One of two known Al Qaeda leadership councils meets regularly in eastern Iran, where the American intelligence community believes dozens of senior Al Qaeda leaders have reconstituted a good part of the terror conglomerate’s senior leadership structure.
That is a consensus judgment from a final working draft of a new National Intelligence Estimate, titled “The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland,” on the organization that attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The estimate, which represents the opinion of America’s intelligence agencies, is now finished, and unclassified conclusions will be shared today with the public.
The classified document includes four main sections, examining how Al Qaeda in recent years has increased its capacity to stage another attack on American soil; how the organization has replenished the ranks of its top leaders; nations where Al Qaeda operates, and the status of its training camps and physical infrastructure. …
In the estimate’s chapter on Al Qaeda’s replenished senior leadership, three American intelligence sources said, there is a discussion of the eastern Iran-based Shura Majlis, a kind of consensus-building organization of top Al Qaeda figures that meets regularly to make policy and plan attacks. The New York Sun first reported in October that one of the Shura Majlis for Al Qaeda meets in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan, one of the areas the Pakistani army this week re-engaged after a yearlong cease-fire. Both Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, participate in those meetings.
he other Shura Majlis is believed to meet in eastern Iran in the network established after Al Qaeda was driven from Afghanistan in 2001.
Following that battle, a military planner trained in the Egyptian special forces, Saif al-Adel, fled to Iran. Mr. Zawahri then arranged with the then commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Ahmad Vahidi, for safe harbor for senior leaders.
The three main Al Qaeda leaders in Iran include Mr. Adel; the organization’s minister of propaganda, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, and the man who some analysts believe is the heir apparent to Mr. bin Laden â€” one of his sons, Saad bin Laden. The locations of the senior leaders include a military base near Tehran called Lavizan; a northern suburb of Tehran, Chalous; an important holy city, Mashod, and a border town near Afghanistan, Zabul, the draft intelligence estimate says.
In 2003, Iran offered a swap of the senior leaders in exchange for members of an Iranian opposition group on America’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, the People’s Mujahadin.
That deal was scuttled after signal intercepts proved, according to American intelligence officials, that Mr. Adel was in contact with an Al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia.
In the aftermath of the failed deal, Al Qaeda’s Iran branch has worked closely in helping to establish the group in Iraq. The late founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had multiple meetings with Mr. Adel after 2001. In the past year, the multinational Iraq command force has intercepted at least 10 couriers with instructions from the Iran-based Shura Majlis. In addition, two senior leaders of Al Qaeda captured in 2006 have shared details of the Shura Majlis in Iran.
“We know that there were two Al Qaeda centers of gravity. After the Taliban fell, one went to Pakistan, the other fled to Iran,” Roger Cressey, a former deputy to a counterterrorism tsar, Richard Clarke, said in an interview yesterday. “The question for several years has been: What type of operational capability did each of these centers have?”
17 Jul 2007