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Iran Admits To Facilitating 9/11 Terror Attacks” reads the headline on the fervently neocon faux-newspaper Washington Free Beacon. As evidence, it cites an article by the Saudi-government owned Al Arabiya network written by a journalist/”#HumanRights activist” (mirror) who appears to specialize in publishing negative articles on the Islamic Republic. The Al Arabia article in turn translates an interview of Iranian judiciary official Mohammad-Javad Larijani that aired on Iranian TV May 30.

In the translation offered by Al Arabia, it appears that Mohammad-Javad Larijani is paraphrasing allegations made against Iran by the 2004 9/11 Commission Report. The gist of the Al Arabia report is that Larijani is “admitted” that Iran assisted 9/11 hijackers. From their translation:

The lengthy report of the 9/11 commission which was headed by figures like Lee Hamilton and others mentioned in pages 240 and 241, i.e. in two or three pages, queries Iran’s role in the issue (and said that) a group of reports stated that al-Qaeda members who wanted to go to Saudi Arabia and other countries like Afghanistan or others and who entered Iranian territories by land or by air asked the Iranian authorities not to stamp their passports (and told them) that if the Saudi government knows they’ve come to Iran, it will prosecute them.

Our government agreed not to stamp the passports of some of them because they were on transit flights for two hours, and they were resuming their flights without having their passports stamped. However their movements were under the complete supervision of the Iranian intelligence.

The Americans took this as evidence of Iran’s cooperation with al-Qaeda and viewed the passage of an airplane through Iran’s airspace, which had one of the pilots who carried out the attacks and a Hezbollah military leader sitting (next to) him on board, as evidence of direct cooperation with al-Qaeda through the Lebanese Hezbollah.

So, even generously assuming the Al Arabia translation is accurate, it isn’t ultimately clear that Larijani is admitting to anything damning in the first place. They allowed some passengers to pass through Iran without stamping their passports. Iranian intelligence watched them. There is no admission that Iran knew about the 9/11 plans or even knew the passengers were al-Qaeda operatives.

There are some other caveats worth keeping in mind:

1. I have yet to see a translation of this interview from another source. In addition, there may be some important conversational context being left out. I do not know Persian, so I have no definitive answers. Looking at the transcript provided by Al Arabia, I think it is entirely plausible that Larijani’s intent was to simply paraphrase the allegations lobbed by the 9/11 Commission as just that, allegations, with simple grammatical alterations made in translation to suggest he was “admitting” to them being true.

2. The 9/11 Commission Report’s section alleging Iran and Hezbollah had a working relationship prior to 9/11 relies heavily on interrogations with suspected al-Qaeda members that took place in 2002-2004, which were likely to have involved the use of torture. This can be gleaned by looking at the endnotes (see below). Seeing as torture was used to fabricate ties between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein prior to the Iraq War and was later used to tie Iran to the post-invasion insurgency, we can see enough of a pattern to take the section in with a grain of salt.

3. The 9/11 Commission Report itself admits that “we have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.”

4. If there was a limited relationship between Iranian assets and al-Qaeda prior to 9/11, it has little relevance to today’s diplomatic atmosphere. It is highly doubtful that Iran would ever want to re-engage Salafi extremists on friendly terms anytime in the near future considering the massive effort they put into defeating such groups in Syria and Iraq. The same neocon analysts who still claim Saddam had a strong supporting relationship with al-Qaeda are also pushing the line than Iran has/had direct connections to 9/11. They still put a huge amount of stock in citing the example of Hassan al-Turabi’s short lived Popular Arab and Islamic Congress. This tenuous alliance, based mainly around certain Sunni Islamists, Shia Islamists and secular Arab nationalists, ultimately proved to be a pipe dream. Sudan, the country in which it was based, has largely fallen out with Iran and improved its relations with the US-GCC bloc drastically. It even played a large role in the 2011 effort to overthrow Gaddafi. [This also begs the question: if Sudan can have friendly relations with the US after harboring Osama Bin Laden in the 1990s, why should we continue to antagonize Iran for some flimsy ties based on scant evidence?]

5. This is the most obvious point, but there is significantly more evidence from more plentiful and reliable sources that Middle East allies of the US–such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey–have played and continue to play a huge role in promoting Sunni extremism. It is the height of absurdity to say we should antagonize Iran with ramped up sanctions for unproven accusations about passports from two decades ago while making massive arms shipments to the Saudis.

