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Al-Qaida had extensive contacts with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, as well as with an elite military unit which helped the terrorists train and plot attacks against Americans, according to a former intelligence officer who recently fled Iran.

Hamid Reza Zakeri, a former inspector and director of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Ministry of Intelligence, or MOIS, member said models of the World Trade Center, the White House, Pentagon and other United States government buildings “were in our headquarters.”

In an explosive interview with a London-based Arabic newspaper last week, Zakeri stated that al-Qaida leader and Egyptian terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, a key aide to Osama bin Laden, has close ties with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Division, which is Iran’s Islamic shock troops.

Zawahiri is close to Revolutionary Guards deputy commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr. He also has ties to other Islamic Revolutionary Guards, or IRGC, Qods Forces commanders. These include Ahmad Vahedi, Hossein Mosleh (the guards’ former commander in Lebanon) and two other commanders identified only as Kan’ani and Naqdi.

Zakeri disclosed the details in an interview with the Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper on Feb. 18. The interview was conducted at an undisclosed location.

Zakeri also said bin Laden had contacts with IRGC officials during his residence in Sudan in the mid- to late-1990s.

“The relations of the Guards’ intelligence organ, not the government, with al-Qaida and other fundamentalist groups like the Egyptian and Palestinian Jihad ones go back to the 1980s,” Zakeri said.

Other terrorists that Iran’s intelligence and military supported included Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Fathi al-Shaqaqi, who was later killed in Malta, presumably by Israeli agents.

Zakeri said the IRGC also had joint terrorist operations with Imad Mughniyah, who was behind the bombings of U.S. civilian and military personnel and the murder of an American military officer. Iranian intelligence financed many terrorist operations, he said.

Zakeri claimed he was trained in North Korea as part of several Revolutionary Guards and security services training missions. The training included combat drills, counterintelligence and psychological warfare, as well as pilot training.

Zakeri left Iran after learning of the government’s role in political assassinations.

The IRGC trained terrorists and helped them plot attacks against Americans, including the 1983 bombing of the Marines barracks in Lebanon, he said.

“Imad Mughniyah and some Guards commanders played the chief role in these operations,” Zakeri said. “Mughniyah and some Guards commanders led the operation that involved the hijacking of the American TWA airliner and the killing of one of its passengers,” he said.

Mughniyah remained the liaison officer with al-Zawahiri and other fundamentalist organizations’ leaders.

Zakeri said he had no knowledge of the al-Qaida plot to attack the World Trade Center and Pentagon. “But there were in our headquarters models of the two towers, the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA building in Langley,” Zakeri said.

“In addition to that, Imad Mughniyah came to Iran and met some senior officials in the guide’s security organ and brought them a message from Dr. al-Zawahiri saying we need your help to carry out an extremely serious operation in the great Satan’s country,” Zakeri said.

“The request was discussed but was turned down,” he added. “The head of our department and Nateq-Nuri, head of inspection in the guide’s office and his representative in the higher security committee, decided to ask Mughniyah to maintain his ties with al-Zawahiri and his colleagues but without involving himself in their activities.”

Zakeri said Mughniyah is still in Iran and has helped al-Qaida terrorists find safe haven there. Bin Laden’s eldest son, Saad, “could have entered Iran with Mughniyah’s help.”

Zakeri said that IRGC intelligence operatives under Morteza Rezai helped Iraq smuggle oil and Iraqi dates.

“Smuggling and trade cooperation between the Guards’ intelligence and Iraq stopped about a year ago,” he said, “but the Guards’ intelligence is still maintaining some ties with Uday Saddam Hussein and Iraqi intelligence.”

“There is coordination between the two on issues like confining the Kurds and confronting the U.S.,” Zakeri continued. For example, the Ansar al-Islam organization in Iraq’s Kurdistan has the support and protection of the Guards and the Iraqi regime’s intelligence services.

An Iranian official dismissed Zakeri’s comments saying he was expelled from the MOIS for “suspicious behavior and connections.”

A second official accused Zakeri of “spying, being an agent and scheming against Islam and the revolution in coordination with the Zionists and world arrogance.”

Iran’s Etemaad newspaper reported recently that the Internet site Yekhabar.com, which is run by a former Iranian security official, stated that three security officials recently fled the country and took large amounts of documents, including videotapes related to government assassinations.

The Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper is an influential Saudi-owned daily providing independent coverage of Arab and international issues, U.S. officials said. Its editorials reflect official Saudi views on foreign policy.

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