Six children and one wife of Osama Bin Laden have reportedly been living in Iran since fleeing Afghanistan shortly before 9/11. His 17-year-old daughter recently escaped to the embassy of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s traditional rival.
By Scott Peterson
Seven members of Osama bin Laden’s immediate family have been under house arrest in Iran and living in a high security compound outside Tehran since 2001, news outlets reported on Wednesday.
The group includes six children of the Al Qaeda leader and one of his wives, all of whom reportedly fled Afghanistan and walked to the Iran border just prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, according to The Times in London.
One 17-year-old daughter, Iman, escaped from from the Tehran compound and has been holed up in the Saudi Arabia Embassy for 25 days, according to the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
The asylum request – and public revelations about the continuing Bin Laden family presence in Iran – are sure to complicate relations between the two traditional rivals for power in the Middle East: Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
During his first term, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went on a charm offensive to woo Saudi and other Arab leaders. But Iran’s rising influence and that of its “Axis of Resistance” – with Hezbullah, Hamas, and Syria – raised concern in Riyadh and other Arab capitals.
The disputed June election was final proof for many in the Arab world that Iran’s regional power was on the wane again. For Saudi Arabia, evidence of that came just last week when it was able to precipitate an unlikely meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an Iran ally, and Lebanon’s pro-West Prime Minister Saad Hariri – who for five years has accused Syria of killing his father.
US turned down Iranian offer for Al Qaeda operatives
One of Bin Laden’s oldest sons, Saad, was known for years to be among some 35 Al Qaeda operatives that fled to Iran after the US toppling of the Taliban government and expulsion of Al Qaeda from Afghanistan in late 2001.
The government of President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) eventually offered to indirectly exchange those Al Qaeda figures with the US, if Washington would rein in, or hand over, leaders of the anti-Iran Mujahideen-e Khalq. Known as the MEK or MKO, the anti-Iran group considered a terrorist group by the US State Department was based in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s wing. But the members there fell under the jurisdiction of American forces after a US-led coalition toppled the Hussein regime in 2003.
Iran’s offer was rejected, according to reports at the time, because the Pentagon wanted to keep hold of the MEK as a possible force to be used against Iran in any Washington-orchestrated bid for regime change.
Bin Ladens’ presence off the radar
Still, it was never made public that so many Bin Laden family members were in Iran. The Washington Post reported in October 2003 that Saad bin Laden had “emerged in recent months as part of the upper echelon of the Al Qaeda network … that is managing the terrorist organization from Iran,” quoting US, European and Arab officials.
The story held that Saad bin Laden was “protected by an elite, radical Iranian security force loyal to the nation’s clerics and beyond the control of the central government” – the Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guard.
Reports emerged earlier this year that Iran had quietly released Saad bin Laden in late 2008, and let him go to Afghanistan.Then it was reported in July that he had been killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan.
But the presence of so many Bin Laden relatives in Iran was a surprise. The Times of London has reported that 11 Bin Laden grandchildren also lived on the compound.
“Until a month ago, we did not know where the siblings were,” Omar bin Laden, the fourth son who lives in Qatar, told Asharq al-Awsat. “The Iranian government did not know what to do with this large group of people whom nobody else wanted, so they just kept them safe…. For that we owe them much gratitude.”
In a fundraising letter, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad told potential donors that within hours of the attack by a Muslim Army major, the Washington, D.C.-based group issued a statement of condemnation to thousands of local, national and international media outlets.
“Perhaps you saw CAIR spokespeople interviewed on MSNBC’s Hardball or on PBS‘s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CNN, MSNBC, or the BBC,” Awad writes. “Or maybe you read CAIR quotes in the Washington Post, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, or USA Today.”
Awad said staff at CAIR – which was designated an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terrorism-finance case in U.S. history last year – have been “working non-stop in dealing with these crises.” The Muslim group, he said, “provided advice and support for Islamic centers nationwide on how to handle the crisis, including ensuring your safety in case of an anti-Muslim backlash.”
CAIR soon became the most watched non-profit on You Tube.com, Awad noted.
The FBI cut off ties to CAIR in January after the group was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case in Texas. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and other lawmakers have called for a government-wide ban on CAIR.
“Our tone and immediate response is paying off,” Awad said in the fundraising appeal. “Major media acknowledged the strong statement that American Muslims issued condemning the Fort Hood attack. On CNN, Anderson Cooper reported that CAIR ‘reacted to the shooting spree, condemning the attack in the strongest terms possible.’ On MSNBC’s ‘Hardball,’ Chris Matthews noted that CAIR was ‘quick to condemn the massacre.'”
Awad himself has direct ties to Hamas, FBI evidence shows.
He was at a Philadelphia meeting of Hamas leaders in 1993 that hatched a plot to disguise payments to Hamas terrorists as charitable giving, according to wiretap evidence from the Holy Land case.
An April 28 letter from FBI assistant director Richard C. Powers to Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. – which singles out Awad for suspicion – explains how the group’s many Hamas connections caused the FBI to sever ties with CAIR.
Awad’s contact information was listed in a Muslim Brotherhood document seized by federal investigators revealing “important phone numbers” for the “Palestine Section” of the Brotherhood in America. The court exhibit shows Hamas fugitive Mousa Abu Marzook listed on the same page with Awad.
Awad told donors in the fundraising appeal CAIR needs their “financial help to meet these crises and push back against those who seek to score political points off the Muslim community in the wake of the Fort Hood tragedy.”
Fort Hood killer ‘not devout’?
One day after the Nov. 5 shooting at the Texas Army post, the Fox News Channel invited Awad to appear with host Martha MacCallum, who asked the CAIR leader what his reaction was when he heard the suspect was a devout Muslim from Virginia.
