In an auspicious passage that went virtually unreported at the time, the 9/11 Commission revealed in July 2004 that they “now have evidence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”
The “muscle” operatives were the 9/11 hijackers who overpowered airline crew members, slit their throats, and terrorized passengers so the al-Qaida pilots could seize control of the airliners and fly them into their targets.
The Commissioners concluded that there was “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaida members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”
“We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government,” the Commissioners wrote.
This heavily-redacted passage in the July 2004 final report of the 9/11 Commission provided a tantalizing glimpse into the information gathered by the U.S. intelligence community — mainly from national technical means — on Iran’s material involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
And yet, until now it has been widely ignored by the intelligence community, Congress, and most of the press.
I first revealed the inside story of what the 9/11 Commission found out about Iran’s involvement in the 9/11 plot in my 2005 book Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.
Among other things, I discovered from sources on the Commission that the “senior Hezbollah operative” who accompanied the al-Qaida muscle hijackers on flights from Saudi Arabia and Beirut to Tehran was none other than Iran’s star terrorist, Imad Fayez Mugniyeh.
Either Mugniyeh’s presence on those flights was hard evidence that Iran was actively and materially involved with the future al-Qaida terrorists, or it was a “remarkable coincidence,” the 9/11 Commission report stated.
[Editor's Note: Read “Iran’s Arch-Terror Master Killed in Syria” — Go Here Now].
I also interviewed a former Revolutionary Guards Colonel who gave paramilitary and intelligence training to al-Qaida terrorists at a specialized training camp in Iran before 9/11.
Former FBI assistant director Oliver “Buck” Revell tracked Mugniyeh during the 1980s because of his involvement in the deadly bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, among other attacks.
“Mugniyeh is more dangerous and has killed more people and tortured more people than any other terrorist,” Revell told me earlier this year.
“Whenever he’s under pressure, he goes to Iran. He’s the creature of the IRGC [the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps]. He’s the international link between Hezbollah and the IRGC.”
Not long after the 9/11 attacks, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called Mugniyeh’s Hezbollah “the A-Team of terrorists, and maybe al-Qaida is actually the 'B' team.”
Armitage never accused Hezbollah or Mugniyeh of involvement in the attacks, but was referring to their twenty-five-year history of killing Americans.
Mugniyeh was assassinated on February 12, 2008, when he turned on the ignition of his Mitsubishi Pajero in a highly-secure neighborhood of Damascus, Syria. He had just left a meeting with the head of Syrian intelligence, Rostam Ghazali, and with a senior Iranian intelligence officer.
Most commentators speculated that Mugniyeh had been assassinated by the Israelis, because of his ongoing role as Hezbollah’s military chief. But a Newsmax source close to Hezbollah speculated that he had been killed by the Iranians.
“Haj Radwan [a nom de guerre for Mugniyeh] knew too much, and had outlived his usefulness to the Iranians,” the source said.
New York Times reporter Philip Shenon also examined Iran’s involvement in the 9/11 plot in his recent book, The Commission, which details the political infighting among the staff and commissioners as they debated whether to apportion blame between the Clinton and Bush administrations for missing the signs of the impending attacks.
But Shenon — like the published 9/11 commission report itself — falls short of naming Imad Mugniyeh as the “senior Hezbollah operative” who was Iran’s liaison with al-Qaida.
A senior member of the 9/11 Commission staff confirmed this information to me again just a few months ago. “You mean, someone doesn’t know it was Mugniyeh?” he told me.
Despite the Commission’s calls for “further investigation” into Iran’s role in the 9/11 attacks, no agency of the United States government has delved into this subject in the four years since the report was published.
The boxes of highly-classified documents detailing what the intelligence community learned about Iran’s involvement with al Qaeda — many of which were identified in footnotes to the pages of the report dealing with Iran — were returned to their originating agencies once the Commission completed its work, where they have been forgotten like an old aunt dying of dementia.
Imad Mugniyeh’s ties to al-Qaida go back at least to 1993, according to Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard, Ali Mohamed.
Mohamed, an Egyptian special forces officer who came to America in the 1980s and enlisted in the U.S. Army, was later considered a “confidential informant” by the FBI as they were investigating the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
At the same time he was talking to the FBI, however, Mohamed was traveling back and forth to Sudan, where bin Laden had moved in the early 1990s.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy interviewed Mohamed at one point when he was still a confidential informant. “The more I listened to him, the more I’m thinking, this guy is not a witness, he’s a terrorist!” he told me.
Mohamed was arrested later for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and ultimately made a plea bargain with the U.S. government.
During his “allocution” at his sentencing hearing in October 2000, he revealed his personal knowledge of Iran’s early ties to his boss, Osama bin Laden.
“I arranged security for a meeting in the Sudan between Mugniyeh, Hezbollah’s chief, and bin Laden,” Mohamed told the court.
