[R-G] Iranian tip-off may have led Americans to al-Qaeda leader

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Sun Apr 29 11:47:31 MDT 2007


Copyright 2007 Guardian Newspapers Limited
All Rights Reserved
The Guardian (London)

April 29, 2007 Sunday

SECTION: OBSERVER FOREIGN PAGES; Pg. 35

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HEADLINE: Iranian tip-off may have led Americans to al-Qaeda leader:  
A major in Saddam's army, believed to have masterminded the London  
bombings, could have been betrayed in Tehran, reports Jason Burke

BODY:


Abdul Hadi al -Iraqi, above, now being held at Guantanamo Bay, top,  
is closely linked to Osama bin Laden, far left, and he replaced  
Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, left, as al-Qaeda's director of external  
operations. Reuters/AP

BRITISH DIPLOMATS are checking secret reports that elements within  
Iran, normally hostile to the West, helped the American secret  
services to capture Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, the Kurdish-born senior al- 
Qaeda militant who was revealed last week to have been arrested on  
the border between Iran and Iraq late last year.

Abdul Hadi, 45, a former Iraqi army officer who speaks five languages  
and is a key link between the al-Qaeda leadership in western Pakistan  
and militants in Iraq, had 'met with al-Qaeda leaders in Iran' and  
had urged them to support efforts in Iraq and to cause 'problems  
within Iran', US military sources told The Observer

Elements within the complex matrix of interest groups that make up  
the Iranian regime, who have co-operated with Western intelligence  
services before when it has served their purposes, provided crucial  
elements of information, possibly through intermediaries, allowing  
Abdul Hadi to be captured. 'They may have felt he posed an equal  
threat to them,' said one Paris-based Middle Eastern diplomat  
yesterday. 'One of Tehran's biggest fears is of an alliance between  
Kurdish ethnic separatists in the northwest and al-Qaeda.'

Any such help would have been highly secret, given the tense  
relations between the Iranian regime and Western nations which came  
to a head with last month's detention of British naval personnel,  
allegations that Tehran is supporting Shia militants in Iraq and  
fierce recriminations over Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear  
technology.

However, senior US intelligence officials told The Observer that the  
Iranian government has 'in some cases' been helpful in tracking and  
'disabling' key militants crossing their national territory between  
Iraq and Afghanistan. The key Egyptian militant Saif al-Adel, once in  
charge of training al-Qaeda's new recruits, and one of Osama bin  
Laden's sons are both believed to be under some kind of detention in  
Iran.

However, though such co-operation was relatively common in the years  
immediately following the 11 September attacks, the sources said, it  
had ceased more recently.

Though they refused to confirm that Abdul Hadi was picked up on the  
frontier with Iran, Pentagon officials said that he had been  
attempting to return to Iraq 'to manage al-Qaeda affairs and possibly  
focus on operations outside Iraq against Western targets'.

Regional governments have made no comment on the arrest, but Pakistan  
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao described the arrest as a  
'welcome development'. Senior British officials appeared unaware that  
Abdul Hadi had been detained by the CIA nearly six months ago,  
despite the militant's reported links to the London bomb plots and  
suspected interest in organising attacks on British soil.  
Intelligence services in the northern Iraqi cities of Arbil and  
Sulaimaniyah said Abdul Hadi, whose real name is Nashwan abd al- 
Razzaq abd al-Baqi, was well known to them.

Born in 1961 in the northern city of Mosul, Abdul Hadi - who is being  
held at Guantanamo Bay - is thought to have served in the Iraqi  
national army in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s before becoming  
involved in the Islamist groups active in northern Iraq's urban areas  
at the time. He is believed to have travelled to Afghanistan at the  
end of the 1980s to fight Soviet occupiers, fighting alongside the  
militia group of hardline local warlord Abd al-Rab al-Rasul Sayyaf.  
As Afghanistan sunk into civil war in the early 1990s, Abdul Hadi is  
thought to have stayed in the region, based in the western Pakistan  
city of Peshawar, where he instructed recruits in Sayyaf's complex of  
training camps. One Pakistani source told The Observer he had taken  
at least one local wife from among the city's large population of  
Afghan refugees and had at least one son. Towards the end of the  
decade, Abdul Hadi gravitated towards bin Laden's al- Qaeda, becoming  
close to the Saudi-born terrorist leader and taking up a position on  
his ruling consultative council. In the late 1990s Abdul Hadi  
commanded a unit of international volunteers fighting alongside the  
Taliban against the Northern Alliance of Ahmad Shah Massoud in the  
northeastern Afghan province of Takhar.

He became known to Western intelligence services during the battle of  
Shah-e-Kot in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002, when he is thought  
to have commanded the militants who inflicted heavy casualties on  
American troops and their Afghan auxiliaries in fierce fighting. A  
year later he is believed to have been appointed al-Qaeda's 'director  
of external operations', replacing Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind  
of the 11 September attacks, who was arrested in Pakistan. 'It is the  
most exposed position in the al-Qaeda structure because it is the  
link with the outside world,' one British counter-terrorism official  
said. 'It's the job with the worst long-term prospects in the world.'

A document prepared by the UK's Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre  
quoted Abdul Hadi as calling for an attack against the UK this  
summer, 'ideally before Tony Blair leaves office'. According to the  
document, he 'stressed the need to take care to ensure that the  
attack was successful and on a large scale'.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official confirmed that Abdul Hadi  
had been one of the key targets of a series of bloody offensives by  
Islamabad's troops in the 'tribal territories' and was believed to be  
a direct link between al-Qaeda leaders and the Taliban and deeply  
implicated in organising attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan. He  
had disappeared some time during mid-2005, around when the Pentagon  
says Abdul Hadi had been posted as a key link between bin Laden and  
local Iraqi militants, but surfaced in a violent recruiting video  
apparently filmed in Afghanistan.

His capture came just weeks after the US State Department issued his  
photograph and offered £500,000 for information on his whereabouts.




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