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Author Topic:   FBI may name Iranian officials in 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia
Ardalan
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posted May 09, 2001 09:35     Click Here to See the Profile for Ardalan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

WASHINGTON May 8 (AFP) - FBI Director Louis Freeh has given the administration of President George W. Bush a list of people he thinks should be indicted in a 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 US servicemen and injured 500 more, according to a report in The New Yorker magazine. The indictments are likely to name Iranian government officials, the magazine said in its May 14 issue, on newsstands Monday.

The blast destroyed part of a high-rise compound inside the King Abdul Aziz Airbase known as Khobar Towers.

A senior Bush official quoted by the New Yorker said the administration hoped to decide whether to go forward with the indictments by June, and has put its Iran policy on hold in the meantime.

The official, who was not named, hinted that the Bush administration will probably not oppose the indictments.

The magazine said Freeh had enough evidence to seek indictments in November 1998, but waited for a new administration before going forward because he did not trust President Bill Clinton, who appointed him FBI chief in 1993, to act on the information.

The article chronicled growing misunderstandings between Freeh and Clinton administration officials, with Freeh believing the administration was not fully committed to the investigation because it was seeking a thaw in relations with Iran amid signs of moderation from reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Eight suspects held in Saudi Arabia answered 212 questions provided to Saudi officials by the FBI, confirming their involvement in the bombing and describing how Iranians ordered, supported and financed the attack, the report said.

One suspect said he had met with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard official who chose the target, and said the official, Ahmad Sherifi, had said he was acting at the behest of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, the New Yorker reported.

In a May 4 statement released in response to the article, the FBI said the Khobar bombings remain "an investigative priority of the FBI."

"The FBI commends the Saudi government and law enforcement officials for their important, continuing cooperation in this complex investigation," the statement said, noting their "superb assistance."

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Ardalan
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posted May 09, 2001 09:44     Click Here to See the Profile for Ardalan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Clinton and FBI chief 'in feud for four years'

The Telegraph
By Toby Harnden in Washington

May 8, 2001

LOUIS FREEH, the FBI director, did not speak to then President Clinton for four years and secretly enlisted the help of the previous president, George Bush Snr, to deal with Saudi Arabia, it was reported yesterday.

Relations between Mr Clinton and America's senior law enforcement official deteriorated rapidly after the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in which 19 American airmen died.

Mr Freeh, 51, a Roman Catholic former prosecutor who still carries in his pocket the prayer book he received as an altar boy, believed that Mr Clinton was reluctant to pursue the perpetrators for fear of harming relations with Iran, which was linked to the attack.

The two men did not talk from 1996 until October last year, when they spoke briefly after the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The Clinton scandals also damaged the FBI's relationship with the White House and Mr Freeh felt that the president had betrayed him.

In an article in the New Yorker magazine Mr Freeh, who is due to retire next month, recalled the pair's first meeting in 1993 when he was given a tour of the White House. Mr Freeh said he found Mr Clinton, who gave a speech about the importance of looking after one's wife and children, straightforward and supportive. "He seemed very sincere."

But relations deteriorated when Mr Clinton tried to involve the FBI in the White House decision to sack members of its travel office. In 1996, Mr Freeh lambasted the White House for "egregious violations" in seeking 408 FBI background files on political opponents.

By 1997, the FBI was investigating possible fundraising abuses by the Clinton administration and examining allegations that Chinese money had been funnelled into the Clinton-Gore campaign.

During one late-night conversation, Robert Bryant, Mr Freeh's national security deputy, told him it was not safe to brief Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, before a visit to China because information would be passed to Mr Clinton. "Why should we brief him?" Mr Bryant was quoted as saying. "He's a crook. He's no better than a bank robber."

A Pentagon official who worked closely with Mr Freeh and the White House said the antipathy was mutual. "Clinton's view was 'Freeh is trying to nail my ass every day'."

