Friday, December 29, 2006

The Khobar Towers Bombing

The First Persian Gulf War was launched in 1991 to evict Saddam Hussein's Army from Kuwait and to stop the Iraqis from invading Saudi Arabia. At the end of the war, the United Nations Security Council charged a coalition of forces with the task of monitoring Iraq's compliance with U.N. resolutions. Principal members of this coalition were the United States, Britain, and France. A detachment of airmen from the 4404th Wing of the United States Air Force was housed in a complex for foreign military personnel in the city of Khobar on the Persian Gulf. Khobar is near Dhahran, a major commercial center of Saudi Arabia's oil industry. It is also close to the Shiite city of Qatif.

In April of 1995, American intelligence and military officers began raising alarms that the Khobar Towers complex was being surveilled by Iranian intelligence agents and their local proxies. One of these proxies was a branch of Hezbollah that operated exclusively inside Saudi Arabia. At about the same time, Western intelligence agencies detected a new Iranian-run camp in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. They reported that Saudi dissidents were being trained there in bomb-making techniques.

In March, 1996, a Saudi Shiite attempted to cross the border from Jordan into Saudi Arabia with 38 kilograms of plastic explosives. He admitted to the Saudis that he was part of an Iranian-sponsored plot to bomb American troops in Dhahran. He had been recruited while on a pilgrimage to a shrine in Damascus, and sent to Lebanon for training by the IRGC. The Saudis arrested the bomber and three other conspirators, but never informed the American commanders in Dhahran.

The Iranians adapted to this setback by activating a Saudi Hezbollah cell in the nearby city of Qatif. They also provided the new team with money, passports, timers, and explosives. The conspirators purchased a tanker truck locally and began to pack it with explosives. It is possible that they shipped the truck on a barge across the Persian Gulf to a small port near Bander Abbas, Iran. There, explosives experts from the IRGC's Qods Force are reputed to have rigged the bomb and shipped the truck back to Saudi Arabia.

On June 25, 1996, the Saudi conspirators parked the truck next to Building 131, an eight-story structure in the Khobar Towers housing complex. As they drove away in two smaller vehicles, they detonated the bomb. Nineteen American airmen were killed.

The attack had been ordered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian head of state. It was planned jointly by Iran's IRGC (the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) and MOIS (the Ministry of Information and Security.) The operational commander was Brigadier General Ahmed Sharifi of the IRGC. He was assisted by Ali Fallahian, head of MOIS. The planning was done at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria. Sharifi provided passports, paperwork, and money to the conspirators. The initial bomb was assembled at an IRGC base in the Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. The base was jointly operated by the IRGC and Hezbollah. However, the operational command center for the attack was an underground bunker in the Iranian city of Parchin.

The bomb exploded at approximately 9:50 P.M. Ten minutes later, an IRGC officer stationed in Canada alerted the Parchin command center that the attack had been successful. Sitting in the command center were the following Iranian officials:

• Mustafa Hadadian, head of Section 110 of the Office of the Supreme Leader. Section 110 assists in the planning of overseas terrorist attacks, and provides physical security for visiting dignitaries from terrorist groups like Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.

• Mustafa Pourghanad, head of MOIS terrorist operations. (MOIS Section 43.)

• Ahmad Vahidi, head of the Qods force of the IRGC.

• Imad Fayez Mugniyeh, the Qods Force officer who had acted as field commander during the Marine barracks bombing of 1983.

Hadadian, in turn, picked up a phone and dialed a private residence in the city of Jamaran, a rich northern suburb of Tehran. Waiting for his call were the following Iranian officials:

• Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President of Iran, second in power only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The home belonged to Rafsanjani.

• Ali Fallahian, the head of MOIS, who had assisted in the planning.

• Mohammadi-Golpayegani, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's chief of staff.

• Mohammad Mir-Hijazi, Golpayegani's top assistant.

• Morteza Rezai, the IRGC's head of intelligence.

• Rahim Safavi, an ethnic Azari who was, at the time, a Deputy Commander of the IRGC. (Today, he is the IRGC's chief commander.)

Rafsanjani smiled and served chocolates to his guests. This is a widely-practiced tradition in the Middle East, equivalent in the West to serving champagne in celebration of a major victory. Five years later, upon learning of the attacks of September 11, Palestinians living in the West Bank celebrated in the same way.

Rafsanjani and his guests were not the only ones eating chocolate that night; so was Mohsen Rezai, the commander of the IRGC. He learned of the attack via the radio. Rezai gloated that Iran never acted out in the open, but used surrogates such as Saudi Hezbollah to do their dirty work. He also crowed that if Iran killed only one American soldier, the others would withdraw. As proof, he cited the retreat of the United States Marines from Lebanon after the Beirut barracks bombing. His perception of American cowardice was by now widely shared in the Middle East, especially by Osama bin Laden. There is some evidence that al-Qaeda cooperated with Saudi Hezbollah in the Dhahran bombing. But, from start to finish, Khobar Towers was overwhelmingly an Iranian operation.

