN, EU, U.S., and Russia were urged to end the "siege" imposed on the Palestinians and "stop the barbaric Israeli practices." The "Israeli Government's state terrorism" was mentioned, too. The OIC members expressed their readiness to define "terrorism" and act against it within the context of the UN.

The communique "strongly condemned" the terrorist attacks of 11 September, and it rejected any links between Islam and these acts. The OIC expressed its condolences and sympathies to the American people and their government.

The conference rejected the targeting of any Arab or Islamic state on the pretext of combating terrorism. Finally, a fund for helping the Afghan people was established with a $10 million contribution from the Qatari Emir, $3 million from the United Arab Emirates, and $1 million from Oman.

One day before the OIC meeting, the "Financial Times" reported that the participants would try to "bridge their differences" and "reclaim their religious credentials in the face of the challenge presented by Osama bin Laden." The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have claimed that the attacks against them are an attack against Islam and that they are, in fact, acting in God's name. Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Bu-Ghaith said on Al-Jazeera television on 9 October that, "It is every Muslim's duty today to wage the Holy Jihad against the U.S. You must fight if you are able-bodied, there is no excuse. The time is now. This is the word of God." And Taliban Ambassador to Islamabad Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef said on 8 October: "This attack is not only on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, but this is a terrorist act on the whole Muslim world. This is a violation of the sacred soil of the whole Muslim world, and this is a disgrace and dishonor to the Muslim world."

But if this was an effort to protect their religious credentials, the OIC leaders may have failed. Neither the name "bin Laden" nor "Taliban" was heard once in the Qatar conference hall, according to Robert Fisk. Prominent Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia, furthermore, have passed a number of fatwas that advocated violence against whoever attacks Afghanistan, and there are even anonymous fatwas identifying King Fahd as a target. Moreover, Egypt's Opposition Labor Party warned in Cairo's twice-weekly "Al-Shab" newspaper that once the U.S. is done with Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Hizballah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are next. (Bill Samii)

HEKMATYAR PURSUES ICONOCLASTIC INTERESTS. The Tehran-based leader of the Hizb-i Islami-yi Afghanistan, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, seems determined to follow his own course, and the most logical explanation for his seemingly illogical statements is that he hopes to have some sort of leadership role in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. This is a very alarming prospect because of Hekmatyar's relationship with Osama bin Laden -- who is suspected of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S. -- and Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman � who was imprisoned in 1995 for his part in a conspiracy to destroy several New York City landmarks.

At a 9 October press conference, Hekmatyar denounced efforts to build a governing coalition around exiled monarch Mohammad Zahir Shah, seeing this as "part of the expansionist desires of the United States to install a puppet regime and set up military bases." In a telephone interview that was published in Islamabad's "The News" on 6 October, Hekmatyar explained that not only does the U.S. want to topple the Taliban, it wants to control all of Central Asia. These comments resemble the warnings of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But just because Hekmatyar lives in Iran does not mean that he backs Tehran's position on Afghan affairs completely. Tehran supports the Northern Alliance (a.k.a. United Front), but in the 5 October "Al-Hayat" Hekmatyar criticized Tehran for supporting the Northern Alliance and denounced the Northern Alliance for its willingness to cooperate with the U.S. He asked, "How can Iran reject the U.S. attack on Afghanistan but at the same time back the Northern Alliance despite the latter's announcement of its support for the United States?"

Hekmatyar's displeasure with the Northern Alliance may be based on his service as prime minister in the Afghan government that succeeded the Soviet-installed puppet regime. That successor government, led by President Burhanudin Rabbani, consisted of an uneasy alliance of the Mujahedin groups that had expelled the Soviets. Ahmad Shah Masood, for example, served as defense minister. After he withdrew from the government, Hekmatyar's forces fought a battle with Masood's forces that all but leveled Kabul (forces loyal to Abdul Rashid Dustum, who was with the communist regime, who then allied with Hekmatyar, and who now is with the Northern Alliance, contributed to the devastation).

Hekmatyar has lived in Iran since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. But he told "The News" on 6 October, "I am holding negotiations with Taliban and other Afghan groups to prepare the Afghan nation for defending Afghanistan." He added, "I will enter Afghanistan in case of U.S. attack and my struggle will be a military struggle." In his interview with "Al-Hayah," however, Hekmatyar qualified reports that he would fight against U.S. forces and their allies by saying that its was not a question of supporting the Taliban but one of defending Afghanistan. By the time of his 9 October press conference, he seemed to sense which way the wind was blowing, and he openly rejected any sort of alliance with the Taliban.

