The Iran Connection

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The Administration has already drawn fire for overstating its claims of a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Now the report due this week from the bipartisan commission on the origins of the 9/11 attacks will suggest that the Administration may have focused its energy on the wrong country. Sources tell TIME the commission will present new evidence of contacts between al-Qaeda and Iran.

A senior U.S. official says the commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 "muscle" hijackers — those who helped gain control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subdue the crew and passengers --passed through Iran between October 2000 and February 2001. Sources tell TIME that commission investigators found that Iran has allowed al-Qaeda members to enter and exit the country across the Afghan border since October 2000. Iranian officials issued specific instructions to border guards to facilitate the travel of al-Qaeda personnel in and out of the country, including orders that their passports not be stamped. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks. The senior official says the report will also say that Iranian officials approached the al-Qaeda leadership after the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but the offer was turned down by Osama bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.

Much of this new information came from al-Qaeda detainees interrogated by the U.S., including captured Yemeni al-Qaeda operative Waleed Muhammad bin Attash, who organized the Cole attack, and from as many as 100 separate electronic intelligence intercepts. After first reported the commission's findings on contact between Iran and al-Qaeda, Iran's Intelligence Minister issued a statement on Saturday claiming that "the Intelligence Ministry has identified and dismantled all Iranian branches of the al-Qaeda movement."