WASHINGTON: Al Qaeda operatives who have been detained for years in Iran have been making their way quietly in and out of the country, said former and current US intelligence officials.
This movement could indicate that Iran is re-examining its murky relationship with al Qaeda at a time when the US is stepping up drone attacks in Pakistan and weakening the group’s leadership. Any influx of manpower could hand al Qaeda a boost in morale and expertise and threaten to disrupt stability in the region, officials said, adding that intelligence points to a worrisome increase in movement lately. US intelligence officials have tried wiretapping and satellite imagery to watch the men.
The CIA even established a highly classified program – code-named RIGOR – to study whether it could track and kill terrorists such as al Qaeda in Iran. Results have been mixed. Monitoring and understanding al Qaeda in Iran remains one of the most difficult jobs in US intelligence. Some experts believe that anyone from al Qaeda freed to leave Iran must be returning to the battlefield.
Others believe that, with al Qaeda families left behind, terrorists may actually be working for Iran, gathering intelligence or passing messages before returning to Iran. Either way, it’s being noticed. Clare Lopez, a former CIA officer and a senior fellow at Center for Security Policy, said: “It’s not a good sign”.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 14th, 2010.