In an article in today's Saudi-owned London Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, correspondent 'Ali Nouri Zadeh quoted an Iranian source who said that contrary to Iran's denials, some Al-Qa'ida officials had been staying in Iran and had left after the Riyadh bombings. The following are excerpts from the article:
The Exodus of Al-Qa'ida Leaders from Iran
"An Iranian source close to the [Revolutionary] Guards leadership revealed the collective exodus of some heads of the Al-Qa'ida organization, following last week's bombings in Riyadh. The source clarified that senior Guards officials had been fired from their sensitive posts after it became clear that they had protected Al-Qa'ida members."
"Al-Sharq Al-Awsatwas told that Seif Al-'Adel, who by some reports was military commander of Al-Qa'ida, Sa'ad Osama bin Laden, and a senior Al-Qa'ida official named Abu Khaled left Iran on Wednesday, May 14, 2003, together with their men, and it is expected that more Al-Qa'ida and Ansar Al-Islam members will depart in the coming days for Afghanistan, at the triple convergence of the borders of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan."
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The Iranian Denial
"Senior American officials said that the orders to carry out the recent terror attacks in Riyadh came from Seif Al-'Adel. However, Iran stressed yesterday [May 20, 2003] that it was determined to fight terrorism, particularly Al-Qa'ida. Iranian Foreign Ministry speaker Hamid Reza Asafi told a press conference that there is no harmony between Iran and Al-Qa'ida, and denied the American charges that Al-Qa'ida members were in Iran. According to him, Iran was acting in accordance with its obligations under U.N. resolutions in the event that it encountered Al-Qa'ida members... He said further that 'Iran has no plans to conduct negotiations with the U.S….'"
Iran Expelled Al-Qa'ida Members also in February
"In February 2003, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi declared that Iran had expelled from its territory over 500 infiltrators suspected of being linked to Al-Qa'ida. Some sources connected Iran's expulsion of Al-Qa'ida members to unofficial talks at the beginning of the week held in Athens by General Mohsen Rezai, former Revolutionary Guards commander and currently secretary of the Expediency Council, with American figures close to the Bush administration. A source close to Iran's reformist movement said that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was behind [the expulsion of Al-Qa'ida members]; Khatami had, he said, recently received information from an Arab country friendly to Iran and close to the U.S. regarding the presence of Al-Qa'ida's terror network in Tehran, Meshhed, and Zahedan."
"The source added that Khatami was surprised by the information and even more [surprised] by its details, and appointed Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi and one of the commanders of the military to investigate where the Al-Qa'ida members were located. It turned out that Seif Al-'Adel, Sa'ad Osama bin Laden, and Abu Khaled were living in a special [Revolutionary] Guards guest house in the Namk Abroud district, which had in the past housed some diplomats held by the students of Khomenei's supporters at the beginning of the revolution, towards the end of the time they were being held hostage."
"Regardless of the results of the meetings in Greece or Khatami's clear-cut instructions to put an end to Al-Qa'ida's presence in Iran, there are signs that Iran's supreme leadership has taken recent American warnings very seriously. According to an MP close to Khatami, the president is proud of his relations with the Saudi leadership and considers them one of the most important achievements of his presidency, and thus will not permit anyone to place these relations at risk by protecting Al-Qa'ida members and supporting them financially and morally – even if it means public confrontation with the radical group within the Revolutionary Guards and the security apparatuses that are subject to the oversight of Al-Vali Al-Faqih [Khamenei]. According to the MP, the national security council of the Islamic Shura Council is carefully and thoroughly studying information about the movements of Al-Qa'ida, with the knowledge of some of the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards…"
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 21, 2003.