That meeting took place in 1993, and was a historic “terrorist summit” that laid the ground work for a “cease fire” between Shiite Muslim Iran and the radical Sunnis of Bin Laden’s organization, according to former ABC news reporter and author, Peter Lance.
“Hezbollah provided explosives training for al-Qaida and al Jihad. Iran supplied Egyptian Jihad with weapons,” Mohamed said at his sentencing hearing.
Egyptian Jihad was the al-Qaida component run by Ayman al-Zawahri, the man who is still wanted in Egypt for master-minding the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
Zawahri is bin Laden’s top deputy. He was also the al-Qaida operative who had the best connections with Iran, former Iranian intelligence officers tell Newsmax.
Earlier this week, however, al Jazeera reported receiving a copy of a 90-minute video by Zawahri that blasted Iran’s leadership for “co-operating with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Those bitter words may have been a ploy aimed at disguising al-Qaida’s long-standing ties to Iran, and at reassuring al-Qaida foot-soldiers that the terrorist group had not lost the war in Iraq, but had been undermined or sabotaged by fellow Muslims.
The 9/11 commission also described an al-Qaida team that “traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives” after the initial 1993 meeting between bin Laden, Mugniyeh, and an Iranian general in Khartoum.
“Bin Laden reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983,” the Commission report states.
Mugniyeh designed the twin truck bombs that killed the marines and another 68 French soldiers in October 1983. Fifteen years later, al-Qaida pulled off a similar attack, hitting two U.S. embassies in Africa with truck bombs that exploded just minutes apart but in different countries.
Iran’s role in the 9/11 conspiracy remains one of the best kept secrets of the United States government.
“Al-Qaida also forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States,” the original 1998 indictment against bin Laden for the Africa embassy bombings revealed.
But the passage was redacted in later versions of the indictment, perhaps to conceal intelligence sources.
I revealed key details of the Iran/al-Qaida relationship in "Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran."
• Top al-Qaida leaders, including Ayman al Zawahri and Saad bin Laden, traveled to Iran in early 2001 to win Iranian cooperation in the 9/11 plot, according to an Iranian eyewitness of those meetings. Top among their requests were assistance in getting al-Qaida operatives into and out of Afghanistan without being detected by U.S. intelligence networks in Pakistan.
• The CIA was warned of Iran’s growing ties with al-Qaida, and of Iran’s intention to carry out a massive terrorist operation against the United States jointly with al-Qaida, by an Iranian defector who walked into the U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan in July 2001. The CIA dismissed the warning and called the defector “a fabricator.”
• Not long before 9/11, a private company used as a front by Iranian intelligence purchased a Boeing 757/767/777 simulator through commercial contacts, according to another Iranian defector who had personal knowledge of the companies and individuals involved in the purchase. Iran did not then, and does not today own such aircraft. The planes hijacked on 9/11 were Boeing 757s and Boeing 767s.
• Several al-Qaida operatives convicted of terrorist crimes in Europe have said in open court that before 9/11 they were ordered to get travel documents from Iranian embassies in Europe and to travel through Iran to reach Afghanistan as a means of eluding U.S. surveillance.
• The United States government detected a “rat line” set up by Iran to evacuate several hundred al-Qaida terrorists and their families from Afghanistan to Iran in late 2001 and early 2002. The Iranians used army helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, and convoys of Nissan Patrols for the al-Qaida rat line.
• Since then, Iran has continued to provide shelter, sanctuary, training and other material support to al-Qaida operatives and served as a rear base for al al-Qaida operations in neighboring Iraq.
• U.S. negotiations with Iran in early 2003 fell apart after Iran refused to hand over Saad Bin Laden and other top al-Qaida operatives then living in Iran.
• The U.S. severed all contacts with Iran in May 2003, after they intercepted orders from al-Qaida operatives in Iran to a cell in Saudi Arabia to initiate a bloody wave of terrorist attacks in Riyadh that the Saudis called their 9/11.
• Imad Mugniyeh was Iran’s chief liaison to al-Qaida both during the preparation phase of the 9/11 plot, and afterwards.
• Several sources report that Osama bin Laden visited Iran to meet with senior government leaders in November 2004.
Despite this wealth of evidence, the conventional wisdom within the U.S. intelligence community continues to assert that Iran did not assist al-Qaida because of the religious differences between them.
“The conventional wisdom is idiotic,” former CIA Director R. James Woolsey told me.
“I don’t remember what so-called expert was saying that Shia Islamists will never cooperate with Sunni Islamists or with secular terrorists, but I’ve thought this line of reasoning on totalitarians was wrong since I was a sophomore in college,” Woolsey said.
Since 2006, the U.S. military has discovered Iranian-made weapons with Sunni insurgents in Iraq, and has documented Iran’s active assistance to Sunni groups.
“Today, it is well known that Iran has been transferring weapons to the Taliban and thus to whatever is left of al-Qaida — sleeping with the Devil, so to speak — because it suits their larger political purpose of attacking America,” said Edward Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Security and International Studies in Washington, DC.
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