By Eman El-Shenawi, Al Arabiya
Exclusively-obtained US court documents have exposed a link between Iran and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The documents, published this week by pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, revealed that a New York District Court ordered Iran to pay more than $10.5 billion in damages to families of people killed in the attacks and to a group of insurers.
According to the newspaper, “allegations were built on information collected by military men who conducted interrogations with US detainees on Iranian affiliation with al-Qaeda.”
The evidence from six court documents obtained by the newspaper points to Iran and Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah as being involved “firsthand” in the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands of US citizens.
Judge George Daniels found that Iran had failed to defend claims that it aided the Sept. 11 hijackers and was therefore liable for damages tied to the attacks, according to Bloomberg.
Daniels condemned Iran for facilitating the execution of the terrorist attacks that hit both New York and Washington.
The lawsuit detailed 274 instances of Iran’s alleged role in terror-funding and its cooperation with terror organizations such as al-Qaeda.
The trial revealed that bin Laden, current leader of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh – assassinated in 2008 – and other Iranian attaches had met in Sudan to establish an alliance supporting terrorism.
Asharq al-Awsat reported that “al-Qaeda persistently had a supporting lifeline provided by the Iranian government, which also provided the terrorist organization – according to the documents – with both financial backing and a safe haven to terrorist top leaders after the September 11 attacks.”
The report added that six Iranian individuals and entities were accused in the case, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, former Iranian intelligence minister Ali Fallahian, deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Brig. Gen. Mohammed Baqir tho al-Qader.
Alongside the individuals, the administrational bodies among the accused were the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (VEVAK/MOIS), the IRGC and its special operations division, the Quds Force.
‘Direct Iranian contact with al-Qaeda’
The documents revealed that calls supervised by Iranian homeland security were made with al-Qaeda and that by the mid-1990s “all Iranian intelligence heads were in direct contact with al-Qaeda.”
A Tunisian man named Tariq al-Sharabi was mentioned in the court files, stating he was arrested in Italy during April, 2001 for affiliation with al-Qaeda. But prior to his arrest, Sharabi was allegedly offered by an “al-Qaeda agent” a “rat route” transfer through Iran.
“The terror travel agent reassured Sharabi that al-Qaeda is in effective cooperation with Iranians, and that they have established an off-shoot in Iran which is taking care of transferring terrorists across borders,” Asharq al-Awsat reported, citing the court files.
Another name mentioned in the documents was Ramzi bin al-Shibh, believed by the US as being a “key facilitator” for the September 11 attacks.
Military prosecutors have previously said Shibh, currently detained in Guantanamo Bay, relayed money and messages to 9/11 hijackers.
The court documents reveal that Shibh had met Mohamed Atta, one of the ringleaders and hijackers in the attacks earlier in 2001.
“The two, Shibh and Atta, traveled to Afghanistan together to present the then alive Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri with a report on operational progress,” Asharq al-Awsat reported, adding that Shibh made a stop in Iran, while Atta carried on his way to Afghanistan.
In October of that year, the Treasury froze the assets of a key member of an al-Qaeda network operating in Iran – Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi – for “supporting terrorist activities in South Asia and the Middle East.”
Simultaneously, the Department of State authorized a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to the location of Iran-based senior facilitator and financier Muhsin al-Fadhli and up to $5 million for information leading to the location of his deputy, Harbi.
Commenting on the recently-obtained court documents, Middle East political scientist Dr. Joseph A. Kéchichian said Iran’s links to al-Qaeda have long been known by the American intelligence community.
“American intelligence was aware of the fact that several al-Qaeda leadership level people were in fact going in and out of Iran, and that some may have even received assistance,” Dr. Kéchichian told Al Arabiya News on Saturday.
But with the recently-released court documents spotlighting Iran and al-Qaeda ties in the mainstream media and public eye, will the US’s relationship with Tehran take a new turn?
“The decision has already been made to bring Iran back from the cold,” Dr. Kéchichian said, referring to the Iranian nuclear deal signed with Western powers last summer.
“This is not going to change the American opinion about Iran, 9/11 is now over a decade old and the establishment will not change its mind at this point.
“This is very unfortunate, because my suspicions are that the Iranians were probably much more involved than we are led to believe. But that’s just a guess on my part,” Dr. Kéchichian added.
See more of the court documents obtained by Asharq al-Awsat below. The lawsuit heard last week by a federal court in New York was submitted in 2011 by the family of Fiona Havlish, whose husband, Donald was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11.