A senior NATO official made headlines last week when he said that members of Pakistani intelligence were helping hide Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in northwestern Pakistan. It seems that everyone is focused on hunting for Bin Laden in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas, but much more precise and multi-sourced intelligence, including eyewitness testimony, places the terrorist masterminds in Iran. And according to a documentary, the government stopped a plot to nab him there.
In the film Feathered Cocaine about the falcon trade in the Middle East and Asia, the leader of the Union for the Conservation of Raptors, Alan Parrot interviews a falcon smuggler who agreed to anonymously tell his story after one of Parrot’s men saved his life. He claims to have met Bin Laden six times in Iran between November 2004 and October 2007 as Bin Laden is known to be a fan of falconry. The first meeting was near Baluchistan and later meetings were at a safehouse north of Tehran and in Mashhad.
The smuggler provided Parrot with the frequencies of the radios that Bin Laden attached to the back of the falcons so he could track them down if necessary. These frequencies could allow the world’s most wanted man’s location to be determined within one square mile. In late 2006, Parrot learned from the smuggler that Bin Laden was moving from his safe haven in Tehran to an area in Zahedan closed off for him to go hunting with his falcons. Zahedan has been identified as grounds where Al-Qaeda networks operate from.
Journalist Ken Timmerman interviewed a U.S. intelligence official who confirmed that an intelligence report had been distributed at this time based on electronic intercepts that an individual of special importance was moving from Tehran to Zahedan and that hundreds of thousands of acres had been closed off for him. Whoever the visitor to Zahedan was, he was so important that powerful Arabs who regularly went to the area to go hunting were denied entry while he was there.
Parrot and his colleagues passed this information to the intelligence community with no response. He began assembling a team of former special operations personnel to act on the intelligence and use the radio frequencies to capture Bin Laden, but FBI agents said those involved would be arrested for violating the Neutrality Act. Attorney John Loftus was used by the team to contact the intelligence community, communication that included a May 2007 letter to CIA Director Michael Hayden and an offer to provide the government with footage from an unmanned aerial vehicle they were going to use to confirm the information. Loftus was firmly told to drop the plans.
Parrot says that when Bin Laden travels, the Iranian regime places his family on house arrest to guarantee that he comes back. Bin Laden and his family are protected but are also imprisoned and controlled to a degree because of that protection. This may sound fanciful, but two of Bin Laden’s sons have confirmed this element of the story.
Omar Bin Laden has said that up to 40 members of the Bin Laden family are living under house arrest in Tehran and are constantly monitored by the Revolutionary Guards. He said the compound where they live includes a tennis court, swimming pool, computers, videogames, and they are otherwise treated well, such as being allowed to go horseback riding along the coast—a key detail that corroborates the treatment Parrot says Osama Bin Laden is receiving. Notably, one of Bin Laden’s daughters escaped the compound and left the country after going to the Saudi embassy and another son left in December 2009. Khalid Bin Laden, another son, has also said that about 30 of his family members are in Iran and have actually been abused.
Saad Bin Laden, Osama’s oldest son and key member of Al-Qaeda, left in September 2008 (although he may have returned) and more recently, the former chief spokesman of Al-Qaeda, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, also left Iran. The Treasury Department has blacklisted Al-Qaeda members in Iran that it says have arranged for the Iranian safe harbor of family members of high-level Al-Qaeda operatives including those of Bin Laden and Zawahiri.
A spokesman for the Green Movement in Iran named Mohsen Makhmalbaf has also confirmed that Bin Laden is in Iran, saying “there is absolutely no doubt about this.” He said that he is living in a safehouse near Karaj close to Tehran. He also says that Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the presidential candidate who ran against Ahmadinejad and is now a top opposition leader, told him that he went on a tour with Iranian government officials in 2006 to an Al-Qaeda and Taliban camp near Karaj where they were on a hunger strike to protest the food they were given. “They were half prisoners, half guests,” Makhmalbaf said, which is the same description given by Bin Laden’s sons and Parrot.
