IRAN: In televised appearance, rebel leader confirms Tehran hardliners' narrative of U.S. support for opposition
Three days after he was allegedly captured by Iranians in a still cloudy operation, Baluchi rebel leader Abdulmalek Rigi was shown on Iranian television and appeared to confess to ties to the Obama administration.
Rigi, 27-year-old leader of Jundallah, the ethnic Baluchi separatist group, appeared in good health, but at times seemed to be reading his confession, which lacked any dates or names of individual Americans he was supposedly in touch with through an unnamed third person.
The confession neatly matched the narrative touted by Iran's hard-liners, who have long alleged that the United States has been covertly funding groups seeking to undermine the Islamic Republic.
"He came and said that they have asked for a meeting," Rigi said. "'Come and cooperate with us and we will put financial resources at your disposal. We will supply you with military facilities and arms and ammunition and we will also give you a base in Afghanistan on the border with Iran."
Iranian authorities are hailing Rigi's capture as a divine triumph. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security sent out a mass text message to all Iranians on Wednesday."The capture of Abdulmalek Rigi, the famous terrorist, is the gift of the unknown soldiers of the 12th Imam to the Iranian nation," it said, referring to one of the nicknames for the Iranian spy outfit.
"God was instrumental in the capture of Rigi, a cursed criminal and bandit," Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshipers during Friday prayers "We didn't imagine our security forces could one day catch him. At most, we were hopeful he would have been assassinated somewhere in Pakistan. It was unbelievable."
Based on the latest accounts from Kyrgyz, Pakistani and Iranian news sources, Rigi was apparently flying from Dubai to Bishkek, the capital of the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, when Iranian fighter jets forced the Kyrgyz Airlines plane to land in the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Rigi and a companion, apparently named Hamza, were taken off the plane.
Iranians have some leverage over Rigi, His brother, Abdulhamed, was arrested by Pakistani authorities and handed over to Iran last year. He was scheduled to be executed this week, but received a last-minute reprieve, after his elder brother was captured.
Iran has long alleged that the Bush administration aided rebel groups fighting the government as part of a proxy war to put pressure on the Islamic Republic. And the gist of Rigi's confession hewed closely to the official Iranian position that nothing has changed under the Obama administration.
After President Obama's election, Rigi said, Americans approached him, and arranged a meeting in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
"In that meeting, what we asked of them was that if it is possible they should provide a place for me personally in Afghanistan where I would be near the region," he said. "They said that we can see to this."
He said the Americans provided him with military, communications and computer training. Rigi said the Americans told him their top priority was Iran. '' 'Presently, we are neither interested in Al Qaeda or the Taliban,' " he quoted the Americans as saying, which might come as startling news to the thousands of U.S. Marines slogging through southern Afghanistan.
He also said that the Americans had no plans to launch a military attack against Iran, another constant refrain by Iranian hard-liners who want to assure their countrymen that while the U.S. is their enemy they shouldn't be afraid that the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program could provoke a cataclysmic war.
Instead, Rigi said, the United States is bent on supporting all Iranians who oppose the Tehran establishment.
"They said that our leaders — in other words the leaders of the CIA — had promised to extend any help to anyone," he said.
" 'All organizations that are opposed to the system; we will help them,' " he quoted the Americans as saying.
Video: Confession of Rigi, as broadcast on Iran's state-owned Press TV. Credit: YouTube
Photo: Still from televised confession. Credit: Los Angeles Times