According to the article, the FBI head delayed recommending indictments against Khobar Towers suspects until Mr Clinton left office. "The only unfinished piece of business that I have is the one you're writing about," he told Elsa Walsh, who wrote the article. The suspects include several Iranian government officials.

Mr Freeh met President George W Bush recently, briefed him on the Khobar Towers inquiry and made his recommendations. Bush administration sources have said indictments are likely. If the Khobar Towers suspects are brought to justice, the President's father will have played a key role.After being asked to do so by Mr Freeh, the former president persuaded the Saudis to co-operate with the FBI investigation.

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Ardalan
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posted May 10, 2001 15:09     Click Here to See the Profile for Ardalan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Test for Bush as FBI names 'bombers'

The Guardian
Julian Borger in Washington

Wednesday May 9, 2001

The Bush administration faces a tough test over its Middle East policy after Louis Freeh, the outgoing FBI director, handed over a list of senior Iranian officials yesterday who he says should be charged with the 1996 bombing of a US military barracks in Saudi Arabia.

According to the New Yorker magazine, Mr Freeh believed he had enough evidence to bring charges in November 1998, but had no confidence that the Clinton administration would pursue the case.

However, Middle East and intelligence analysts in Washington point out that the same legal and strategic considerations which made President Clinton cautious may also make President Bush hesitate.

Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, has tried to dislodge intelligence officials responsible for sponsoring terrorism abroad but is embroiled in a prolonged power struggle with hardliners. He is standing for re-election next month, and US intervention may damage him politically.

But it will be hard for Mr Bush to ignore the suspects for a bombing in which 19 US military personnel were killed and 500 hurt. The New Yorker says the list includes a senior officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Brigadier General Ahmad Sherifi.

Some experts on Iran also believe Ahmad Vahidi, head of the al-Quds section of the Revolutionary Guard, is responsible for backing Hizbullah in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Iran's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, may also be implicated.

Members of Saudi Hizbullah suspected of carrying out the 1996 bombing have told Saudi interrogators that General Sherifi provided training and support, and claimed to act for Ayatollah Khamenei.

The article, based on interviews with Mr Freeh, portrays the FBI chief as determined to push ahead with the slow-moving investigation into the bombing at the Khobar Towers compound near the King Abdul Aziz airbase.

The FBI investigation was initially stymied by Saudi reluctance to share intelligence and their execution of a number of suspected terrorists. But increasingly within the FBI, says the New Yorker, the White House was seen as the main obstacle.

Kenneth Katzman, a former CIA analyst and now an Iranian specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, said that even if charges were presented now, they might be hard to prove.

"Khobar was an operation by Saudi Hizbullah, which is a Saudi organisation not an Iranian one," he said. "The idea that Tehran pushes the buttons has always been overstated... It would be incredibly tough to single people out... And to do Khamenei in an indictment would just be explosive."

Suzanne Maloney, an expert on Iran at the Brookings Institution, said charges would seriously harm bilateral ties.

"There is a very delicate dance in Iran, and the immediate announcement of any indictment would a produce a very vociferous Iranian reaction," Ms Maloney said.

But efforts to bring Iranian officials to trial might not necessarily backfire, she said.

A German court ruling in 1997 which implicated Ayatollah Khamenei and other Tehran leaders in the shooting of Kurdish dissidents in Berlin harmed bilateral ties in the short term but aided President Khatami's efforts to curb the excesses of the Iranian intelligence services abroad.

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Ardalan
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posted May 10, 2001 15:10     Click Here to See the Profile for Ardalan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Iran rejects reported FBI charges over deadly anti-US attack in Saudi Arabia

TEHRAN, May 9 (AFP) - Iran Wednesday rejected US charges of involvement in a 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 US servicemen and injured 500 FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) director Louis Freeh has reportedly given the US administration a list of people he thinks should be indicted in the attack.

The blast, from a truck packed with explosives, destroyed part of a high-rise compound inside the King Abdul Aziz Airbase, known as Khobar Towers, near Dahran in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia.

