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Monday, March 19, 2007

Iran to hit back at US ‘kidnaps’

The Sunday Times

IRAN is threatening to retaliate in Europe for what it claims is a daring undercover operation by western intelligence services to kidnap senior officers in its Revolutionary Guard.

According to Iranian sources, several officers have been abducted in the past three months and the United States has drawn up a list of other targets to be seized with the aim of destabilising Tehran’s military command.

In an article in Subhi Sadek, the Revolutionary Guard’s weekly paper, Reza Faker, a writer believed to have close links to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, warned that Iran would strike back.

“We’ve got the ability to capture a nice bunch of blue-eyed blond-haired officers and feed them to our fighting cocks,” he said. “Iran has enough people who can reach the heart of Europe and kidnap Americans and Israelis.”

The first sign of a possible campaign against high-ranking Iranian officers emerged earlier this month with the discovery that Ali Reza Asgari, former commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force in Lebanon and deputy defence minister, had vanished, apparently during a trip to Istanbul.

Asgari’s disappearance shocked the Iranian regime as he is believed to possess some of its most closely guarded secrets. The Quds Force is responsible for operations outside Iran.

Last week it was revealed that Colonel Amir Muhammed Shirazi, another high-ranking Revolutionary Guard officer, had disappeared, probably in Iraq.

A third Iranian general is also understood to be missing — the head of the Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf. Sources named him as Brigadier General Muhammed Soltani, but his identity could not be confirmed.

“This is no longer a coincidence, but rather an orchestrated operation to shake the higher echelons of the Revolutionary Guard,” said an Israeli source.

Other members of the Quds Force are said to have been seized in Irbil, in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, by US special forces.

“The capture of Quds members in Irbil was essential for our understanding of Iranian activity in Iraq,” said an American official with knowledge of the operation.

One theory circulating in Israel is that a US taskforce known as the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group (ISOG) is coordinating the campaign to take Revolutionary Guard commanders.

The Iranians have also accused the United States of being behind an attack on Revolutionary Guards in Iran last month in which at least 17 were killed.

Military analysts believe that Iranian threats of retaliation are credible. Tehran is notorious for settling scores. When the Israelis killed Abbas Mussawi, Hezbollah’s general secretary, in 1992 the Quds Force blew up the Israeli embassy in Argentina in revenge.

Despite the Iranian threat to retaliate in Europe, Iraq is seen by some analysts as a more likely place in which to attempt abductions.

“In Iraq, the Quds Force can easily get hold of American — and British — officers,” said a Jordanian intelligence source.

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