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Kowtowing to Terror
by Nooredin Abedian
8 December 2003

Iranian Flag Appeasing terrorists is a bad, and at times, dangerous policy, especially when at stake is a global war against terrorism.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh testified in court Tuesday against the government of Iran on behalf of victims' families in the bombing of a U.S. military apartment building in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Air Force personnel. A U.S. criminal case is pending against 14 individuals for the bombing of the Khobar Towers, in Dhahran. In 2002 congressional testimony, Freeh said direct evidence strongly indicated that the 1996 bombing was sanctioned, funded and directed by senior officials of the government of Iran. The Ministry of Intelligence and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were culpable for carrying out the operation, Freeh testified. The conspirators were "acting on orders from the highest levels of the regime in Tehran," Freeh wrote in a Wall Street Journal article introduced in the lawsuit. Those indicted in the case remain fugitives, some of whom believed to be in Iran.

Louis Freeh's mammoth task of more than four years can only be praised. Yet the most painful part of his odyssey was not shuttling between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. for the delicate coordination, but to clear hurdles back home in the path of the investigation. When he finally had all the evidence he needed for indicting the terrorists, the administration refused to support a prosecution. He had to wait for the new administration to obtain the criminal indictment, only four days before the charges would have become barred by the five-year statute of limitations.

The history of the war against terrorism is dotted by acts of appeasement towards state sponsored terrorism, and the Khobar case is one among several.

The recent feud between Iran and Britain after the latter arrested Iran's former ambassador to Argentina was just another example. The man was studying calmly for a Ph.D. in Britain, when an international warrant of arrest was issued by an Argentine judge, charging him with involvment in a deadly bombing in 1994 of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The explosion had killed 85 people and injured 200. Before supporting evidence from Buenos Aires reached London, Tehran's blackmail machine got on the move. Lucrative trade agreements between the country and a badly-in-need Argentina were the first carrots to be waved, and shots fired at the British embassy in Tehran were additional sticks.

The same arrest warrant involved twelve other Iranians along with the "ambassador," two of whom were arrested in Brussels shortly after the arrest in Britain, while the row went on in London. The Belgians were keen to learn from the British story: they let the two slip away in a few hours before news of the arrest hit the headlines.
Argentina was given time to produce proof. After a couple of months, the British home secretary concluded that the Argentines could not provide convincing evidence that the "diplomat" was actually implicated in the bombing, and until the day they did, he could stay at large, and even finish his Ph.D. (He actually got the first plane to Tehran, where he received a hero's welcome.)

But if the British courts were reluctant to allow an extradition, French courts were not, when in December of 1992 they authorized, by virtue of international conventions for combating terrorism, the extradition of two Iranian terrorists badly wanted by the Swiss in relation to the assassination on Swiss soil of an Iranian dissident.

In April 1990, Professor Kazem Radjavi, Iranian human rights activist and outspoken critic of rights violations in Iran, was assassinated by a terrorist commando group in Geneva, a few steps from the UN Human Rights Commission's headquarters. The judicial investigation concluded that "one or more Iranian official services were directly involved in the assassination." The magistrate in charge stated that the 13 persons implicated in that assassination "were all issued with official Iranian passports stamped 'chargé de mission.'" All 13 had left Switzerland on an Iran Air flight on the day of the assassination, of course.

On 20 November 1992, two of the thirteen individuals, against whom an international arrest warrant had been issued, were apprehended in Paris. A few days later Switzerland officially requested the French authorities to proceed with an extradition. The court authorized the extradition.

However, on 30 December, to general surprise and indignation, it was announced that the two men implicated in this crime, whom the Swiss authorities were preparing to receive, had been sent back to Tehran. New Year's holidays provided perfect cover from public opinion for authorities brandishing la raison d'état, state interest, as an excuse for the act.

It is not a question of ethics not to appease terrorists. It is a bad, and at times, dangerous policy, especially when at stake is a global war against terrorism, a war fought on so many fronts, in so many places, by so many people. It is of fundamental importance to understand that no single state can have any legitimate interest in kowtowing to terrorism. Others, elsewhere, may have to pay the price. When the Clinton administration tried to mollify a regime they themselves justly called the most active state supporter of terrorism, others worldwide paid a price, and continue paying to this day. So is the case with other countries, whose own territory has time and again been the scene of acts of terrorism exported by rogue states.

Nooredin Abedian is an Iranian engineer based in Germany, and a former lecturer at Tehran University. He writes from time to time on Iranian issues and politics

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