Iran 'Has Closer Ties
To al-Qa'eda Than Iraq'

By Alec Russell
The Telegraph - UK
WASHINGTON -- Iran will be accused of having closer ties to al-Qa'eda than Iraq and of giving safe passage to many of the September 11 hijackers before the attacks in a report by the commission investigating the atrocities.
Critics are likely to seize on the report to question why the Bush administration focused on the tenuous links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'eda when there were more obviously suspicious ties with Iran.
The bipartisan body's findings offer new evidence of a relationship between al-Qa'eda and Iran, but one official, John McLaughlin, the CIA's acting director, told Fox News: "We have no evidence that there is some sort of official connection between Iran and 9/11."
The report, due for release on Thursday after a 20-month investigation, trenchantly criticises the anti-terrorism record of the Bush administration before the atrocities, but spreads the blame. It condemns Congress for poor oversight of counter-terrorism efforts, and is thought to include a briefing paper to Mr Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, warning of possible al-Qa'eda hijacking plots.
The most explosive leaks indicated that the commission received intelligence that Teheran ordered border guards not to stamp the passports of Saudi members of al-Qa'eda as they crossed Iran after training in Afghanistan.
A senior official told Time magazine that evidence suggested between eight and 10 of the 14 "muscle" hijackers - those who took control of the four planes hijacked for September 11 and subdued passengers and crew - passed through Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.
This is seen as proof of Iran's supportive approach to terrorism rather than complicity in the plot. Most of the hijackers knew nothing about it until the last minute.
The official quoted by Time said the report would note that Iranian officials approached al-Qa'eda's leaders after the USS Cole was bombed in Aden in 1998 and proposed working together to plot and carry out attacks against America, but Osama bin Laden turned them down. The Iran allegations came mainly from electronic intelligence intercepts at the National Security Agency and interrogation of al-Qa'eda detainees.
The commission's main recommendations are an overhaul of US intelligence structures, a new cabinet post to oversee the CIA, FBI and other agencies, and a new counter-terrorism body.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.



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