Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

New York Times


Saturday, January 12, 2002


Report Says Iran Gave Terrorists U.S. Arms

Iran purchased American-built Stinger antiaircraft missiles in Afghanistan in 1994 and turned them over to a Lebanese-based terrorist organization, but the missiles proved to be defective, according to United States intelligence reports.

Iranian agents then conducted further negotiations in Afghanistan for additional Stinger missiles, according to another intelligence report. It is not known whether the Iranians were able to buy any more of the advanced shoulder-fired weapons.

The classified reports, which were provided to The New York Times, offer the first evidence that Iran had ever purchased the missiles, or that it had ever given them to terrorists who were considered willing to use them against American aircraft.

For years, many American analysts have warned that terrorists might be able to get some of the missing Stinger missiles the Central Intelligence Agency supplied to Afghan rebels in the 1980's when they were fighting the Soviet Army. The fear has been that terrorists could then use the weapons against American or Israeli aircraft, perhaps including passenger planes.

A United States official confirmed the reports today, but stressed that there was no evidence that the Stingers obtained by the Lebanese-based terrorist organization, the Islamic Jihad, actually worked.

The documents report that in September 1994 an operative from the Islamic Jihad, an offshoot of Hezbollah, went to Tehran to receive the shipment of Stinger missiles, considered among the most dangerous weapons in the American arsenal. United States officials say the Islamic Jihad has conducted a series of terrorist operations against the United States and Israel since the 1980's, with the backing of Iran.
The C.I.A. began supplying the Stingers to Afghan rebel groups fighting the Soviets in 1986, and the missiles played a crucial role in the outcome of the Afghan-Soviet war. After losing several aircraft, the Soviets were forced to curtail their use of air power, a shift that helped turn the tide of the battle.

When the Soviet Army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the United States ended its support for the Afghan rebels as well. But when the Americans left, many of the Stingers remained unaccounted for, left behind in the hands of warlords across Afghanistan.

Ever since, the C.I.A. has had a secret program to recover the Stingers from Afghanistan, but in recent years American officials have estimated that as many as 200 have not been located. American Special Forces and C.I.A. officers operating in Afghanistan since Sept. 11 have tried to track down the missing weapons, but it is not known whether they have had any success.

The missiles that the Iranians delivered to the Islamic Jihad operative had been purchased in July 1994 in Afghanistan by agents from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, a militant Iranian intelligence agency, according to one of the intelligence reports. Later, after the Iranians and Islamic Jihad discovered that the Stingers did not work, Iranian operatives contacted the representative of an Afghan warlord to try to open talks about buying others. But the Iranians were told that the United States had learned about the 1994 missile purchase, complicating any further negotiations, according to an intelligence report.

According to one of the intelligence reports, Fuad Shukr, a Lebanese- based operative for the Islamic Jihad, traveled to Tehran in September 1994 to pick up the shipment of Stingers.

At another point, according to the report, agents from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security also tried to buy Stingers from the government that ruled Afghanistan before the Taliban came to power in 1996. That effort was apparently unsuccessful.

It is unclear exactly what made the Stinger missiles defective or what happened to them once the problem was discovered, although there are indications, the intelligence reports say, that they were returned to the sellers. But in July 1996, according to the reports, operatives from the intelligence ministry approached an Afghan who represented Ahmed Shah Massoud, a leader of the Northern Alliance opposed to the Taliban.

Although Mr. Massoud had not been involved in the 1994 sale, the Iranians asked if his organization could sell 6 to 10 Stingers, according to an intelligence report. But the Iranians were told that the United States had found out about the 1994 sale, thus making it difficult to hold any further sales negotiations.

Mr. Massoud was killed on Sept. 9, two days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and American officials have said they believe he was murdered by Al Qaeda operatives sent by Osama bin Laden.

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