An Iranian general collaborated with al Qaeda to arrange the transit through Iran of nine of the September 11 hijackers, the Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported on Monday.
“A general in the apparatus (Revolutionary Guard) coordinated with the number two man in al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, to provide ‘safe passage’ to around nine of those who carried out the attacks,” the London-based paper said.
It cited as its source an official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and said Zawahri, who requested the help, had links with the general going back to the early 1990s.
Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh challenged the newspaper to back up its story.
“If they have concrete proof they should hand it over to the United Nations, and if they really trust their sources they should let us know too,” he told a weekly news conference when asked about the report.
A U.S. commission is expected to say in a report this week on the September 11 attacks that some of the hijackers passed through Iran on their way to the United States, but the CIA’s Acting Director has said there is no evidence of official Iranian complicity.
Iran acknowledged that some of the 19 attackers may have passed through illegally, but said it had since tightened border controls. It said any attempts to tie the country to Osama bin Laden’s group were part of U.S. election-year propaganda.
The disclosure has again raised the question in the United States of whether the Bush administration, facing a re-election contest in November, has focused too much on Iraq in seeking state connections to the attacks.
Some 3,000 people died when suicide hijackers flew airliners into U.S. landmarks. The attacks were blamed on al Qaeda, which was then based in Iran’s neighbor, Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Iran had ordered its border guards not to stamp the passports of Saudi al Qaeda members moving through Iran after training in Afghanistan.
An Iranian stamp could have made the al Qaeda members subject to additional scrutiny upon entering the United States.