February 20, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 473

Top Iranian Defector On Iran's Collaboration with Iraq, North Korea, Al-Qa'ida, and Hizbullah

February 20, 2003
Iran, Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 473

The London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsatreported that senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards official Hamid Reza Zakiri recently defected. In an interview with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Zakiri disclosed information regarding the cooperation of the Revolutionary Guards and Iranian intelligence apparatuses[1] with Saddam Hussein's regime, terror organizations such as the Palestinian and Egyptian Jihad organizations, Al-Qa'ida, and Hizbullah. Zakiri also discussed the 1998 political murders in Iran, which were committed by the Iranian security apparatuses, and stated that Iran has nuclear installations.[2]

According to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Zakiri had worked as a supervisor and director of intelligence for the Revolutionary Guards, and had then moved to the Security Ministry, where he served in several positions for a number of years. Later, he joined the security apparatus of the Leader's Office, where he was a supervisor in charge of the apparatus's secretariat, and learned of the secret links between the Revolutionary Guards and Iranian security apparatuses, and revolutionary forces in the region.

In the interview, conducted outside Iran, Zakiri said that Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, leader of the Egyptian Jihad organization and Osama bin Laden's deputy, established close ties with current deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier-General Muhammad Bakr Dhu-Al-Qadr, and with current commanders of the Iranian and Al-Quds Forces, part of the Revolutionary Guards; commanders include Ahmad Vahidi and Hussein Muslih, who was former commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon. Zakiri told of bin Laden's stay in the Sudan, during the period when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards maintained an extensive presence there. According to him, Hizbullah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, under the leadership of Fathi Shiqaqi, had a massive presence in the special training camps supervised by Guards officers such as Dhu-Al-Qadr.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat further noted that Zakiri said he was shocked when he read the political assassination file and learned of the security personnel's part in committing these and other acts.[3]

The paper also said that Zakiri revealed details of Imad Mughnia's (leading Hizbullah operative stationed in Iran with connections to Al-Qa'ida) role in some of the joint operations funded by Iranian intelligence and carried out by Islamic Jihad and other fundamentalist organizations.

The following is Al-Sharq Al-Awsat's entire interview with Hamid Reza Zakiri, as well as a response by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and news reports about other top-ranking Iranian defectors.

Personal Details

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "Who are you?"

Zakiri: "My name is Hamid Reza Zakiri, and I was born in 1962 in the city of Najafabad in the Isfahan district. From the outbreak of the

Revolution until 1985, I worked with the revolutionary committees and the [Revolutionary] Guards in Isfahan. Later, I moved to Tehran, where I was in charge of the [Revolutionary] Guards in the capital's 10th District. At that time, the regional commander was Mahdi Mubligh. That district was considered the central command, and was headed by Mohsen Rezai (later the Guards commander and now Expediency Council secretary). I was also in close contact with Hajj Morteza Rezai (head of Revolutionary Guards intelligence), and upon his instructions I carried out dangerous missions at the fronts of the war on Iraq and its agents during that time. In 1986 I was part of a group of 400 [Revolutionary] Guards officers attached to the new Security Ministry, established at that time."

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "What was your position at the Security Ministry?"

Zakiri: "I underwent special training and I studied abroad because I was an alumnus of the Imam Baqer College (a college belonging to the Security Ministry, attended by security personnel). Naturally, my area was espionage and counter-espionage, and administration of domestic security matters. After a few years, I completed a prestigious course at the [Department] of Strategic and Security Affairs."

On Iranian - North Korean Relations

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "You said that you participated in teaching and training courses abroad. Where was this?"

Zakiri: "I went to North Korea twice, as our relations with it are special. Over the years, we sent a number of groups of Revolutionary Guards personnel and security [forces personnel] to North Korea. Among those who received combat training were Revolutionary Guards Commander Rahim Safavi and his deputy Dhu-Al-Qadr. Among the personnel of the [Revolutionary] Guards were units of pilots who received training in flying and parachuting operations, among them Brigadier-General Kalibaf (now military forces commander). Our group included intelligence officers. The first time I went for 40 days and participated in special courses on psychological warfare and counter-espionage, and the second time, I stayed in North Korea again for 40 days and participated in a special course for protecting nuclear and other secret installations."

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "What are the nuclear installations for? Are there really nuclear installations?"

Zakiri: "I don't intend to talk about them. These are matters relating to the security of my country. I am against the [conservative] minority but I am not against Iran. Iran is a great country and there is no doubt that its defense needs demand a solution that will prevent external aggression against it. We have sacrificed half a million Shahid [martyrs] and there are hundreds of thousands of cities… destroyed by Iraq."

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "What was your position before you left Iran?"

Zakiri: "After the election of President Khatami, and after I learned about the role [played] by the Security Ministry in the [1998] assassinations, I could no longer remain in the Security Ministry. I supported reform and I supported Khatami, and when I learned that the [Security] Ministry was responsible for loathsome, inhuman plots against Khatami and the reformists, I decided to join one of the country's civilian apparatuses. But the Acting Director of the Special Office (the intelligence office of the Leader of the Revolution), Hadadian, called me in to his office and gave me a mission that prepared me for working for his ministry."

