The shadowy Iranian spy chief who helped plan Benghazi


As a radical Islamic army marches across Iraq, America is making a deal with the devil. Qassem Suleymani, the head of Iran’s secretive Quds Force, is allied with us in Baghdad — but he’s plotted to kill Americans elsewhere.

As Kenneth R. Timmerman reveals in his new book, “Dark Forces,” Suleymani was even the shadowy figure behind the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya.

He’s the Wizard of Oz of Iranian terror, the most dreaded and most effective terrorist alive.

He is Qassem Suleymani, the head of the Quds Force, an organization that acts as a combination CIA and Green Berets for Iran, and a man who has orchestrated a campaign of chaos against the United States around the world.
Today, the Obama Administration has allied itself with Suleymani to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

In this case, Iran’s goals — a Shi’ite-friendly government in Iraq — coincides with America’s hope that the country doesn’t fall apart.

But don’t be fooled: It’s only a partnership of convenience, and one that won’t last.

“Iran wants chaos. They want to generate anti-American anger, radicalize the rebels, and maintain a climate of war,” a former Iranian intelligence chief for Western Europe told me. “They are very serious about this. They want to damage the reputation of the United States as a freedom-loving country in the eyes of the Arabs.”

Suleymani has orchestrated attacks in everywhere from Lebanon to Thailand. The US Department of Justice accuses him of trying to hire a Mexican drug cartel to blow up the Saudi Ambassador to the United States while he was in Washington, DC.

My sources, meanwhile, say Suleymani was involved in an even more direct attack on the US — the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya.

“In Libya, Iran wanted to block US influence, which they saw as a threat,” the intelligence chief said. “They saw the uprising against Khadafy — and the Arab Spring more generally — as an opportunity to accomplish this.”

The Kidnapping

The CIA Annex in Benghazi housed an NSA listening post that secretly monitored communications of jihadi groups.

Late in the afternoon on Monday, July 30, 2012, the Annex ears picked up chatter in Persian between a pair of operators from Quds Force.
The NSA translator brought an English transcript of their conversation to the chief of base. He laughed when he read through it. “It looks like our boys are on time,” he said.

The chief of base had been given intelligence that Iran would send operatives into the area. He tasked several agents in his employ who worked for the Zintan militia, which ran the Benghazi airport, with tracking the seven Iranians scheduled to arrive that day from Tripoli.

They were operating undercover as part of a Red Crescent medical team — a doctor, male nurses, medics and administrator — and undoubtedly thought the Americans didn’t have a clue as to who they really were. At least, that’s what the chief of base had surmised from the intercepted coms.

But he knew that the Red Crescent team included operations officers the Iranians had dispatched to Benghazi to carry out an attack on the diplomatic compound. This was the big one they were all waiting for.

The CIA chief of base didn’t know whether their plan was to kidnap the ambassador, kill him, hire locals to drive car bombs through the perimeter wall, or what.

All he knew was, they were the bad guys and they had come to fulfill his worst nightmares.

Over the next hour or so, the chief’s deputy received a steady stream of reports over the tactical radio from the Zintan militia guys on the progress of the hit team. The plane had landed at Benina International Airport.

They packed into a convoy of Red Crescent vehicles (each painted white, with a large, bright red Islamic crescent painted on the doors and the roof — the Muslim version of the Red Cross).

They were en route to the Tibesti Hotel. The chief had a second team waiting in separate vehicles outside to track them once they left the airport. Everything was going like clockwork.

After the Iranians freshened up at the hotel, they went out again for an Iftar dinner with the local Red Crescent guys. It was a protocol event. Because they were in the middle of Ramadan, the Muslim month of daytime fasting, they didn’t actually sit down to dinner until late.

Then at 1 in the morning, it happened.

All of a sudden, the deputy chief jumped up from where he had been dozing off. His guys were going nuts.

The ruckus got the chief’s attention. “What’s going on? What are they saying?” he asked.

The deputy translated the excited shrieks from the trackers. It seemed the Red Crescent team had been headed back to the Tibesti Hotel when they were ambushed by a half dozen Toyota pickups with .50-caliber machine guns mounted on the beds.

The militia guys forced the Iranians to get out, cuffed them, then bundled them into a pair of Jeep Cherokees and sped off.

Our guys decided it was more prudent not to follow them, he said.

So they’re gone, the chief said. That’s it. Kidnapped.

For the next 24 hours or so, the chief’s network of agents in Benghazi was unable to find out where the Iranians had been taken or who was holding them.
Then, according to Dylan Davies, the former British Special Operations grunt who managed the unarmed security detail at the US diplomatic compound, a local fixer learned they were being held in a former Libyan army camp outside of town on the Tripoli road.

“They are getting fed; they have their own beds even. They are fine,” he told Davies.

The fixer claimed it was a Shia-Sunni thing. “There are some who think those Iranian Shias are not welcome here,” he said. “But they are perfectly okay.”
Davies says he learned a few days later that the CIA chief of base had tasked his former Special Forces security team with launching a hostage rescue, perhaps with the goal of interrogating the Iranians in the privacy of their armored Mercedes G wagons.

