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Jewish World Review March 13, 2002/ 29 Adar, 5762

Richard Z. Chesnoff

Richard Z. Chesnoff
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Al Qaeda's Iranian
escape hatch |
Here's some news about Al Qaeda that Vice President Cheney can bring to the Mideast during his current trip there: The evil axis has its own underground railroad, and its main departure terminal is in Tehran.

Senior counterterrorist agents in Europe have told me that, despite emphatic denials by the Iranian government, fugitive troops loyal to Osama Bin Laden continue to slip freely across Afghanistan's 600-mile border with Iran. From there, say the sources, they are being smuggled by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard to a variety of countries in the Middle East, South America and possibly elsewhere.

The sources, whose information has proved reliable in the past, say that since mid-January, more than 50 Al Qaeda operatives have reached Lebanon via the clandestine Iranian route. Hundreds more reportedly are waiting to leave the Islamic Republic in the same way.

U.S. intelligence officials, who have been trying to monitor Al Qaeda operatives, claim they have no evidence of a large, organized smuggling effort. Still, the Americans admit Iran is capable of mischief. And some counterterrorists are itching to go after and eliminate the Bin Laden alumni. They should be given the go-ahead ASAP.

The terrorist smuggling operation is under the direct supervision of Kasem Suleimani, the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard's al-Quds fighting force. Hasan Mahdawi, the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard branch operations in Lebanon, is reportedly in charge of absorbing the Al Qaeda operatives into Lebanon itself.

According to my sources, the Al Qaeda soldiers are armed with counterfeit papers by the Iranians, then leave aboard indirect but regularly scheduled civilian flights in small groups of seven to 10 men per flight. Some fly Tehran-Damascus flights and then transfer overland to Lebanon - large areas of which remain controlled by Iran and its Lebanese allies in the Islamic Hezbollah force. Others fly to the Persian Gulf states, then board connecting flights to Beirut.

The Al Qaeda people receive Lebanese currency and forged documents and are briefed on how to avoid arousing attention during their travels. This includes strict instructions not to wear traditional Afghan clothes.

A source says some 20 Al Qaeda veterans are "guests" in Hezbollah homes in a southern suburb of Beirut. But the majority of the group, say the sources, are in the sprawling Ein al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon. All have been instructed to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

A plan is being coordinated with Hezbollah to transfer some of the Al Qaedas to Hezbollah strongholds in South America such as Ciudad Del Este in Paraguay, Lago Agrio in northern Ecuador and Foz Do Iguacu in Brazil. All three South American towns have significant Islamic immigrant populations that include ardent Hezbollah militants.

Let's derail this underground railroad quickly.

Have we learned nothing?

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report, a columnist at the NY Daily News and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Demoracies. His latest book, recently updated, is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.

Richard Z. Chesnoff Archives

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