Iran's Security Apparatuses

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "How many security apparatuses are there, and why isn't the basic law relating to the Security Ministry implemented fully – that is, the merging of all the security apparatuses in the ministry?"

Zakiri: "Before Khatami, there was full coordination between the security apparatuses, except for the security [responsibilities] that were entrusted with military intelligence and the [Revolutionary] Guards. The Security Ministry oversaw all security matters during the two eras [i.e. terms] of Muhammad Rayshahri and 'Ali Falahian [as ministers] and the brief time after Khatami, in which Dari Nafajabadi received the Ministry [of Security]."

"Here I will tell you a secret: Before the presidential elections in May 1997, we received strict instructions from the Security Minister directed to us, our families, our relatives, and our acquaintances, to vote for the candidate [supported by] the Leader [Khamenei], 'Ali Akbar Natiq Nouri, who was then the Majlis speaker. [Revolutionary] Guards personnel and government officials received similar instructions. However, over 90% of the security [forces] personnel, the [Revolutionary] Guards, and the state apparatuses voted for Muhammad Khatami, and ignored the [Security] Minister's instructions."

"Back to your question. After the affair of the political murders and the appointment of 'Ali Yunessi as Security [and Intelligence] Minister, the Security Ministry ceased to be under the Leader [Khamenei's] and the conservatives' control and went under the cabinet's oversight. So the conservatives established their own special security ministry. On the one hand, the security office of the Leader [Khamenei] was expanded and a higher council for security was established; on the other hand, the areas of activity of the Revolutionary Guards intelligence and the Judiciary's Intelligence [Department] were expanded. These apparatuses are today in shameful violation of the law when they arrest the reformists, close down newspapers, and beat and kill people."

Iranian-Al-Qa'ida Relations

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "You say that you were in important security centers. It is natural that people ask you whether there really is a connection between Iran and Al-Qa'ida. And what do you say about Sa'ad Osama bin Laden (Osama bin Laden's son) being in Iran?"[4]

Zakiri: "The subject of the connection of the intelligence of the [Revolutionary] Guards, not of the [Iranian] government, with the Al-Qa'ida organization and other fundamentalist groups such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad goes back to the 1980s. After the assassination of [Egyptian president] Anwar Sadat, a number of Egyptians who were responsible for the crime came to us, and the [Revolutionary] Guards intelligence established relations with them. Later, we went to Lebanon, where we got acquainted with many non-Shiite revolutionary activists."

On Iranian Support of Hizbullah's Actions Against the U.S.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "You mean you went [to Lebanon]?"

Zakiri: "I have visited most of the countries in the region, but I meant that the [Revolutionary] Guards established bases in Lebanon, and used them for recruiting and training the revolutionaries and gradually bringing them into [carrying out] their schemes against the Americans, such as blowing up the Marines headquarters in Beirut [1983] and attacking the American Embassy. Imad Mughnia and some of the [Revolutionary] Guards commanders had a major part in these actions. Imad Mughnia and some of the [Revolutionary] Guards officers commanded the operation of hijacking the American TWA airplane and the killing of one of its passengers. Mughnia remained liaison officer with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri and with commanders of other fundamentalist organization."

Al-Qa'ida Request for "Help to Carry Out a Most Important Mission in the Land of the 'Great Satan'" – Turned Down

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "Did you know about the plans to attack the World Trade Center in New York?"

Zakiri: "No, but we had in our headquarters models of the [WTC] two towers, the White House, the Pentagon, and the CIA building at Langley. Thus, Imad Mughnia came to Iran, met with a number of top officials in the security apparatus of the Leader [Khamenei] and gave them a letter from Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, which said: 'We need your help to carry out a most important mission in the land of the 'Great Satan.'' The issue was presented but his request was denied. Afterwards, it was decided by the head of our department and Natiq Nouri's deputy, head of the investigations section in the Leader's [Khamenei's] Office and his representative in the Higher Council for Security, to entrust Mughnia with keeping the relations with Al-Zawahiri and his comrades, provided he did not get involved in their activity."

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "Where is Imad Mughnia today?"

Zakiri: "He is still in Iran and is continuing his activity. I think that he planned the escape of dozens of Al-Qa'ida men to Iran, some of them with their families. Before that, bin Laden's wife arrived, the young Yemenite woman with her son, and we handed them over to Yemen. Perhaps Sa'ad Osama bin Laden [too] entered Iran through Mughnia."

On President Khatami

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "Does President Khatami know about the activity of these [people]?"

Zakiri: "I feel sorrow and concern for President Khatami. He is an educated and loyal man who came [to his post] to reform the situation and to defend the country towards progress and widening of [individual and civil] freedoms."

"Unfortunately, he did not manage to utilize the overall support he had from the Iranian people. His ministers and confidants were jailed, there were assassination attempts on his closest advisors (Sa'id Hajjarian), and there were several plans to assassinate Khatami himself."

