Release date: Feb. 4, 2004

Issue: 02/17/04


Defector Points Finger at Iran in September 11Plot

By Kenneth R. Timmerman



An Iranian defector stepped forward to provide key testimony inthe trial of an alleged 9/11 conspirator, a 31-year old Moroccannamed Abdelghani Mzoudi, just hours before a German court waspreparing to drop all charges against him. The defector, Hamid RezaZakeri, told a court in Hamburg on Jan. 30 that a Mzoudi colleague,9/11 hijacker Ziad Samir al-Jarrah, met in Iran with Zakeri's formerbosses at the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS), Iran'sintelligence service, two years before the September 11 terroristattacks. "I saw him at a training camp in eastern Iran with[Lebanese terrorist] Imad Mugniyeh and [top al-Qaedaoperative] Saef al-Adil," he said.

Mzoudi himself was in Iran for training in 1997, Zakeri says. TheGermans had charged Mzoudi with providing material support to theal-Qaeda cell in Hamburg that included al-Jarrah and two other 9/11hijackers, but they were preparing to drop the charges before Zakeristepped forward with new information. Insight first publishedZakeri's allegations of an Iranian government link to the 9/11conspiracy last year [see "Defector Alleges Iranian Involvementin Sept. 11 Attacks," posted June 10, 2003, at Insight Online].At the time, the CIA responded to Insight inquiries regardingZakeri's credibility by calling him a "serial fabricator."

Zakeri claimed that he met with a CIA officer at the U.S. Embassyin Baku, Azerbaijan, in July 2001 and provided warning of the 9/11attacks. The CIA acknowledged the meeting, then claimed Zakeri hadprovided no credible evidence of a terrorist plot against the UnitedStates. But German prosecutors and the German intelligence agencieswho have interviewed Zakeri don't appear to share that assessment.Germany's counterespionage service, the Bundeskriminalamt, suppliedprosecutors with a 30-page transcript of its interview with Zakeri onJan. 21, prompting the court to halt Mzoudi's trial and expectedrelease.

In his original interview with Insight, which was picked up byAmerican media organizations only after Zakeri's name surfaced in theGerman 9/11 trial on Jan. 21, the former MOIS operative said hepersonally handled security at two meetings between top al-Qaedaoperatives and Iranian officials held in Iran just months before theSeptember 11 attacks.

Zakeri's information dovetailed in many respects with an earlierreport on Iran's al-Qaeda ties produced by the Defense IntelligenceAgency that Insight first revealed in November 2001 [see "IranCosponsors Al-Qaeda Terrorism," Dec. 3, 2001]. Both reports havebeen spiked until now.

Zakeri backed up his original account of the two meetings betweenal-Qaeda and Iran with a document signed by Hojjat-ol eslam Ali AkbarNateq-Nouri, who headed the Intelligence Department for SupremeLeader Ali Khamenei. The letter, dated May 14, 2001, carriedinstructions from Khamenei to his Intelligence Ministry regardingrelations with al-Qaeda.

In a follow-on interview with Insight just hours before heappeared in the Hamburg courtroom on Jan. 30, Zakeri reiterated hisearlier allegations that Saad bin Laden, eldest son of the Sauditerrorist, and bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, both came toIran in the months prior to the 9/11 attacks to discuss the logisticsand strategy of a major attack on the United States with Iranianintelligence officers.

Saad bin Laden "spoke good English" during his talks with MOISofficials when he came to Iran four months and seven days before9/11, Zakeri tells Insight.

Another top al-Qaeda operative, Saef al-Adil, currently is inIran, Zakeri tells Insight, where he has met with the deputy militarycommander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Gen.Mohammad Baqr Zolqadr. Training of al-Qaeda operatives by the IRGCtook place at the "Fathi Shiqaqi" camp to the northeast of Iran, headds. Shiqaqi was the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), anIranian-backed terrorist group, until Israeli intelligence operativesassassinated him in Malta in October 1995. Shiqaqi was replaced ashead of PIJ by Ramadan Shallah, who left a teaching job at theUniversity of South Florida where he had worked alongside professorSami al-Arian, now awaiting trial in the United States onterrorism-related charges.

U.S. officials say they believe Saad bin Laden currently is inIran, where he is being given refuge and safe harbor, but repeatedrequests to the Iranian government to hand him over for trial havegone unanswered. The Iranian government says only that a number ofal-Qaeda operatives crossed into Iran from neighboring Afghanistanand that they currently are awaiting prosecution for unspecifiedviolations of Iranian law.


Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer forInsight magazine.

For more on this story, read "ProofThat Tehran Backed Terrorism."


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