Is the enemy of your enemy ever really your friend?
In one of the strangest possible “strange bedfellow” cases in the war on terror, on Tuesday Iran said it forced a Kyrgyzstan Airways passenger airplane to land, and then sent its commandos onboard to remove and arrest Abdol Malek Rigi. Since 2002, Rigi has been the leader of an Iranian militant group called Jundallah (“Soldiers of God”), whose goal is to overthrow Iran’s current regime.
Before his arrest, Abdol Malek Rigi was the most wanted man in Iran. Now he remains in custody of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the very people his organization has focused on killing for eight years.
Here’s where it gets even stranger. Iran says that Abdol Malek Rigi was carrying an Afghan passport supplied by Washington and was recently photographed at an American military base in Afghanistan. Iranian intelligence chief Heydar Moslehi held a press conference during which he showed a photograph that he said placed Rigi outside a U.S. military base with two other men.
No details of “where the base was, or how or when the photograph was obtained,” reported the Vancouver Sun’s Richard Spencer, one of the first North American newsmen on the story. Iran’s Heydar Moslehi also displayed Rigi’s Afghan passport and identity card which he says had been given to him by the United States.
Iran did not limit the finger-pointing to America. Instead, they say that the hidden hands of Britain, Israel, and NATO are also involved. During the press conference, Moslehi claimed that Rigi met with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary general, in 2008. Tuesday’s arrest of Rigi was “a great defeat for the U.S. and UK,” Moslehi said.
On Thursday, the BBC reported that Iranian state television had broadcast a confession from Rigi in which the leader of Jundallah says he had American support. He also specifically named the U.S. military facility as being the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. Rigi “says he was on his way to a meeting with a ‘high-ranking person’ at the Manas U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan when he was captured,” according to the BBC.
Here’s where it could get tricky for U.S. officials. It should not be too difficult to confirm whether or not the images of Rigi flashed during the press conference match up to the Manas military base. (There’s no mention of Rigi on the website for the Transit Center.)
Is the CIA really doing business with an al-Qaeda linked organization? Could the enemy of Iran’s mullahs be seen as friends of the United States? Last October, former CIA agent turned Time magazine columnist Robert Baer confirmed that the agency had indeed had contact with Jundallah in the past. Baer said it was “confined to intelligence gathering in the country.” The English-language Iranian news outfit Press TV calls Jundullah “a Pakistan-based terrorist group closely affiliated with the notorious al-Qaeda organization.”
As Baer explained, it has been Jundallah’s ability to target commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps that have been keeping Iranian mullahs up late at night. In October 2009, a suicide bombing by the group killed five or six top commanders and 25 other people. In 2008, sixteen Iranian police officers were killed; eleven were killed in 2007 and nine were killed in 2005.
For now, details in this shadowy story full of terrorists and their possible puppeteers remain murky. Even the facts regarding Iran’s forcing the airplane down have become grist for the rumor mill. Al-Jazeera TV reported that Rigi had been arrested in Pakistan and handed over to Iran by authorities there. The Guardian reports that other accounts say Rigi was arrested in Iran, but after the small aircraft he was flying on had already landed there.
Iran is firm about one thing: “We have clear documents proving that Rigi was in co-operation with American, Israeli and British intelligence services,” Heydar Moslehi says.