The entire section of the 9/11 Commission Report on Iran can be found below for further reference:

Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to al Qaeda
As we mentioned in chapter 2, while in Sudan, senior managers in al Qaeda maintained contacts with Iran and the Iranian-supported worldwide terrorist organization Hezbollah, which is based mainly in southern Lebanon and Beirut. Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah.

Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Ladin’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because Bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia. Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan. For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda.[120]

Our knowledge of the international travels of the al Qaeda operatives selected for the 9/11 operation remains fragmentary. But we 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.[121]

In October 2000, a senior operative of Hezbollah visited Saudi Arabia to coordinate activities there. He also planned to assist individuals in Saudi Arabia in traveling to Iran during November. A top Hezbollah commander and Saudi Hezbollah contacts were involved.[122]

Also in October 2000, two future muscle hijackers, Mohand al Shehri and Hamza al Ghamdi, flew from Iran to Kuwait. In November, Ahmed al Ghamdi apparently flew to Beirut, traveling-perhaps by coincidence-on the same flight as a senior Hezbollah operative. Also in November, Salem al Hazmi apparently flew from Saudi Arabia to Beirut.[123]

In mid-November, we believe, three of the future muscle hijackers, Wail al Shehri, Waleed al Shehri, and Ahmed al Nami, all of whom had obtained their U.S. visas in late October, traveled in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative was on the same flight that took the future hijackers to Iran. Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran were expecting the arrival of a group during the same time period. The travel of this group was important enough to merit the attention of senior figures in Hezbollah.[124]

Later in November, two future muscle hijackers, Satam al Suqami and Majed Moqed, flew into Iran from Bahrain. In February 2001, Khalid al Mihdhar may have taken a flight from Syria to Iran, and then traveled further within Iran to a point near the Afghan border.[125]

KSM and Binalshibh have confirmed that several of the 9/11 hijackers (at least eight, according to Binalshibh) transited Iran on their way to or from Afghanistan, taking advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports. They deny any other reason for the hijackers’ travel to Iran. They also deny any relationship between the hijackers and Hezbollah.[126]

In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers. There also is circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives were closely tracking the travel of some of these future muscle hijackers into Iran in November 2000. However, we cannot rule out the possibility of a remarkable coincidence-that is, that Hezbollah was actually focusing on some other group of individuals traveling from Saudi Arabia during this same time frame, rather than the future hijackers.[127]

We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack. At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation.

After 9/11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda. A senior Hezbollah official disclaimed any Hezbollah involvement in 9/11.[128]

We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government.

ENDNOTES:

[120] Intelligence reports, interrogations of detainee, Oct. 18, 2001; Mar. 13, 2002; Intelligence report, interrogation of detainee, Mar. 7, 2002; Intelligence reports, interrogations of KSM,Aug. 20, 2003; Sept. 12, 2003, July 16, 2004; Intelligence report, interrogation of Khallad, Sept. 12, 2003; Intelligence report, interrogation of detainee, Sept. 30, 2003; CIA analytic report, “Iran and al-Qa’ida: Ties Forged in Islamic Extremism,” CTC 200440009HCX, March 2004, pp. i, 6-12.

[121] Intelligence report, analysis of Hezbollah, Iran, and 9/11, Dec. 20, 2001; Intelligence report, interrogation of Binalshibh, July 16, 2004.

[122] Ibid.; Intelligence report, Hezbollah activities, Oct. 11, 2001; Intelligence report, operative’s travel to Saudi Arabia,Aug. 9, 2002.

[123] Intelligence reports, hijacker activities, Oct. 11, 2001; Oct. 29, 2001; Nov. 14, 2001; Intelligence report, operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers, Aug. 9, 2002.

[124] Intelligence reports, hijacker activities, Nov. 14, 2001; Oct. 2, 2001; Oct. 31, 2001.

[125] Intelligence reports, hijacker activities, Oct. 19, 2001; Dec. 7, 2001.

[126] Intelligence report, interrogation of KSM, July 16, 2004; Intelligence report; interrogation of Binalshibh, July 16, 2004.

[127] Intelligence report, analysis of Hezbollah, Iran, and 9/11, Dec. 20, 2001.

[128] Intelligence report, Hezbollah and Sunni terrorist activities, Sept. 21, 2001; Intelligence report, Hezbollah denies involvement in 9/11, Sept. 22, 2001.