A possible explanation for Hekmatyar's changing responses came from Mohammad Khirkha, the Afghan government's ambassador in Tehran. Khirkha said that Hekmatyar contacted the Taliban in the pursuit of personal gain, "but the Taliban did not respond because of his wavering positions," Kuwait's "Al-Qabas" reported on 4 October.

Hekmatyar may not be fond of the Taliban, but according to a May 1996 article in "The Atlantic Monthly," he was friendly with Osama bin Laden when the latter was participating in the war against the Soviets. Bin Laden was linked with the Mujahedin group of Professor Rasul Sayyaf, who allegedly was a Wahhabi. The groups led by Hekmatyar and by Sayyaf had little in common, but their two leaders were allegedly close to a blind Egyptian cleric -- Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman. According to "The Atlantic Monthly," Hekmatyar and Sheikh Omar shared a desire to establish Islamic governments in their home countries.

The Northern Alliance has stated its interest in an ethnically all-inclusive government for Afghanistan, and the Northern Alliance and Hekmatyar disagree on many subjects, but they do agree on one thing: Arresting or eliminating Osama bin Laden will not solve the Afghan problem, because there are many Taliban who are just like him. (Bill Samii)

CLERICS CONDEMN U.S. AND ATTACKS ON AFGHANISTAN. Iran's conservative clerical community has come out against the Western attacks on the Taliban in Afghanistan and specifically against the U.S. role in the attacks.

Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, who serves in the Assembly of Experts, said during the 12 October Tehran Friday prayer sermon that Washington has three objectives in attacking Afghanistan. First of all, Washington wants to appease the American public. Secondly, "America is trying to dominate the Middle East." Further, he warned, "Attacking powerless, innocent and oppressed people will strengthen the branches of terrorism and will create more terrorists." So why should the U.S. not lead the fight against terrorism, Emami-Kashani asked. Because "Terror means creating fear," and "America is creating fear through its actions around the world, by its use of Zionism as an instrument, and by its support for Zionism." After the crowd finished chanting "Down With America," the prayer leader continued. He said that, "The American government is a legitimate government elected by the vote of the people -- even though it is a terrorist. A terrorist cannot uproot terrorism."

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Fazel-Movahedi-Lankarani, who is a Source of Emulation, said that, "A government has put itself in charge of fighting terrorism, which is itself the biggest terrorist, and has nothing else to do in the world than that [terrorism]. Today, America claims that any country that is not with it is with others. This is a logic used by terrorists." He continued, state television reported on 9 October, "After Israel, the Taliban constitute the second illegitimate offspring of America." The Qom Theological Lecturers Association and the High Council of Managers of the Qom Seminary issued a joint statement condemning the U.S. and British attacks against "Afghanistan and its Muslim people," state television reported on 9 October.

The two religious bodies called on all seminarians and lecturers to participate in a 10 October sit-in at the Fayzieh seminary and to "declare their opposition to the inhumane action of America." At the sit-in, about 2,000 participants chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." A nine-point resolution was issued at the end of the gathering, state radio reported. It condemned terrorism and said that, "The barbaric attacks of global arrogance [presumably the U.S.] with the cooperation of Britain against the defenseless and Muslim people of Afghanistan is a clear example of terrorism." (Bill Samii)

ANTIWAR RALLIES AND DEMONSTRATIONS IN IRAN. Many Iranians have demonstrated their sympathy with the victims of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S., but many of them are less enthusiastic about military action against Afghanistan.

An angry mob attacked the Pakistani consulate in the southwestern town of Zahedan on 12 October and chanted "Death to Pakistan" and "Death to America." The crowd was protesting against Islamabad's support for the anti-Taliban air strikes. Security forces brought the crowd under control, according to Reuters.