Since the documentary was first seen, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyassa has also reported that Bin Laden is in Iran. According to that report, Bin Laden is now in northwestern Iran, specifically Sabzevar in Khorasan Province, 220 kilometers west of Mashhad, which is one of the locations the smuggler said he met Bin Laden at. The city has also been long identified as an Al-Qaeda safe haven. He is reportedly there with Zawahiri and five other Al-Qaeda officials. However, one part of the story does contradict other intelligence, as it says that Bin Laden has been there for five years.
As far back as 2004, there was eyewitness testimony of Bin Laden being in Iran. Author Richard Miniter interviewed two former Iranian intelligence officers for his book, one of which was responsible for saving the lives of American servicemen in Afghanistan. The officers said that Bin Laden went to Pakistani Kashmir in 2002, which is supported by a British press report that India had informed the U.S. about Osama’s presence there in February 2002. In June of that same year, Bin Laden went to Pakistani Baluchistan and the following month, sent a message to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei requesting safe harbor during a Pakistani military offensive. Iran granted his request, and first allowed his four wives and Saad Bin Laden to come in. Bin Laden himself went to Iran on July 26, 2002, crossing near Zabol.
He then went to Mashhad and later was transported by the Revolutionary Guards between Qazvin and Karaj. The inclusion of Mashhad and Karaj in these two officers’ stories matches with the other publicly available information. Hamid Mir, a top Pakistani journalist who is the only one to have interviewed Osama Bin Laden after 9⁄11, was approached by his contacts in July 2002 and told that if he wanted another interview, he’d have to go to Iran. Bin Laden’s personal chef has also said that Bin Laden was offered safe haven by Iran and that other Al-Qaeda leaders spoke of going there.
The two officers claim they personally saw Bin Laden on October 23, 2003 in Najmabad near Tehran. They were in the safehouse when everyone was told to leave for a foreign visitor, who they saw was Bin Laden. According to the two Iranians, he had trimmed his beard and was wearing a black turban like an Iranian cleric, a change in disguise that may explain why he has not released any videotapes. Ken Timmerman also wrote that a source of his with “direct knowledge” of a meeting between Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Iranian officials in late 2004 confirmed the change in disguise. His source added that Bin Laden had an IV in his hand and did not appear healthy. Timmerman says he was shown a photograph of the meeting and that a cell phone placed on the table was used to date it.
During this same time period, various reports indicated Bin Laden was in Iran. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on an Italian intelligence report that Bin Laden was in Tehran in May 2003 along with seven other Arab terrorists to plan attacks. Then-Congressman Curt Weldon also had an Iranian source code-named “Ali” that reported that Bin Laden and Zawahiri were near Ladiz in Iranian Baluchistan, 80 kilometers southeast of Zahedan. They traveled to Kerman to Sultanabad, a northern suburb of Tehran. In January 2004, he was in a villa near Karaj. It is important to notice how the same locations keep coming up in the source reporting without any major contradictions.
There is more eyewitness testimony and detailed reporting publicly available about Bin Laden being in Iran than there is about him being in Pakistan, even if it is almost universally assumed that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area is his hiding spot. The reporting does indicate that Bin Laden travels and so it remains possible that he could spend time in Pakistan. Attorney John Loftus, who is well-connected in the intelligence community, says his sources report that Bin Laden splits his time between the two countries.
“We know that for several years, Bin Laden has taken short but predictable trips to Iran for the hunting season between October and February,” Loftus told FrontPage. He added that the smuggler had hunted with Bin Laden in Iran, saying for several days with the terror leader.
“Nobody even bothered to interview our source,” Loftus said. He also said that the opportunity to capture or kill Bin Laden could very well have been lost. It is “doubtful” that Bin Laden would return to Iran for the hunting season now that this information has been made public, which was only done after the government squashed plans by Parrot, Loftus and others to get Bin Laden.
If the story in this article and the Feathered Cocaine documentary is accurate, then the U.S. had an opportunity to bring Bin Laden justice—but Iran was too inconvenient of a place for it to happen.