PRESIDENT George Bush has promised that if re-elected in November he will make regime change in Iran his new target.
Bush named Iran as part of the Axis of Evil along with North Korea and Iraq almost three years ago. A US government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that military action would not be overt in changing Iran, but rather that the US would work to stir revolts in the country and hope to topple the current conservative religious leadership.
The official said: “If George Bush is re-elected there will be much more intervention in the internal affairs of Iran.”
The Iranian government announced this weekend that it had successfully eradicated all al-Qaeda cells operating in the country, but the statement comes as leaked reports from the US September 11 Commission show definite links between Iran and the September 11 terrorists.
The final report from the cross-party inquiry, which is examining the origins of the September 11 attacks, is believed to contain concrete evidence of contacts between al-Qaeda and Iran.
Time magazine reports that at least eight of the hijackers, who lived in the US for months before the attacks, passed through Iran between October 2000 and February 2001 apparently with help from the Iranian authorities.
Known al-Qaeda members also seem to have been allowed to cross in and out of Iran freely across the Afghan border, with Iranian border guards being told not to stamp the passports of al-Qaeda operatives, harass them or hinder their ability to travel freely.
The report is thought to hint that Iranian officials were ordered to assist al-Qaeda operatives with any travel needs.
The September 11 Commission report will, however, stop short of stating that Iran was aware of the plans for the September 11 attacks.
Tehran has always officially denied helping members of al-Qaeda escape from Afghan istan in 2001 when the Taliban regime fell.
State television in Iran yesterday showed the country’s intelligence minister announcing the capture of a number of al-Qaeda supporters.
Ali Yunesi said: “Iran’s intelligence apparatus has identified and arrested small Iranian deviate branches of the al-Qaeda group.” There was no clarification on how many people had been arrested or charged.
Yunesi warned that Iran would take a tough line against militants using Iran as a base. “Those who seek to misuse the safe situation in Iran will face serious consequences,” he said.
The Iranian government says it has arrested and repatriated hundreds of al-Qaeda suspects in the past two years in a display of willingness to bring terrorism in the Middle East under control.
A suspected Saudi al-Qaeda militant, Khaled al-Harbi, who appeared in a videotape with Osama bin Laden, gave himself up in Iran last week, and was flown back to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
On Friday US officials said the next stage of the September 11 Commission’s report would be available this week.
There was embarrassment for the Bush administration last week when it emerged a tight deadline was being pushed for the capture of Osama bin Laden to generate headlines during the Democratic Convention when presidential rival John Kerry will be grabbing the limelight.
Pakistani security forces have apparently been given deadlines to capture bin Laden that are before the US general election in November, according to US sources.