Hundreds of thousands of people across Iran condemned the air strikes against Afghanistan on 12 October, and they simultaneously indicated their solidarity with the Palestinian people. Demonstrators in Tehran chanted "Down with America" and "America, Britain, down with your conspiracies" as they marched through the city. They then issued a resolution condemning terrorism and called for an end to the military action. The resolution also said that the U.S. should abandon leadership of the antiterrorism coalition: "America does not have the right to lead the antiterrorism campaign because of its support for the Israeli state terrorism." The Council for Coordination of Islamic Publicity's invitation to the rallies was broadcast by state radio: "...people of Iran are hereby invited decisive support for the stance adopted by the esteemed leader, His Eminence Ayatollah Khamenei, and to show sympathy with the deprived and homeless people of Afghanistan, and to condemn America's attacks on that country."

Some 500 students held an all-night vigil in front of the UN headquarters in Tehran on 11 October to protest the air strikes. The conservative youth chanted "Death to America, Death to Israel," before going home.

The University Basij organized an anti-U.S. rally in Tehran on 2 October. The security forces stopped another rally scheduled for the same day that was to show sympathy with the American people. (Bill Samii)

BUSHEHR COMPLETION MAY BE DELAYED IF WAR SPREADS. Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Aleksandr Rumyantsev told ITAR-TASS on 9 October that "if the hostilities [in Afghanistan] broaden and endanger human lives," Moscow may have to recall the more than 1,000 Russian specialists working on the Bushehr nuclear facility and ask for a delay in the contract. Russian nuclear facilities are very safe, according to Rumyantsev: "They will survive even if a plane drops on them." If there are no delays, the reactor for the first block will be delivered in November, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 October, and all the hardware will be in place at the beginning of 2002. Construction should be completed in 2003, and another 18 months will be required for loading fuel and conducting tests. (Bill Samii)

GUARDIANS COUNCIL TRANSPARENCY DISCUSSED. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged the Guardians Council, which is tasked with vetting electoral candidates and with approving legislation, to make a greater effort to defend and explain its positions and its activities. In the past, the council has justified its rejection of legislation or potential candidates by saying that it is defending Islam or the Islamic system, and it has refused to discuss issues openly by saying that it answers to the Supreme Leader only. A few days after Khamenei spoke, it became evident that the council hopes to influence legislation even before the parliament votes on it.

Possibly as a reaction to the intense public criticism of the council's methods, Khamenei said at its 3 October meeting: "The Guardian Council should strive to improve the status of this important establishment by submitting documented and defensible discussions at the international legal forums and by trying to inform the public on the position and grave obligations of this council." He added that the council's views should be expressed "scientifically, rationally, explicitly, and courageously," according to state television.

Khamenei also said that "The Guardian Council is the identity of the system,... and the existence or non-existence of this council is tantamount to the existence or non-existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran." It is likely that these comments will carry more weight with the members of the council, most of whom are quite conservative politically.

Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said on 4 October that the Supreme Leader's comments were a guiding light for the council, according to ISNA. He added that, "As far as we are concerned the remarks of the eminent leader, that the Guardian Council is the identity and individuality of the system, is very valuable and it makes us even more duty-bound in guarding the sanctity and the sensitive status of the council." Jannati spoke of the council's "future programs," but he did not elaborate on them.

A few days later it became apparent that the council's "future programs" included shaping and screening legislation even before the parliament voted on it. During a 7 October meeting with members of the parliament's Economic Commission, Jannati said, "In a bid to save time and energy...the council is ready to offer advice to [parliamentary] commissions as well as MPs while various bills are being discussed on the [parliament's] floor." (Bill Samii)

ETHNICITY AFFECTS PARLIAMENT. A 26 August commentary in the "Entekhab" daily about the selection of President Mohammad Khatami's cabinet warned of the emergence of tribal and linguistic coalitions in the legislature. Some parliamentarians, the commentary stated, "have placed their regional interests above national interests." The deputies did not vote for cabinet members along factional lines; rather, they voted for the cabinet members on the basis of common regional or linguistic roots. This demonstrates the weakness of Iran's party system, according to the commentary, and it means that the deputies are not acting in terms of the national interest.

At the end of September the role of regional and ethnic factors in domestic Iranian politics came to light when the parliamentarians from Kurdistan Province resigned en masse to protest discrimination against the Kurdish and Sunni minority, according to press reports. In their letter of resignation, Baha al-Din Adab of Sanandaj, Jalal Jalali of Sanandaj, Masood Hosseini of Qorveh, Mohammad Mohammad-Rezai of Bijar, Abdullah Sohrabi of Marivan, and Salaheddin Alaie of Saqez criticized President Khatami for not paying attention to their co-ethnics' plight. Mohammad-Rezai said that more than 80 percent of the province's residents live below the poverty line and the state universities grant very few places to students from Kurdistan. Mohammad-Rezai complained that the Interior Ministry has never responded to requests that it send a delegation to the province, it rarely replies to any communications, and when it does reply, the response is usually unsatisfactory.

