Wednesday, February 15, 2012

15-Feb-12: Is New York threatened by an Iranian attack? You might be surprised to know how real this is.

The Piaget Building on Fifth Avenue: Seized by US authorities
in 2009 because it was secretly controlled by Iran's government.
Iran's covert actions have already had deadly consequences
in major American cities.  
In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the director of intelligence analysis for New York City's police department wrote a thoughtful and revealing analysis of a major terrorist threat  Here are some of his main points - but the whole article is worth the three minutes of reading (and the hours of pondering that may come afterwards) that it will take.
  • Less than two weeks ago, on February 3, 2012, the religious leader who rules Iran, "Supreme Leader Ayatollah" Ali Khamenei, said in a widely publicized speech that Iran has "its own tools" to respond to Western sanctions and threats of military action directed against Iran. 
  • Confirming this, James Clapper, the United States Director of National Intelligence, testified during January to the US Senate that the Iranians are "willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime."
  • To illustrate: in October 2011, an American "of Iranian descent" (as the news media delicately put it) hired a killer from one of the Mexican drug cartels to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. This attempted murder was directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and involved blowing up a Washington DC restaurant. It's notable (though barely commented upon in the news reports) that hundreds of restaurant patrons would likely have been killed too had the plot not been thwarted.
  • Background: for decades, Iran's government has established a documented record of exploiting its official presence in foreign places to carry out coordinated terrorist attacks and killings, sometimes with the assistance of Lebanese Hezbollah agents in their control. 
  • The bombings of Jewish community buildings in Buenos Aires in 1992 (29 killed) and again in 1994  (85 killed) provided some lessons for the NYPD.  The Iranian agents responsible for those terrorist outrages had been sent to Argentina years before the attacks. They became integrated into local society. They took on Argentine nationality. The chief imam of the At-Tauhid mosque in Buenos Aires was the head of the gang and its main co-ordinator. [There is an open Interpol warrant for his arrest.] He had been in Argentina since 1983, including a stint as the cultural attache to the Iranian Embassy in Argentina. So he had diplomatic immunity. 
  • The Hezbollah agents brought in for the attack on innocent Argentine civilians received support from the local Lebanese-Shiite community in Buenos Aries, as well as from the 'diplomats' of the Iranian Embassy.
  • Iran's Hezbollah clients later tried to duplicate the Argentine results in a series of failed attempts in Azerbaijan, Egypt and Turkey. Iranian agents in New York have already shown similar intentions. For instance, two guards at Iran's mission to the United Nations in NYC were sent home by the State Department in 2004 after conducting surveillance of city subways and landmarks. And in 2008, two Staten Island men pleaded guilty to providing material support to Hezbollah.
  • In nearby Philadelphia, 26 people were indicted in federal court in 2009 for conspiring to provide material support to the terrorist group.
  • Lebanese-linked businesses in the greater NYC area are implicated in a massive money-laundering scheme benefiting Hezbollah. This came to light in December 2011 in a case filed by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
  • 18 other Hezbollah-related cases have been brought in federal courts across the United States since 2000.
  • As the NY police see it, the city's large Jewish population makes it "increasingly attractive target".  Iran's U.N. mission in the city allows officials from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence to live and operate in New York with official diplomatic cover. 
  • Iran's Alavi Foundation, described as a not-for-profit devoted to charity works and promoting Islamic culture, is "a front for the government of Iran" according to Preet Bharara, the high profile US  Attorney for the Southern District of New York. His office in conjunction with the NYPD Intelligence Division seized Alavi's assets, including the largest Shiite mosque in the city and the location most closely affiliated with Iran's U.N. mission.
Site of another focus of Iran's interest in big city
real estate: the AMIA Jewish community building
in Buenos Aires, destroyed in a terrorist attack in 1994.
Iran is believed to be behind the massacre in
which 85 innocents, mostly Argentinian Jews, were killed. 
Let's review for a moment what is known about the Alavi Foundation affair. It's instructive.

The legal attack via the NY courts  was described as "one of the biggest counter-terrorism seizures in American history" but it's a certainty that most of our readers have never heard of it. The more-or-less unknown foundation's assets include bank accounts, Islamic schools and mosques in New York City, Maryland, California and Houston; more than a hundred acres of prime land in Virginia; and a 36-story glass office tower, called the Piaget Building (no connection to the jewelry firm of the same name) at 760 Fifth Avenue in New York. 

The case presented by the prosecution was that the so-called not-for-profit Alavi Foundation managed the Piaget tower on behalf of Iran's government, working through a front company, Assa Corp. In this way, it illegally funnelled millions in rental income to Iran's state-owned Bank Melli which the US Treasury says provides support for Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Under US law, doing any business with Bank Melli is illegal.

It may be hard to comprehend that terrorist activity can be taking not only right under American noses but literally just down the block from some of New York's and America's most powerful and sensitive New York-based institutions.

Is there a real and present danger? It will always be hard to know until it's already happened, as it did yesterday in Bangkok and New Delhi. By then of course it's too late, at least for the immediate victims.

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