"Look at Iran today: 'Abbas 'Abdi, Khatami's friend and advisor, faces cruel punishment on charges of forgery (spying for the U.S.). 'Abdi's crime was holding a survey in which the Iranians said that they wanted to renew relations with the U.S. They also expressed their opinion [on the question] of who was the most popular of the high-ranking officials.[5]Khatami's plan was the last chance to save the regime. The supreme [security] leadership, which is under the conservatives control, pulled the rug under [Khatami's] feet by thwarting his plan and harming the reformists. The students, women, and most of the Iranian people lost hope of accomplishing change and a gradual progress."

On Relations Between Iraqi and Iranian Intelligence

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "It was mentioned that there are close connections between the [Revolutionary] Guards intelligence and Iraq. Is this true? Weren't the Guards in the first rank of the war against Iraq?"

Zakiri: "After the [Gulf] war, the [Revolutionary] Guards, commanded by Morteza Rezai, established commercial companies in order to provide work for the Guards personnel and the Basij [paramilitary units loyal to Khamenei that operate together with the Revolutionary Guards."

"These companies have been cooperating with the Babil Company, headed by Qusay, Saddam's son, since the mid-1990s. Along with smuggling Iraqi oil and marketing it, these Iranian companies smuggled Iraqi dates. The cooperation between the intelligence of the Guards and Iraq in smuggling and in trade stopped about a year ago. But the Guards intelligence still maintains relations with Uday Saddam's other son and with the Iraqi intelligence, and coordination between the parties on matters such as the siege on the Kurds and confronting the U.S. continues. For example, the Ansar Al-Islam organization in Iraqi Kurdistan won the support and protection of the Guards intelligence and of the intelligence apparatuses of the Iraqi regime."

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "There are many more questions concerning activities and secrets that you have not so far revealed."

Zakiri: "I ask to put off these questions for a while. After I arrange my situation and that of my family, and set myself up in a safe place, I will be willing to answer all your questions."

The Iranian Foreign Ministry Responds

A source in the Security and Intelligence Ministry in Tehran denied Zakiri's claims regarding the Iranian intelligence apparatuses' relations with Al-Qa'ida and with Osama bin Laden's deputy Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri. The source, who according to the paper wished to remain anonymous, confirmed that Zakiri "was expelled from the ministry because of his behavior, his dubious connections, and his activity in other centers without the knowledge of the Security and Intelligence Ministry." In an attempt to verify Zakiri's identity and statements, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat called Khamenei's office, but an official there refused to discuss the matter, stating that it was an internal office matter. The official also accused Zakiri of "spying, conspiring against Islam and the Islamic Revolution, and collaborating with Zionism and world arrogance [i.e. the U.S.]" The Iranian Foreign Ministry denied that Zakiri was a member of the Iranian security apparatuses, and said that it knew nothing of the recent defection of any top Iranian security official.[6]

More News Reports of Other Top-Ranking Defectors

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported further that the Iranian reformist daily E'temad posted on the website Yek Khabar, established by 'Ali Ara Muhammadi, former top security official and deputy director of the Iranian broadcasting authority, an item according to which three top Iranian security system officials had defected recently and taken with them many documents, including video recordings with protocols of investigations of security officials knowledgeable of the assassinations.

Islamic Documents Center head Rouhallah Husseinian, a reform opponent and former high-ranking official of Iranian intelligence services, accused a leading official in President Khatami's office of conspiring with Zakiri, because, he said, Zakiri's being abroad is the ultimate proof that Iranian activists hostile to the Islamic regime are aiding people such as Zakiri.[7]

[1] The apparatuses areclose to the Supreme Leader 'Ali Khamenei and carry out his decisions.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 18, 2003.

[3] This refers to the role played by high-ranking activists in Iranian intelligence in explosions in the tomb of the Eighth Imam Reza in the city of Mashhad, before the election of President Muhammad Khatami during the term of President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Iranian intelligence blamed Sunni resisters, but it turned out that the ones who had planned the operation were former intelligence minister 'Ali Falahian and his deputy Said Emami, who committed suicide in 1999 following his arrest in connection with the political assassinations.

[4] On February 12th, the London based Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted a diplomatic source in Rome as stating that "Sa'ad, the elder son of Osama bin Laden, was sighted in Iran. The same source said it was not clear whether other leaders of Al-Qa'ida were accompanying Sa'ad bin Laden, but insisted that Osama bin Laden himself was not in Iran. The source stressed the accuracy of the information and considered it an important lead for tracking the leaders of Al-Qa'ida. Several sources agree that the role of Sa'ad bin Laden has expanded following the war in Afghanistan, and said that he has become his father's right arm following the exodus of Al-Qa'ida from Afghanistan and the death or arrest of several of its leaders. This report is considered the first of its kind concerning the existence of an Al-Qa'ida leader in Iran."

[5] Khamenei received 6% of support in the poll.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 18, 2003.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 18, 2003.

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