Awad said “the American Muslim community is shocked by this vicious attack on innocent people,” noting that as soon as CAIR heard the news it issued a statement of condemnation “on behalf of American Muslims.”
See Nihad Awad’s interview on the Fox News Channel:
“There is absolutely no justification, can be found in an ideology or any religion for this horrific crime,” he said.
“I am really disturbed when I hear they are referring to him as a devout Muslim. There is no link between being devout and committing heinous crime like this,” he emphasized.
“Our belief system, like any other belief system, calls for peace and for harmony, for reconciliation, for coexistence. And I’m really disturbed to link him to the religion of Islam and the Muslim community. Our condemnation cannot be more clear than this. Our community is very shocked and disturbed by this incident.”
MacCallum replied: “I understand what you are saying, and there is a very similar sentiment being expressed by his family today. They’re saying he was an American, he was raised in Virginia, that this behavior shocks and saddens the family and you can only imagine what they’re going through today.”
MacCallum asked Awad to comment on a report that the shooter yelled “Allahu Akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “Allah is greatest,” as he began shooting. But Awad refused to address it, arguing conclusions could not be drawn with the investigation just getting under way.
Awad concluded saying “we ask for calm, for unity and for America to show the best of its values and tradition. In times of crisis we are united and we will not allow anybody to jump to any conclusion or, for that matter, to cause any backlash against innocent people. Enough innocent people have been killed and we do not want more people to be harmed.”
MacCallum cut in.
“You’re absolutely right,” she said, wrapping up with, “All right Mr. Awad, we thank you very much for sharing that message with us today. We’re glad to have you on. Thank you.”
“Right now, we call on all Americans to assist those who are responding to this atrocity,” he said. “We must ensure that the wounded are treated and the families of those who were murdered have an opportunity to mourn.”
On the PBS News Hour, CAIR communications director Ibrahim Hooper complained of a “cottage industry of Muslim-bashers who are already using this incident and exploiting it to further promote interfaith mistrust and hostility and to create divisions within our society.”
“And that’s why we ask mainstream practitioners of all faiths in America to not allow that to happen, to remain calm, to remain unified in the face of those who would exploit this kind of tragic incident,” Hooper said.
Hooper, like other CAIR leaders, is on record expressing his desire that the U.S. become a Muslim country.
“I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future,” Hooper told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1993. “But I’m not going to do anything violent to promote that. I’m going to do it through education.”
Hooper said in the PBS interview that when an incident like the Fort Hood massacre occurs, “despite our attempts every day to enhance understanding of Islam and show American Muslims are ordinary citizens that go about their daily lives, it ends up being one step forward and two steps back for our community.”
“And that’s just the facts we have to face in the post-9/11 era,” he said.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, is suing “Muslim Mafia” co-author P. David Gaubatz and his son Chris over the evidentiary documents they obtained during Chris’s 6-month undercover penetration of the organization, which both the FBI and Justice Department have branded as a terror co-conspirator. As a result of revelations in “Muslim Mafia,” the bipartisan Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus is calling for new, wide-ranging federal probes of CAIR. In the meantime, however, someone has to defend these two courageous investigators who have, at great personal risk, revealed so much about this dangerous group. WND has stepped up to the plate, procured the best First Amendment attorneys in the country and is paying for the Gaubatzes’ defense – but we can’t do it without your help. Please donate to WND’s Legal Defense Fund now. Thank you.
PARIS, Sept. 24 — An Iranian exile group said Thursday that it has identified two previously unknown sites in and near Tehran where it says Iranian scientists are researching and trying to manufacture detonators for nuclear weapons.
The allegation, from the Paris-based Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, was designed to reinforce the exiles’ long-standing contention that the Iranian government, despite repeated denials, has an active program to develop a nuclear arsenal under the aegis of the Defense Ministry and the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The announcement was timed to coincide with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s appearance at the U.N. General Assembly and with intensified pressure from the United States and other major powers for Iran to allow full inspection of its nuclear-related facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
There was no way to confirm the authenticity of Thursday’s allegation. But previous MEK information has given Western intelligence agencies tips about some Iranian nuclear activities or provided details about research sites.
Mehdi Abrishamchi, an MEK activist, said that as far as he knew, no Western governments were aware of the existence of the two sites.
As did Ahmadinejad in interviews Wednesday, Iran repeatedly has denied a desire to acquire nuclear weapons and says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy use. According to statements from Iranian officials, activities connected to making nuclear weapons were halted several years ago.
But Abrishamchi said the two sites house programs designed to research and produce high-explosive detonators for atomic bombs.
The information came from “dozens of sources at different levels of the Iranian regime’s various organs” and was cross-checked with dozens more, he said in a statement.
Abrishamchi, a senior member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an MEK-run umbrella group, said the two sites were part of a complex known as METFAZ — the Farsi acronym for Research Center for Explosion and Impact — that apparently has been in operation for several years under the command of the Defense Ministry.
The first site, a research and administrative facility in eastern Tehran, was bought by the Defense Ministry under the name of Massoud Sadighi Divani, a senior ministry official, Abrishamchi said. Inside, scientists carry out computer simulations and other experiments to reach an effective design for high-explosive impact and penetration devices that could serve to detonate a nuclear weapon, he said.
The second site, about 20 miles to the east, is used to manufacture parts needed to construct the detonators, he said. Lying within a military zone with restricted access, it is surrounded by high concrete walls and includes tunnels dug into a nearby hill, he added.
Abrishamchi said the two sites basically continue work that was being done at Shian, a facility that was razed by Iranian authorities after being denounced by the MEK in 2003. He called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to try to inspect the sites as quickly as possible.