The average commentator thinks that Osama bin Laden’s trail has gone cold and that there is no credible eyewitness testimony as to where he is located. The only available public testimony is that a member of the Taliban arrested in Pakistan claims his colleague met bin Laden in Afghanistan in the first two months of 2009 — important information, but second-hand and unverifiable. The truth is that there have been credible leads, and these leads point to Iran.
Ken Timmerman, the best reporter covering Iran, provided an update on a story he broke last year. The last credible person to say they’ve met bin Laden is a smuggler who last saw him in October 2007. The smuggler, who said he met him a total of six times in Iran beginning in November 2004, provided Alan Parrot, leader of the Union for the Conservation of Raptors, with the “specific frequencies of small transmitters bin Laden had strapped to the backs of his hunting falcons so he could find them if they failed to return to base.”
When the smuggler claimed that bin Laden was moving from his safe haven in Tehran to the northern part of the country near the border with Turkmenistan in late 2006 for some falconry, Timmerman turned to his intelligence sources for verification. He found out that an intelligence report had been written based on “chatter” that a person of high importance was indeed moving from Tehran to Zahedan, and the hunting fields were shut off to all other guests. Zahedan was identified by the government as the location of an al-Qaeda network last January. The smuggler also said that he met with bin Laden at a safe house north of Tehran, which is similar to reporting from Iranian defectors, and in Mashhad, another location known to be used as a transit by al-Qaeda.
Parrot says that Iran is holding bin Laden’s family hostage in Tehran to stop the terrorist leader from ever revealing their collaboration with al-Qaeda. This also enables the Iranians to exercise greater control over the terrorist group and its leader, giving them a deniable proxy with which to wage asymmetrical warfare against the West, something further enabled by the staunch belief that such an alliance is impossible.
This story may sound unbelievable, but Omar bin Laden, one of Osama’s sons, has said that up to 40 members of the bin Laden family are living under house arrest in Tehran and are refusing to let them leave without being accompanied by the regime’s personnel. They live a lavish lifestyle with videogames, computers, “a swimming pool, tennis court, shopping trips, and horseback riding along the coast” — the same coast that the smuggler identified Osama himself as traveling to for entertainment.
Bin Laden’s 18-year-old daughter escaped to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and after major resistance from the Iranians was allowed to leave last month. Another son, Bakr, left Iran in December. The Treasury Department has blacklisted a member of al-Qaeda living in Iran who they say arranged for Ayman al-Zawahiri’s family to live there. The scenario painted by Parrot suddenly seems very realistic.