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Was Sa’ad Bin Laden Managing Al-Qaeda from Iran?

Osama bin Laden's son may be more than just a "low-level" target, as U.S. counterterrorism official once described him.

by
Annie Jacobsen

Bio

July 29, 2009 - 12:52 am
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In attempting to marginalize Sa’ad bin Laden’s role in the terrorist network, it becomes transparent that the Bin Laden heir was much more than low-level. Just six months ago, the State Department designated Sa’ad Bin Laden as an al-Qaeda operative in Iran. Charging him under Executive Order 13224, the State Department wrote:

Sa’ad bin Laden, one of Usama bin Laden’s sons, has been involved in al-Qaeda activities. For example, in late 2001, Sa’ad facilitated the travel of Usama bin Laden’s family members from Afghanistan to Iran. Sa’ad made key decisions for al-Qaeda and was part of a small group of al-Qaeda members that was involved in managing the terrorist organization from Iran. He was arrested by Iranian authorities in early 2003.

Summing up the reason for the designation, Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, added, “It is important that Iran give a public accounting of how it is meeting its international obligations to constrain al-Qaeda.”

If the purpose of the designation was to point the figure at Iran, which it was, the designation was also asking why senior al-Qaeda figures get to go to Iran and enjoy the safety of “house arrest” there. Further, why are they let go?

In January, when asked about Sa’ad bin Laden, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told reporters that “he’s probably in Pakistan” now. With American’s top spy chief keeping tabs on him, it seems absurd for an intelligence agency subordinate to try and disguise Sa’ad bin Laden as a small fish.

For as long as the CIA refuses to comment on the senior al-Qaeda operatives that it kills, the FBI will remain unwilling to confirm or deny these deaths and the public will remain at the mercy of anonymous unnamed officials who provide misinformation. Until then, every unnamed intelligence official in the field will get to have their opinions published — like the one who told me: “Sa’ad bin Laden was a major player who helped manage his father’s terrorist organization from the safe haven of Iran.”

Al-Qaeda’s murky and highly problematic relationship with Iran certainly needs clarification, something America’s intelligence agencies and its State Department seem unable able to provide.

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Annie Jacobsen writes the "Backstory" blog (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/back-story/) for the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
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