‘Correspondence from OBL in Pakistan contradicts US assertions that al-Qaeda has a close relationship with Iran’
“… after the (9-11) attacks, Iran turned against al-Qaeda and detained hundreds of Arab fighters fleeing the U.S. war in Afghanistan. According to research I did for my book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies, Iran extradited a number of these detainees to their home countries.But Iran held on to high-profile detainees including several children of bin Laden and Saif al-Adel, then al-Qaeda’s number three, for insurance against al-Qaeda and as potential bargaining chips.
In 2003, after the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq, Iran offered to trade these detainees to the United States for senior figures of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that at the time had more than 3,000 members at a base in Iraq called Camp Ashraf.
The Bush administration refused and then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told me that then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and his aide Douglas Feith wanted to hold onto MEK members as possible agents against Iran. (According toSeymour Hersh, some MEK members were later taken to the U.S. for training. Israel may have used MEK operatives to assassinate Iranian scientists.)
According to the CTC report, al Qaeda kept trying to get Iran to free the detainees who included a bin Laden son, Khalid, who was killed with him a year ago, and another son, Sa’ad, who died in 2009. A June 2009 letter addressed to “our venerable shaykh,” written by an al Qaeda official called “Atiyya,” says that the Iranians have released “a group of brothers” and that they are expected to free women and children related to bin Laden “perhaps within a week.”
Instead, Iran held onto the relatives. In March 2010, a teenage daughter of bin Laden, Iman, “escaped” to the Saudi embassy in Tehran and was allowed to return home. In return, Iran obtained the release of an Iranian diplomat kidnapped 15 months earlier in Pakistan by Sunni militants.
According to the CTC report, Atiyya bragged that al Qaeda abducted the Iranian — Heshmatollah Attarzadeh-Niaki, the commercial counselor in the Iranian Consulate in Peshawar — and escalated other threats that “scared them [the Iranians] …based on what they saw [we are capable of], to be among the reasons that led them to expedite [the release of these prisoners].”
Still, Iran held onto other bin Laden relatives, including a daughter, Fatima.
The report says that al Qaeda fugitives fled to Iran after 9-11 because of links with an Afghan militant, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, residing in Iran. Al-Qaeda did not see Iran “from the perspective that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ but the group might have hoped that ‘the enemy of my [American] enemy would leave me alone.”…”