Ten years later, on December 22, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth convicted the government of Iran of the Khobar Towers bombing. Much of his ruling was based on an FBI investigation involving more than 250 agents and personally supervised by Louis J. Freeh, who was Director of the FBI at the time of the attacks. This investigation prompted a Virginia grand jury to indict 13 members of Saudi Hezbollah. Judge Lamberth said the indictment "frequently refers to direction and assistance" of Iranian government officials. This testimony was corroborated during the trial by six Hezbollah members.

President Bill Clinton initially suppressed Louis Freeh's investigation, probably because it conflicted with the President's mid-90s effort to establish a constructive dialog with Tehran. But in 1999, when the FBI finally gained access to the six Saudi Hezbollah conspirators, Clinton proposed to go to war with Iran. However, by that time, the Khobar Towers bombing was off the radar screen of most American voters. Without sufficient support from the American public, and without Saudi Arabia's support, Clinton shelved the war plans.

Thus, for the second time, Iran got away with murder. To date, no United States President has punished Iran for either the Beirut Marine barracks bombing or the Khobar towers attack, despite the conviction of Iran on both counts by a U.S. District Court. Imagine how the families of the victims must feel.

It is important for you to understand that both of these bombings were blatant acts of war. While they had the look and feel of terrorism, in reality they were deliberately planned attacks by the IRGC upon American military men. They would not be the last.

The Iranian Attack Model
In order to compare Khobar Towers with the Beirut Marine barracks bombing, it will be helpful for us to review the Iranian Attack Model. I introduced you to this template in Posting # 3. Here is the Model again:

1. The chief instrument of Iranian geopolitics is the IRGC, a uniformed branch of the Iranian military.

2. Iranian acts of aggression are carefully planned and executed, from beginning to end, by Iranian citizens working for the Iranian government.

3. The final phase of each attack, however, is carried out by proxies who may or may not be Iranian citizens.

4. The Iranians hide their culpability by attacking where non-Iranian radical groups can easily be blamed.

5. The Iranians' weapon of choice is a suicide truck or car bomb.

6. Each attack advances the geopolitical ambitions of Iran.

7. Each attack is funded by Iranian petrodollars.

Clearly, Khobar Towers was planned and supervised by the IRGC with the explicit approval of Iran's top political leaders. It was carried out by Saudi Hezbollah, which acted as a surrogate Iranian army. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a number of dissident parties, some of which are armed. Therefore, once again, Iran was able to hide itself in the noise produced by other Middle Eastern insurgencies. The weapon was a truck bomb. The attack destabilized Saudi Arabia, where Iran wants to oust the royal family and install a fundamentalist Islamic Republic. It also furthered the cause of ousting American soldiers from the Saudi Kingdom.

Once again, it is easy to underestimate the enormous hidden expenses of the attack. IRGC agents in Canada, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia all played a part. They were spirited into those countries, probably clothed as part of the Iranian diplomatic corps. (On September 17, 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in Caracas. It is likely that Ahmadinejad was accompanied by officers of the IRGC. If so, it is possible that Iran is planning to use Venezuela as a base from which to stage further attacks upon America.) The IRGC is enormously expensive. It is nothing less than a complete duplicate of the official Iranian Army. Imagine what it would cost Congress to fund an exact clone of the United States Army. Only the IRGC is not an exact clone: the IRGC is responsible for Iran's nuclear missiles; the regular Army is not.

In order to fit the Khobar Towers attack, the Model needs to be modified slightly: With regard to Item 1, it is important to note that the government of Iran possesses no less than three separate braches that are each dedicated to performing acts of foreign terrorism. All three participated in the planning and execution of Khobar Towers:

• Section 110 of the Office of the Supreme Leader (represented by Mustafa Hadadian.)

• Section 43 of MOIS (represented by Mustafa Pourghanad.)

• The Qods force of the IRGC (represented by Ahmad Vahidi and Imad Fayez Mugniyeh.)

Nevertheless, in each significant attack upon America, the IRGC has been the senior partner.

With regard to Item 5, unlike the Beirut Marine barracks bombing, Khobar Towers was not a suicide attack. But this should not be surprising, for in this case, the conspirators were predominantly Sunni Muslims, not Shiites. Martyrdom is a major theme of Shi'a Islam, and is highly valued by the Iranians. But it is not typical of Sunnis.

With these adjustments, we can now see through the superficial differences between the two attacks. Although the time, place, personalities, and details varied, the perpetrators in both cases used the same M.O.: the modus operandi in both cases was the Iranian Attack Model. It is important for you to grasp this because, except for Iran, there is no other government on earth that has habitually targeted Americans for death since the Vietnam War. Therefore, whenever we see an attack upon Americans that fits most of the Items in the Iranian Model, we can be reasonably sure that Iran is behind it.

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