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Defense and Foreign Affairs Daily

Monday, July 26, 2004

Volume XXII, No. 119
Founded in 1972.  Produced at least 200 times a year
© 2004, Global Information System, ISSA

Iran and September 11, 2001:
Commission Findings Confirm 1993

“Target America” Reporting

Special Report
Analysis. By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS


The United States' 9/11 Commission’s thorough report briefly addressed an issue most crucial to the next phase of the “war on terrorism”: the rôle of the sponsoring states in the spread and capabilities of the seemingly stateless Islamist-jihadist terrorism. Alluded to in the report is a significant aspect of state-sponsorship: the possibility that one or more states assisted the would-be terrorists in their preparations for the fateful strike on targets in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

In describing the unfolding of the preparations for the September 11 strike, the Commission pointed out the possible involvement of Iran. According to the report, between eight and 10 of the 14 would-be “muscle” hijackers (those who did not fly the hijacked aircraft) crossed into Iran from Afghanistan between October 2000 and February 2001. These terrorists did not sneak into Iran. They crossed the Afghanistan-Iran border with the help of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC: Pasdaran) and their “safe-passage” documents were facilitated by an IRGC general. Writing in the London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the well connected Ali Nuri-Zadeh stressed that the Iranian assistance was provided “at the request of [Ayman] al-Zawahiri who has links to the Iranian officer in question dating back to the early nineties”. Ahmad Vahidi, the commander of Tehran’s main terrorism force — the al-Quds Forces, part of the IRGC — fits closely the description of the general in Al-Sharq al-Awsat. Indeed, Zawahiri and Vahedi cooperated on several major undertakings including running training bases in Sudan and Afghanistan.

This crossing of the Iranian border is a far more complicated and important an issue than just a clandestine cross-border movement of some nine young Saudis. The Saudi would-be terrorists crossed from Afghanistan into north-eastern Iran in the general area of Mashhad. And this location raises the possibility of these Saudis being trained in nearby Wakilabad, one of Iran’s main terrorism training facilities. Since the mid-1980s, Iranian intelligence and the IRGC have maintained two major installations for terrorist training dedicated to the disruption of aerial traffic in the West, from airport attacks to hijacking. As I wrote in Target America1 in Spring 1993: “The first installation was established in Wakilabad near Mashhad.

The entire Western-built airport was provided for the terrorist training program. The latest Western airport equipment was purchased and transferred to the training facility. Iran Air maintained a Boeing 707 and a Boeing 727 jets in the airport, and could send a Boeing 747 for special classes. There were several former Iran Air and Iranian Air Force pilots among the staff and students, including some who were trained in the United States. According to a former trainee in Wakilabad, one of the exercises included having an Islamic Jihad detachment to seize (or hijack) a transport aircraft. Then, trained aircrews from among the terrorists would crash the airliner with its passengers into a selected objective. Other exercises included the storming of terminals and parked aircraft for the capture of hostages and the inflicting of massive casualties.” [emphasis added]

This training was not an idle undertaking for the Islamist perpetrators of the key hijackings in the 1980s; they were all graduates of Wakilabad. Moreover, all of these terrorists acted under the command of Imad Mughaniyah, then the chief of the HizbAllah’s Special Operations arm. Mughaniyah is also the friend of Osama bin Laden and his partner in the establishment of the HizbAllah International in Spring 1996. Both are members of the Committee of Three which has been running the HizbAllah International under the auspices of Iranian Intelligence. One of the key strategy formulating meetings of the HizbAllah International took place in mid-July 1996 close to the Pakistani border town of Konli. Among the participants were Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Ahmad Vahidi. In bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America2, which was published in Summer 1999, I noted that “Although there was no specific outcome from the discussions in Konli, Zawahiri and Vahidi agreed on additional sessions to be held soon in Tehran on launching joint operations and spectacular strikes in order to evict the United States from Muslim lands.”

In the context of this cooperation, Mughaniyah arrived in Lebanon in Autumn 1998 to coordinate the launching of a new cycle of spectacular terrorist operations against the US in close cooperation with bin Laden’s terrorist élite. This time-line fits the known planning phase of the September 11, 2001, strikes.

This brings us back to the recent revelations of Ali Nuri-Zadeh and the 9/11 Commission report. The possibility of training in Wakilabad in preparations for 911 must be examined in the context of the concurrent strategic cooperation between the Iranian terrorist élite and the al-Qaida leadership. Significantly, Wakilabad is the only known place where Islamist terrorists have been provided with this kind of training. And there is no doubt the would be planners and perpetrators of 9/11 were provided with extensive amounts of know how and expertise that facilitated the smooth planning and execution of the fateful strikes. The intelligence services of terrorism sponsoring states are the sole known providers of such know-how.

This correlation of time-lines and expertise makes a strong circumstantial case for Iranian involvement in the preparations for the September 11, 2001, strikes at the heart of America. Thus, it is imperative to clarify the exact rôle, if any, of Iran in the sponsorship of the 9/11 strikes. The 9/11 Commission report dodged the question of Iranian involvement or sponsorship, stating that “we cannot rule out the possibility of a remarkable coincidence ... [and] we found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah [sic] was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.”

With this statement, the Commission reaffirmed its sustenance from a Washingtonian umbilical cord. “Not having specific evidence” is official Washington’s favorite excuse for not facing reality and not doing anything. However, in the case of the September 11, 2001, strike, the absence of precise evidence is not enough to clear Iran because of the nature of training Iran was providing at the time to other terrorists as well as the extent of close cooperation between Iran, the HizbAllah and al-Qaida through the HizbAllah International. Only the identification of an alternate source of comparable training and sponsorship will clear Tehran of suspicions.

Examining the evolving Iranian sponsorship of terrorism in recent years should not to be ignored either. Iran is still involved in international terrorism, including a relentless effort to topple the US-installed Government of Iraq, and, as well, pressures HizbAllah into escalating the fighting along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Significantly, the Iranian uppermost leadership still considers anti-US terrorism as a viable instrument of state policy. An Iranian senior intelligence officer I quoted in my recent book, The Secret History of the Iraq War3, leaves no doubt about Tehran’s commitment to the use of terrorism against the United States. Discussing the Iranian involvement in Iraq, he stressed the enduring relevance of the lessons of the anti-US terrorism in Beirut. “In the 1980s and on the orders of Imam Khomeini, we [Iranian intelligence] took our battle with the United States to Lebanon where we hit the US Marines base and the US Embassy in Beirut and kidnapped William Buckley, head of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Middle East, and several American citizens. The United States was forced to recognize our [dominant] rôle in Lebanon. We are today moving our battle with the United States to Iraq on the orders of the Revolution Guide [Khamenei’] so that it will recognize our [dominant] rôle there too.”

Hence, given the available evidence, it is imperative for the US to confront not only the entire question of Iran’s terrorism sponsorship, but also the possibility that Iran provided the perpetrators of 9/11 with unique training and expertise.


1. Bodansky, Yossef: Target America & The West: Terrorism in the World Today. New York, 1993: SPi Books.

2. Bodansky, Yossef: bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America. New York, 1999: Prima Books.

3. Bodansky, Yossef: The Secret History of the Iraq War. New York, 1999: Regan Books.