Friday, July 23, 2004

Friday Sermon: Rafsanjani accuses US of nurturing Al Qaeda and Taliban

Daily Times - Site Edition: "Rafsanjani accuses US of nurturing Al Qaeda and Taliban

TEHRAN: One of Iran’s most powerful clerics made a stinging rebuttal on Friday of allegations from the United States that the Islamic republic may have been linked to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In his weekly Friday sermon, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also accused the United States of ignoring Iranian warnings of a growing Al Qaeda and Taliban threat before the strikes on New York and Washington.

The comments from the charismatic cleric, still one of Iran’s most influential figures, came after a national commission in Washington probing hijackings spotlighted alleged ties between Al Qaeda and Iran. The panel said Tehran operatives maintained contacts with Al Qaeda for years and may have provided transit for at least eight of the 19 hijackers.

Rafsanjani said the allegations had arisen from Washington’s “failure to provide security for its own people, as well as its failure to achieve its aims in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The administration of US President George W Bush, he said, was made up of “egoists who need to blame other people”.

“We are not sure if they are telling the truth. But suppose these eight people did pass through Iran. How many other countries did they pass through on their way to America?” he told thousands of worshippers at Tehran University in a sermon carried live on state radio.

“The big question we have to ask America is, assuming they (the hijackers) passed through Iran, who put them in Afghanistan and who supported them in the first place,” he said. “This is no big secret. Al Qaeda and the Taliban were created and nurtured by America in order to weaken the Islamic Republic of Iran.” During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, Osama bin Laden’s network of foreign fighters was one of the beneficiaries of CIA and Saudi funds channelled through Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence.

The ISI went on to be one of the key backers of the Taliban, which were also recognised by Saudi Arabia and courted by US firms. Rafsanjani said that during Iranian contacts with US officials, “we said openly that what you created would turn on you and cause trouble for you.”

It said “intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior Al Qaeda figures” after bin Laden returned to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996. From 1996 to 2001, Iran was engaged in running weapons and cash to Afghan forces battling the Taliban, whose ranks had been swelled with foreign fighters. It also nearly invaded Afghanistan in 1998 after the Taliban executed a group of Iranian diplomats in northern Afghanistan.

And he also pointed to the continued presence in Iraq of the People’s Mujahedeen, the main Iranian armed opposition group, which was sheltered by Saddam Hussein. “There is nobody more terrorist than them. But they are under the patronage of the Americans,” Rafsanjani alleged. “We hope people of Iraq will bring them back to their senses for at least one generation.”"