Iranian general 'hands over vital documents after defecting to US'

The Independent UK
Date: 03-09-07

By Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor

An Iranian general appears to have defected to the West with vital documents, despite Iranian claims that he was snatched last month from a Turkish hotel by US or Israeli agents.

A former Iranian deputy defence minister, Ali Rez Asgari has documents and maps detailing the relationship between the elite Revolutionary Guards and Islamist groups such as Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad, the London-based Asharq Alawsat newspaper said.

The newspaper said the general was also briefing Western intelligence on Iran's links to groups in Iraq. These include the Mehdi Army of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Badr organisation.

Senior US and Iranian officials are to sit down at the same negotiating table today at an international conference in Baghdad to attempt to curb sectarian violence in Iraq. The conference will also include delegates from Syria, Saudi Arabia and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The Washington Post quoted a US official who said General Asgari was willingly co-operating. His defection would be a blow to Iran.

However, Iranian officials said that he may have been kidnapped. His disappearance was reported by Turkish media, who said he went missing after checking into a hotel in Istanbul after arriving from Damascus. Two foreigners went to the Ceyhan Intercontinental hotel on 6 February and reserved a room for General Asgari for three nights. He checked into the hotel on 7 February and then vanished - reportedly travelling on a fake passport.

According to the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, the 63-year-old had information on Iran's nuclear plans. But the Iranian government has denied that he was part of its nuclear programme.

General Asgari's exact whereabouts were unknown yesterday, although Asharq Alawsat said he was in a "northern European" country. The US denied that he was in the United States, and suggested his disappearance had been orchestrated by the Israelis.

He is known to have been deeply involved in the transfer of weapons from Iran to Hizbollah when he was responsible for the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon in the 1980s and early 1990s. Hizbollah is Israel's mortal enemy in south Lebanon.

General Asgari left the Iranian government in early 2005 and he is unlikely to have deep knowledge of current aspects of the Iranian military forces, but he would be well informed on the country's security infrastructure in general. Significantly, he could also provide valuable information on attacks against the American and French targets in Beirut that were blamed on Hizbollah in the early 1980s.


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