CIA documents ‘conclusive proof of Al-Qaeda-Iran ties’

Osama bin Laden’s house in Pakistan, from where the documents were seized, being demolished on Feb. 26, 2012. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2017
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CIA documents ‘conclusive proof of Al-Qaeda-Iran ties’

JEDDAH: Wednesday’s release by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of documents seized during the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden has “conclusively proved” the terror chief’s cosy relationship with Iran, experts say.
US intelligence officials and prosecutors have long said Iran formed loose ties to Al-Qaeda from 1991 onward.
This was noted in a 19-page report in Arabic that was included in the release of some 47,000 other documents by the CIA.
Iran has long denied any involvement with Al-Qaeda, but the report included in the CIA document dump shows how Bin Laden partnered with Tehran to target the US.
The Associated Press (AP) examined a copy of the report released by the Long War Journal, a publication backed by the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank fiercely critical of Iran and skeptical of its nuclear deal with world powers. The CIA gave the Long War Journal early access to the material.
“Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric,” AP quotes the report as saying.
The unsigned report is dated in the Islamic calendar year 1428 (2007), and offers what appears to be a history of Al-Qaeda’s relationship with Iran.
It says Iran offered Al-Qaeda fighters “money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia.”
This coincides with an account offered by the US government’s 9/11 Commission, which said Iranian officials met with Al-Qaeda leaders in Sudan in either 1991 or early 1992.
The commission said Al-Qaeda militants later received training in Lebanon from the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
US prosecutors also said Al-Qaeda had the backing of Iran and Hezbollah in their 1998 indictment of Bin Laden following Al-Qaeda’s truck bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the documents provide for the first time direct evidence of the symbiotic relationship between Al-Qaeda’s most senior operatives and Tehran.
“Without Iranian support and safe haven, Al-Qaeda as an organization couldn’t have endured for as long as it did following the international backlash it faced after the 9/11 terror attacks,” Shahbandar told Arab News.
“That Bin Laden was personally involved in establishing Al-Qaeda’s network in Iran shows how shrewd and cynical the regime in Tehran truly is, and how capable and willing it is to support international extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and its successor Daesh.”
Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said he is not surprised by the damning revelations.
“There has long been strong evidence showing the connection between Tehran and Al-Qaeda, including the fact that the Iranian regime has sheltered Al-Qaeda leaders,” he told Arab News.
“Iran is the top state sponsor of terrorism. Its regime supports, funds, arms and trains any terrorist group that shares its revolutionary values, such as anti-Americanism and pursuing hegemonic ambitions in the region,” he said.
“As a US federal judge found, Iran was a key player in facilitating the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The US should’ve confronted the Iranian regime, not Iraq,” Rafizadeh added.
“The US should hold the Iranian regime, and those leaders who helped facilitate the 9/11 attacks, accountable through various means such as sanctioning them, bringing them to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and isolating them.”
On Thursday, the semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), dismissed the CIA documents as “a project against Tehran.”


Film cameras start to roll again in Damascus studios

Updated 26 March 2019
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Film cameras start to roll again in Damascus studios

  • The film and television business has been hit hard by a war that has killed half a million people

DAMASCUS: On a long-disused film set outside Damascus featuring mud houses, palm trees, alleyways and camels, actors in flowing robes are making a television series that the producers say is part of a gradual revival of their industry.
Like most other sectors of the economy in Syria, the film and television business has been hit hard by a war that has killed half a million people, forced millions from their homes and laid waste to swathes of the country since 2011.
Any films or TV series made by Syrian production houses during the war were rarely bought by the customers in the Gulf and elsewhere that once made up an important part of their market. Actors and directors moved abroad. Studios lay silent.
However, fighting around Damascus ended last year after a series of massive government offensives, reflecting a wider increase in state control around the country, and Syrian studios are starting to work again.
Ziad Al-Rayes, head of the television producers’ association in Syria, said it was again possible to film comfortably and effectively.
“Here you can find four seasons. Here you have mountains, desert, valleys and snow,” he said. It is cheaper to film in Syria than elsewhere, he added.
The television series being produced outside Damascus is about a Sufi cleric called Muhiy Al-Din bin Arabi, and is set in historic Makkah, the holiest city of Islam located in modern-day Saudi Arabia.
It is being made to air in the United Arab Emirates, the producers said. Television series are also being made for broadcast in Lebanon and in Syria’s two closest allies Russia and Iran, the producers’ association said.
The film set was part of a large studio lot that was unused for most of the war and shows signs of disrepair. A nearby set in the same studio is made up like an ancient Roman city.
During the war many famous Syrian actors left the country to work in other Arab states. One well-known actor, 41-year-old Qays Al-Sheikh Najib, is now filming for the first time in Syria for eight years, playing a photographer in a new series called A Safe Distance, which looks at how the Syrian war affected people.
“Syrian actors always tried to keep up their good level and they could maintain their level in the Arab world,” he said.