Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

August 25 1996

Terrorists 'smuggled missiles to America'

AMERICAN officials are investigating reports that Islamic terrorists have smuggled Stinger ground-to-air missiles into the United States from Pakistan.

Senior Iranian sources close to the fundamentalist regime in Tehran claimed this weekend that TWA flight 800 was shot down last month by one of three shoulder-fired Stingers of the type used by Islamic guerrillas during the Afghanistan war.

The sources said the missiles arrived in America seven months ago after being shipped from Karachi via Rotterdam and on to the Canadian port of Halifax. They claimed an Egyptian fundamentalist group backed by Iran was responsible for smuggling the weapons across the Canadian border into the United States.

The group, the Gama'a al-Islamiya, comprises followers of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind Egyptian cleric jailed in the United States over the 1993 New York World Trade Centre bombing. It has been waging a war to overthrow the government of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and has been held responsible for a number of attacks on tourists since 1992, including the murder of 17 Europeans last April.

A senior White House official responsible for counter-terrorism told The Sunday Times this weekend that he had seen a report that a Stinger missile had been smuggled into the United States from Pakistan. The official, who is involved in collating intelligence relating to the TWA inquiry for the White House, said investigators were aware of reports that Stingers may have been smuggled into the country.

"It is plausible," he said. "We have not come to any final conclusions. If a Stinger was the cause of this, our first theory would be that it came from Afghanistan."

According to the Iranian report, the Stingers smuggled into America were bought by Iran from Afghan guerrillas. However, the American official emphasised that the possibility that a missile had destroyed the TWA jet was not the administration's leading theory.

The FBI confirmed last week that traces of explosive had been found on debris linked to the inside of the jet, indicating that an explosive device had detonated in the passenger cabin. But investigators have insufficient evidence to determine whether the device was a bomb or a missile warhead.

The official was commenting on reports from Tehran that claimed several groups funded by the religious authorities in Iran are active in the United States. The reports claim one previously unknown underground group called Falakh may have as many as 50 highly trained terrorists in the country.

The missile theory, although not ruled out, has been treated sceptically by many investigators who are convinced that a terrorist bomb smuggled on to the jet caused the crash which destroyed the Boeing 747, killing all 230 people on board.

A computer simulation by the US army concluded it was a "possibility", but not likely, that a Stinger fired from a boat could have reached the plane.

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