By Patrick Goodenough
CNSNews.com International Editor
June 09, 2008
It was unclear Monday whether he was still in Saudi Arabia, but his presence was brought to the attention of Interpol as well as the Argentine and Saudi governments late last week.
Rezai was part of a delegation led by former Iranian president, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who shared the platform with the Saudi monarch during the gathering in Mecca.
The three-day conference, which drew considerable attention in the Islamic world, is aimed at fostering Muslim unity ahead of a dialogue Abdullah plans to launch with Christian and Jewish religious figures.
The attendance of Rafsanjani, a senior Shi’ite figure invited by the Sunni king and seated at Abdullah’s left in a sign of unity between Islam’s two major sects, was widely reported.
Virtually unreported, by contrast, was the participation of Rezai, although an Iranian state-funded media outlet mentioned in passing that he was accompanying the former president. Iran’s Mehr news agency also posted pictures showing Rezai in Mecca with Rafsanjani.
Rezai is a top-level politician in Iran, a former presidential candidate and secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a consultative body appointed by “supreme leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and headed by Rafsanjani.
For 16 years during the 1980s and 1990s, however, he was leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), having been appointed to the post by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at the age of 27. The IRGC was last October subjected to U.S. sanctions for support of terrorism and proliferation activities.
In July 1994, in a rare case of a suicide bombing outside the Middle East, terrorists targeted a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring several hundred others. Argentine investigators believe that both Rezai and Rafsanjani himself were key players in the deadly attack.
In 2006, special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, a presidential appointee, concluded after in-depth investigations that Iran masterminded the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) bombing and had tasked Hezbollah – a Lebanese-based Shi’ite group sponsored by Iran – to carry it out.
Buenos Aires issued arrest warrants for top-ranking Iranian suspects, including Rafsanjani, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and Iran’s ambassador to Argentina at the time of the bombing, Hadi Soleimanpour.
Warrants also were issued for Rezai, former intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan, commander of an IRGC Quds Force special operations unit Ahmad Vahidi, and two officials based at Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires, Mohsen Rabbani and Ahmad Reza Asghari. Also wanted was a Lebanese national, Hezbollah terrorist chief Imad Mughniyah, who was killed in a bomb blast in Damascus in February.
In March last year, Interpol’s executive committee agreed to an Argentine request to issue red notices for Rezai and four other Iranians, as well as Mughniyah. On legal advice, Interpol chose not to issue red notices for Rafsanjani, Velayati and Soleimanpour (although they remain wanted by Argentina).
Last November, Interpol’s annual general assembly upheld the earlier executive committee decision, despite strong objections by Iran.
While a red notice is not an international arrest warrant, Interpol says many of its member countries recognize a red notice “as having the legal value to serve as a basis for provisional arrest … [it] is intended to help police identify or locate these individuals with a view to their arrest and extradition.”
Saudi Arabia is a longstanding member of Interpol, having joined in 1956. In 2002 it organized and hosted Interpol’s first Asian regional conference.
‘Zone of immunity’
Cybercast News Service late last week contacted Interpol’s head office in Lyon, France, as well as the Saudi foreign ministry and Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C.., and Argentina’s justice ministry and national Interpol office, seeking comment on Rezai’s presence in Mecca.
The queries brought no response, but the Simon Wiesenthal Center – a Jewish human rights group that has been spearheading campaigns for those responsible for the AMIA attack to be brought to justice – said it brought the Iranians’ presence to the attention of Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble.
Dr. Shimon Samuels, the SWC’s international relations director, said he urged Noble to press the Saudi government “to abide by its international commitments and to immediately detain, at least, Mohsen Rezai until an extradition order can be obtained from Argentina.”
“Interpol is best placed to apprise the Saudi authorities that, perhaps unwittingly, they are granting shelter to international terrorists and must act accordingly,” he said.
The SWC also raised the issue with Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana, calling on him to demand that the Saudis detain and extradite both Rafsanjani and Rezai.
The center said Nisman, the Argentine special prosecutor, had confirmed that a request to Saudi Arabia was in progress. The foreign ministry in Buenos Aires instructed the embassy in Riyadh to request detention and examine the possibility of extradition. Nisman also contacted Interpol.
Argentina’s AJN Jewish news agency quoted members of an organization of family and friends of victims of the AMIA bombing as urging Saudi Arabia to detain the Iranians, while expressing doubt that the kingdom would do so.
“What I find to be extremely ironic is that these guys have been invited to this world Muslim conference to work out the guidelines and principles for outreach to Jews and Christians,” Samuels said by phone from Paris, adding that the event had been “totally betrayed by the presence of two people complicit in blowing up a Jewish center.”
He recalled that when the Interpol general assembly confirmed the red notices last November, the center believed the decision would restrict their freedom of movement.
“I said, what we’ve gained is that those people will never be allowed out of Iran unless it is to come [to somewhere] where they are absolutely sure they’re not going to be arrested – [to] allies or part of the family,” Samuels said.
“As such, whatever ill-gotten gains they may have in Swiss banks or the enjoyment of going to the West for a bit of a break – or coming to Paris for a good meal – they’re not going to be able to enjoy that, because everybody’s eyes are going to be watching.”
In this case, he observed, it seemed the Iranians had visited “a zone of immunity.” Samuels voiced doubt that the Saudis would respond positively to the diplomatic requests.
Tehran has long denied Argentina’s allegations about being behind the AMIA attack. On last year’s 13th anniversary of the bombing, the official Irna news agency released a report blaming “international Zionism and its Argentine agents” for the atrocity.
When Interpol upheld the red notice decision last November, Fallahijan, the former intelligence chief among those listed, attributed the allegations to “Zionists’ intrigue” and urged the foreign ministry to file a complaint against Argentina in international courts for making unjustified accusations against Iran.