The indictments are likely to name Iranian government officials, according to The New Yorker magazine in its May 14 issue, on newsstands Monday.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said Wednesday "these baseless comments were put out by people worried because of the warming in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia."

"They are even more worried, and they show it, that Iran and Saudi Arabia have entered a new era with the signing of a collaboration agreement on security matters," he added.

The Iranian spokesman added that "those who have made these accusations want to hurt the brotherly relations of Islamic countries in this important region."

The magazine said Freeh had enough evidence to seek indictments in November 1998, but waited for a new administration before going forward because he did not trust president Bill Clinton, who appointed him FBI chief in 1993, to act on the information.

The article chronicled growing misunderstandings between Freeh and Clinton administration officials, with Freeh believing the administration was not fully committed to the investigation because it was seeking a thaw in relations with Iran amid signs of moderation from reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Eight suspects held in Saudi Arabia answered 212 questions provided to Saudi officials by the FBI, confirming their involvement in the bombing and describing how Iranians ordered, supported and financed the attack, the report said.

One suspect said he had met with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard official who chose the target, quoting the official, Ahmad Sherifi, as saying he was acting at the behest of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, the New Yorker reported.

In a May 4 statement released in response to the article, the FBI said the Khobar bombings remain "an investigative priority of the FBI."

"The FBI commends the Saudi government and law enforcement officials for their important, continuing cooperation in this complex investigation," the statement said, noting their "superb assistance."

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Shahrzad
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posted May 14, 2001 12:12     Click Here to See the Profile for Shahrzad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Louis Freeh's final act

The Christian Science Monitor
By Daniel Schorr

May 11, 2001

WASHINGTON - FBI Director Louis Freeh, retiring at the end of June, calls it his "only unfinished piece of business."

The "business" is going after the Iranian-sponsored terrorists behind the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia five years ago, with a toll of 19 Americans killed and 500 injured.

The mystery is why the conspiracy has remained a mystery for so long. As early as August 1996, Secretary of Defense William Perry told NPR's Martha Raddatz that Saudi Arabia would soon be announcing the results of its investigation with an international connection that he indicated would be to Iran.

The Saudi report has not been published, and the FBI was long stymied by the Saudis in its own investigation. We know a lot more of the inside story, thanks to a comprehensive article by Elsa Walsh in The New Yorker.

The Saudis' foot-dragging was not hard to figure out: fear of its pro-Iranian Shiites, fear of Iran, and fear of American retaliation against Iran. The evidence led to the high command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar told Mr. Freeh he feared that if the US took military action against Iran, Iran would retaliate against Saudi Arabia.

Harder for Freeh to understand was the foot-dragging in the American government. Starting with the election of moderate Mohammad Khatami as Iranian president in 1997, President Clinton began pursuing a policy of reconciliation with Iran. Freeh began having trouble with the State Department getting approval for his officers to travel to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Clinton promised Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah not to take military action against Iran without consulting the Saudis. In November 1998, Freeh had hard evidence that Brig. Gen. Ahmad Sharifi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had selected the Khobar Towers as a target at the behest of Ayatollah Khameini, Iran's spiritual leader.

When Freeh went to National Security Adviser Sandy Berger to ask for indictments, Mr. Berger said, according to the FBI director, "That's just hearsay."

By the summer of 1999, Clinton was convinced there was solid evidence of Iranian involvement, and he wrote to President Khatami asking for help in the investigation. Khatami said he didn't know what Clinton was talking about.

Freeh decided to wait for a change in administrations, and now he is awaiting a decision from President Bush. He has heard that the administration will probably not oppose indictments.

If the case finally comes to prosecution, it will be almost entirely because of the doggedness of Louis Freeh.

If it doesn't, he plans at least to tell the families of the 19 Americans who did it - and, maybe, who obstructed justice.


o Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for National Public Radio. His memoir, "Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism" (Pocket), has just been published.

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