INTELLIGENCE SOURCES SAY BEHBAHANI COULD BE GENUINE BUT
PARIS 7TH June (IPS)
Senior western intelligence sources cautioned against an Iranian fugutive who has presented himself to the Turks and the Americans as a high ranking Iranian intelligence officer, saying at the same time that he could be genuine but not in the high position he has described himself.
Though the man, in an interview with the American CBS television has identified himself as Ahmad Behbahani, but intelligence sources noted that Iranian agents works under many different names and dresses and for this reason it is difficult for them to identify him.
Presenting himself as the man in charge of all Iranian terrorist operations in western hemisphere, Mr. Behbahani said Iran planned the 1998 downing of the Pan Am plane that exploded over Lockerbie, in Scotland, killing all the 270 passengers and crew.
The unrecorded interview was carried out by a CBS Iranian born correspondent in an apartment building Mr. Behbahani was sharing with other Iranian exiles in a refugee camp in Turkey and was presented on the "60 Minutes" News program on Sunday.
In a surprise interview with the Iranian official news agency IRNA, Hojjatoleslam Ali Yunesi, Iran's Minister of Information said since the establishment of this Ministry, no person named Ahmad Behbahani has been working with the administration.
He said the "so-called" Behbahani could be one of Iranians who, seeking asylum in Western countries, usually try to achieve their aims through libelous statements or slanders against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Mr. Behbahani told the CBS that he had crossed the border from Iran four months earlier, in fear of his life following a rift with his colleagues.
"This is not very professional, for, considering that there is a two millions US Dollars reward for anyone who would bring sound information concerning the Lockerbie explosion, he (Behbahani) should have walk directly to us. And anyway, he should have done so if he is really part of the community", one highly informed western intelligence sources told Iran Press Service.
CBS said Behbahani says he has documents to substantiate his claims. He is in the protective custody in Turkey, and is being debriefed by CIA officers who spent several hours with defector.
In the interview, Mr. Behbahani also offered some information concerning the November "chain murder" of six prominent Iranian politicians and intellectuals, naming some senior clerics as the providers of the "fatwas" (religious order) and those responsible for the assassination of Mr. Dariush Foruhar, the leader of the secularist Iranian People's Party and his wife Mrs. Parvaneh Eskandari.
According to Mr. Behbahani, it was he himself who had first suggested the plan to bomb the airliner in retaliation for the downing of an Iranian Airbus passenger plane by an American navy ship in the Persian Gulf, killing all the 290 passengers and crew and discussed the idea with Mr. Ahmad Jibril, the general secretary of the Syrian-Iranian backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
Mr. Behbahani said that he brought into Iran a group of Libyans who underwent 90 days of training to prepare them to carry out the bombing.
But in a very unusual interview with the Damascus correspondent of the Iranian state-controlled Radio, Mr. Jibril dismissed these reports, saying it is part of nasty foreign propaganda against his organisation.
Two Libyan intelligence officers, Mr. Abdel Baset Ali Meghrahi and Al Amin Khalifah Fhimah, acused of the Lockerbie bombing, are currently facing trial by a Scottish tribunal at Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands.
Contacted by IPS, Mr. Abolhasan Banisadr, Islamic Iran's first elected president not only confirmed the existence of Mr. Behbahani and his presence in Turkey, but also revealed that the director of the former Intelligence Minister Hojjatoleslam Ali Fallahian has also fled to Turkey "with a lot of documents".
According to Mr. Banisadr, Mr. Behbahani had accompanied the former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during his official visit to Ankara under the name of Kargar, a matter that shows how important and trusted Mr. Behbahani must have been in the before his defection.
Other reports say it was the Marxist-Islamist Mujahedeen Khalq Organisation (MKO), the Baghdad-based, Iraqi-backed, financed and equipped that "alerted" Turkish officials about the presence of such an "important fish" in a Turkish refugee camp.
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described to CNN the issue of Mr. Behbahani as "interesting", but she declined to comment further, saying: "I think it is inappropriate to comment on the specifics of it, because that trial is in the process and the prosecutors are working on it."
Looking in the "Dungeon of Phantoms", -- this is the title of a best seller from the Iranian investigative journalist Mr. Akbar Ganji --, where truth and lies are mixed up, it is really difficult to establish who is Mr. Behbahani?
Is he genuine? Is he a Mujahedeen defector? Is he another "rabbit" the Islamic Republic is taking out of its sleeve? Or he is a simple employee of the security services seeking asylum in the US?
One fact is that the Iranians have nevertheless created a co-ordinating centre to mount a formidable counter Behbahani propaganda warfare by mobilising all the interested administrations, including the Radio and Television.
Iran Radio correspondents in London, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Ankara and Damascus all reported Monday and Tuesday from their postings about the repercussions of Mr. Behbahani's claims, and quoting some Western press, they concluded that one must not take the issue seriously.
"Usually, the Iranian authorities do not react to such matters until it is very serious", one Tehran analyst observed.
As the pro-conservative "Tehran Times" said Tuesday that one should not doubt that the Americans can easily produce individuals such as Ahmad Behbahani, an Iranian Istanbul-based analyst observed that the man could well be another "invention" of the Iranians to discredit this time the Turkish intelligence agency MIT, "the source of all present anti-Iranian propaganda in the Turkish press". AHMAD BEHBAHANI 7600
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