The provincial governor-general is appointed by the president and is part of the Interior Ministry. Abdullah Ramazanzadeh, the former governor-general, has moved on to a post in the presidential cabinet. Adab asked why Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari could not meet with the Kurdistan Province representatives even once to discuss the next governor-general, "Seda-yi Idalat" reported on 8 October. The appointee for governor-general that the Kurdistan parliamentarians preferred was ignored, Mohammad-Rezai added in a 2 October interview with "Tehran Times."

Conceding the validity of complaints about Kurdistan, "Iran News" on 2 October said that the resignations were "ill-timed." It warned that in light of the current regional crisis, "the ethnic issue of the Kurds is a volatile topic for the international media." The normally pro-Khatami daily concluded: "If only the president had consulted with the deputies and solved their problems, we would have been spared the current embarrassment in the aftermath of their rash decision." Some parliamentarians from Gilan and Mazandaran provinces appear to share the disgruntlement with the way the matter is being handled. Lahijan representative Iraj Nadimi said that a legal draft is being prepared for the interpellation of Interior Minister Musavi-Lari, "Iran Daily" reported on 4 October.

Before the mass resignations took place, state officials had described how well everybody got along regardless of religious or ethnic differences. On 23 September, President Khatami praised the ability of Kurds in Ilam Province to co-exist with Lurs and Arabs, and he said that this was evidence of national unity and Islamic civil society, IRNA reported. Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi told members of the Kurdistan branch of the Islamic Iran Participation Party on 20 September that Sunni and Shia Iranians enjoy equal rights. Past unrest in Kurdistan, according to Karrubi, was not sectarian and was the result of "plots of the Iranian nation's enemies who seek sowing the seeds of discord among them, based on any type of baseless excuses," IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD CRITICIZED. Most Iranians believe that "they deserve better and more accountable governance and a society that has more respect for the inherent dignity of individuals," UN human rights investigator Maurice Copithorne said on 27 September. The government, however, has not implemented the human rights reforms that Iranians want. Copithorne ascribed this failure to the impasse on legislation between the Guardians Council and the parliament. This impasse has led to a "significant degree of paralysis in the implementing of critically needed human rights improvements." Copithorne also faulted the continuing repression of the Iranian press and the lack of tolerance for dissident opinions.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected this most recent human rights report on 29 September. He said that it contained "baseless, repetitive, and unreal allegations," according to IRNA. "Copithorne's report, which is politically motivated, fully conforms with futile attempts to tarnish the image of the Islamic Republic in the international arena," Assefi added. Six months ago, Assefi also rejected a report by Copithorne, saying it relied on biased sources and was based on double standards. He added that the report was part of an attempt to impose a "mono-cultural system," IRNA reported on 15 March. The Iranian government has not allowed Copithorne to visit Iran since February 1996. (Bill Samii)

WARNING OF UNEMPLOYMENT 'CRISIS' MAY BE PREMATURE. Parliamentarian Alireza Mahjoub, who is also secretary-general of the state-affiliated Workers House and a founder of the Islamic Labor Party, told a meeting of Islamic labor councils in Shiraz that the overall lack of job opportunities in Iran may lead to a crisis. Mahjoub went on to say that the unemployment rate in the industrial sector probably will increase due to a recession, IRNA reported on 5 October. The Management and Planning Organization, however, predicted that the average growth of investment in the industry and mining sectors in the Third Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2000-2005) would stand at more than 16.7 percent, according to an 8 October IRNA report. Average growth of investment in the communications sector in the plan would be 12.7 percent.

The current unemployment rate is 13.86 percent, according to a report issued by Iran's Statistics Department. The lowest unemployment rates are in East Azerbaijan (8.75 percent) and West Azerbaijan (8.8 percent) provinces. The worst unemployment rate is in Luristan Province (30.49 percent), "Iran Daily" reported on 22 September. Unofficial estimates put the overall unemployment rate for Iran in the 25 percent range. (Bill Samii)