Following Zarqawi’s footsteps in Iran

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Newsweek: The Bush administration has repeatedly fingered Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi—self-confessed beheader of U.S. hostage Nicholas Berg and other Western captives—as a critical link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. In the
vice presidential debate, Dick Cheney said that after U.S.
forces attacked Afghanistan seeking to roust Osama bin Laden, al-Zarqawi “migrated to Baghdad.” But other U.S.
officials say the Jordanian terrorist’s contacts in neighboring
Iran are probably more extensive than any dealings he had with Saddam. Newsweek

By Mark Hosenball

25 October 2004

The Bush administration has repeatedly fingered Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi—self-confessed beheader of U.S. hostage Nicholas Berg and other Western captives—as a critical link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. In the vice presidential debate, Dick Cheney said that after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan seeking to roust Osama bin Laden, al-Zarqawi “migrated to Baghdad.” But other U.S. officials say the Jordanian terrorist’s contacts in neighboring Iran are probably more extensive than any dealings he had with Saddam.

Sources close to Jordanian intelligence say al-Zarqawi has gone back and forth across the Iran-Iraq border since Saddam’s regime fell. According to a Jordanian intelligence briefing made available to NEWSWEEK, al-Zarqawi crossed the Iranian border after being wounded in Afghanistan in late 2001, was treated, then stayed in an Iranian safe house in the same town as fugitive Qaeda leaders. Later al-Zarqawi traveled to northern Iraq, Syria and Turkey. But he supposedly returned to Iran around March 2002, at which point he was “arrested” by Iranian authorities. Some Jordanian investigators believe that a high-ranking Iranian intel official then established a relationship with him to provide aid.

U.S. officials say that al-Zarqawi was escorted by Iranian authorities to the border with Iraq and expelled in the spring of 2002. Bush aides say he then allegedly spent several months in Baghdad and in an enclave in Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by the Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Al-Islam. But according to the Jordanian briefing, after the invasion of Iraq al-Zarqawi recrossed the border into Iran and was again “captured” by Iranian authorities. Some Jordanian officials believe that during this sojourn in “custody,” al-Zarqawi’s high-level Iranian contact got in touch again, and this time encouraged him to organize violent resistance to the American occupation of Iraq. Bush officials have said they now believe al-Zarqawi is the most important kingpin of the Iraqi insurgency. American intel agencies agree that he flitted between Iran and Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion. But U.S. analysts are skeptical of Jordanian allegations about a significant relationship between al-Zarqawi and Iranian intelligence. A U.S. official says the CIA believes that while in Iran, al-Zarqawi spent a lot of time trying to evade arrest by Iranian authorities, and because of his apparent antagonism toward Shiite Muslims, al-Zarqawi and Iranian officials wouldn’t befriend each other. A U.S. Defense official says, however, that while high-level Iranian-government backing for al-Zarqawi is not substantiated, U.S. intelligence can’t rule out the possibility that he might have “friends here and there.”