Yet another secret nuclear site in Iran may have just been exposed. A scientist kidnapped by Baluchi militants is providing personal testimony that he worked at a secret uranium enrichment facility with the explicit purpose of creating a nuclear bomb. If his statements are true, then Iran could get a nuclear bomb sooner than is thought.
Amir Hossein Shirani was kidnapped by the Baluchi militant group called Jundullah in October. The group demanded the release of 200 prisoners, threatening to make Shirani reveal damaging information about Iran’s nuclear program if they were not. The regime reacted by dismissing the credibility of any testimony by Shirani, saying he was fired in 2005 for being incompetent and was only a driver. The regime claimed that Shirani had gotten involved in the drug trade and was actually being held for ransom.
Jundullah made good on its threat on November 27, when Al-Arabiya television aired his testimony. He claimed that for three years he worked at a secret site located 15 kilometers southeast of the Isfahan nuclear conversion facility opposite of a village called Baran Shomali. Enrichment takes place around the clock at the site with three shifts of 50 people working per day. He gives the names of other engineers and workers and where they live, presumably to bolster his credibility and complicate the nuclear effort.
Shirani rules out the possibility that the nuclear program is for anything other than a nuclear bomb. He says that such peaceful uses weren’t even discussed at work meetings. Their intention of creating a nuclear bomb was openly discussed as being required in order to compete with Pakistan and threaten the U.S., Israel and the Arab world. The regime will try to downplay the claims as being coerced, and that may be true, but the details given by Shirani lend credence to his testimony. The IAEA should at least react quickly to demand interviews with those he named and inspections of the site.
This significant development comes as the U.S. State Department has branded the Jundullah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The government says that “Jundullah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations.” However, Jundullah’s attacks are aimed at the regime targets like officials, security services and the Revolutionary Guards. This does not, however, make Jundullah a friend of the U.S. The group reacted to the State Department’s decision with threats and anti-American rhetoric. “The United States has always supported criminals and murderers, like Sharon and Zionists, and supports also criminals (in the Iranian regime) to advance its interests,” a statement to Al-Arabiya reads.
The suicide bombing of a mosque in July was condemned by the U.S., but it was carried out by a Baluchi who had his two brothers killed by the Revolutionary Guards and the mosque was being used for a high-level meeting of Revolutionary Guards officials. Officially, 31 people were killed including six members of the Revolutionary Guards, including the provincial commander and the deputy-commander of the force. The real death toll is probably higher than what the regime says, with Michael Ledeen saying that “at a minimum, 108 were killed, including 57 members of the Revolutionary Guards.”
Jundullah is often said to be tied to Al-Qaeda, but there are two groups with the name, one of which is indeed tied to Bin Laden’s group and the other is an ethnic Baluchi militant group fighting the Iranian regime. Iran “deliberately conflates the two groups and accuses the U.S. of backing the al-Qaeda-allied group,” explains The Long War Journal.
The Obama Administration likely labeled Jundullah as a terrorist group to assuage the Iranian regime’s beliefs that the U.S. was behind its violent actions. In 2007, ABC News published information about U.S. covert operations against Iran, including secret assistance to Jundullah. A “senior U.S. government official” justified the aid saying that the group was helping track Al-Qaeda. The Free Life Party of Kurdistan was also added to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations when the Obama Administration came into power, and the State Department is fighting to keep the Mujahideen-e-Khalq on the list after its de-listing by the European Union under court order. The European Union has just passed a resolution calling on the U.S. to remove the MEK from its list of terrorist groups.
If Shirani’s testimony is accurate, then the exposure of this secret site and the naming of some of its technicians is another blow to Iran’s nuclear program. The virus known as Stuxnet has done tremendous damage to the centrifuges at Natanz and the nuclear reactor at Bushehr and it may still be spreading. Two nuclear scientists were recently attacked in simultaneous assassination attempts, killing one and injuring the other.
This positive development in the struggle to stop Iran is overshadowed by the bad news it brings. If true, then Iran is accumulating enriched uranium and is not accounting for it. That means that the estimates based on their stockpiles and pace of enrichment come from incomplete figures. Iran has also just announced it is producing its own yellowcake.
The possibility of secret enrichment sites in Iran means the West does not have the luxury of relying upon the IAEA’s reports to know when the final decision must be made about whether to accept a nuclear Iran or not. If Shirani’s testimony is accurate, then Iran could be turning uranium into the fuel for a nuclear bomb at this moment.
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