At the last minute, Davies’ fixer told him the Iranians had already been set free and put on a plane for Tripoli, en route to Tehran. “Mate, cancel the cavalry,” he told the chief diplomatic security officer at the compound. “They left yesterday on a flight to Tehran.”

When the Americans expressed surprise at how he got this information, he said that his fixer’s cousin worked at the airport. “He saw all seven of ’em fly out of here.”

But Davies — and the CIA chief of base — got played.

The Distraction

I learned what actually happened from two former Iranian intelligence officers. Each has his own active network of contacts inside Iran, some of whom continue to work in senior positions in the Iranian regime.

I corroborated their initial information with multiple Western intelligence sources that are not in contact with them.

The CIA chief of base was correct that the Red Crescent team included undercover Quds Force officers who had been sent to carry out a terrorist attack against the United States.

In fact, my Iranian sources said, their orders were to kidnap or kill the US ambassador to Libya, to send a message to the United States that they could act against them at will anywhere and at any time in the Middle East.

But, as they were getting ready to set the plan in motion, the resident Quds Force team in Benghazi learned from its own intercepts of the Annex tactical coms that the Red Crescent cover had been blown and the CIA was onto them.
So they decided to take the entire group off the streets — stage a kidnapping — in order to convince the chief of base that the danger was over.

“The team in operational command in Benghazi were Qassem Suleymani’s people,” the former Baghdad deputy chief of station, John Maguire, told me. “They were a mature, experienced, operational element from Iran. These guys are the first-string varsity squad.” And they were playing for keeps.

Maguire had matched wits with Suleymani, the Quds Force commander, for two years in Iraq and came away with a healthy respect for his capabilities. “He is talented, charismatic. His people are competent and well trained. They have all the operational traits we used to value. And they are committed to this fight for the long haul.”

Suleymani and his Quds Force operators were so successful at killing Americans in Iraq because they had penetrated US operations.

They didn’t just randomly place an IED on a roadside, Maguire said. They placed the IED where and when they knew an American convoy was going to pass.
“They were into our coms. They were into our operational planning. That’s how they were able to kill so many Americans,” Maguire said.

The faked kidnapping in Benghazi was a typical Quds Force op. They used a local militia that on the surface detested Shias, just as they used the Taliban in Afghanistan and manipulated al Qaeda.

“They are very good at deception operations,” Maguire told me.

And our side didn’t have a clue. The CIA chief of base and his deputy fell for it hook, line and sinker.

The Payoffs

The Quds Force was using operatives recruited in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Turkey and Egypt to finance, train and equip the radical group Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, careful to show their hand only to a select few.

To anyone on the ground, these Iranian operatives would look and speak just like Arabs or Turks. They helped to create a series of small, radical militias — Ansar al-Sharia was not the only one, as the June 7–8 gathering of jihadis in Benghazi showed — to block any progress toward democracy.

My sources estimate that the Iranians recruited more than 1,000 Libyan fighters for these militias who were “in direct contact with Quds Force officers.”

By mid-August 2012, planning for the attacks on the US diplomatic compound and the CIA intelligence base in Benghazi had been in the works for two months.
My sources say the head of the Iranian team in Benghazi was a senior Quds Force officer named Ibrahim Mohammed Joudaki. He had gotten his start killing Kurds in northwestern Iran, and later ended up in Lebanon where he trained Hezbollah fighters.

His deputy, Khalil Harb, was someone he had known and worked with for years in Lebanon.

Harb was a top Hezbollah operative and a deputy to Quds Force chieftain Qassem Suleymani. As an Arab, it was easier for him to interface directly with the local militias and handle the logistics of the operation itself.

Over those first two months, Joudaki spread money around, while Harb and his team of hardened killers gathered intelligence, recruited militiamen, and refined the operational plan.

My sources say Harb had a total of some 50 Quds Force operatives on the ground to manage the attacks.

Their initial orders were to kidnap the US ambassador while he was visiting Benghazi, and to destroy the CIA Annex. They wanted to drive the United States out of Benghazi, where they believed the CIA was supervising weapons transfers to the Syrian rebels.

“Iran saw the CIA presence on the ground in Benghazi as a direct threat,” the former Western European intelligence chief said.

The Attack

The kidnapping plan was dropped after the Red Crescent team arrived and were outed by the CIA. Harb and Joudaki replaced it with a straight kill order.

My sources say that a courier arrived carrying $8 million to $10 million in 500-euro notes around three weeks before the attack. Joudaki distributed the money through Harb to Ansar al-Sharia leaders.

The money was brought in through Tunisia, then south through the Algerian desert, and into Libya by road. It came from Quds Force accounts in Malaysia.
On Sept. 11, 2012, Ansar al-Sharia attacked the consulate in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Stevens.

Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the suspected ringleaders in the attack, was captured by US forces last week. Although Ansar al-Sharia was supported by Iranian money, Qassem Suleymani and his Quds Force kept their hands clean.
And those “kidnapped” Red Crescent workers? They were miraculously released on Oct. 6 in Benghazi and appeared for a group photo with the Libyan Red Crescent, then were put on a plane to Tripoli and flown back immediately from there to Tehran.

This is the deadly deception we face from Iran. Suleymani may work with us to battle ISIS, but don’t believe for one moment that he’s our friend.

New York Post

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