NATO withdraws claim over 'Iran arms smuggler'

Iran freeing Qaeda men to fight in Af-Pak: report


A man captured in southern Afghanistan accused of weapons smuggling was not a member of the elite al-Quds force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as stated earlier, coalition forces said Friday.

"Initial intelligence reports led ISAF to believe he was a member of the force but after gathering more information, it was determined that while the individual may be affiliated with several insurgent-related organizations, he is not a member of the Quds group," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

ISAF would not specify whether the man was Iranian or comment further on his nationality when questioned by AFP.

The man is described by ISAF as a "cross-border weapons facilitator" who helped move weapons between Iran and Kandahar, a Taliban hotspot in southern Afghanistan, via Nimroz province in southwest Afghanistan, which borders Iran.

He was detained on December 18 and is said to have "direct ties to other Taliban leaders" in Kandahar.

Some 140,000 NATO-led ISAF troops, more than two-thirds of them from the United States, are battling Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan in a conflict which has now lasted for nine years.

Meanwhile, The Times of London reported Friday that Iran has released a string of top al-Qaeda militants from detention so they can rebuild the extremist organization on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Citing Pakistani and Middle Eastern officials speaking anonymously, the Times said Iranian authorities were giving covert support to the Islamist militants as they fight against NATO troops.

"In many cases they are being facilitated by Iranian Revolutionary Guards," The Times quoted a senior Pakistani intelligence official as saying.

The Times said those released include Saif al-Adel, a high-ranking Egyptian al-Qaeda member on the FBI's most wanted list for alleged involvement in the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.

They also include Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti accused of being al-Qaeda's official spokesman at the time of the Sept.11, 2001 attacks, and Abu Khayr al-Masri, a key aide to al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Three members of the family of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden were also among those freed, the officials were quoted by the Times as saying.

Several top al-Qaeda leaders fled to Iran when the US invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks and Iran is suspected of keeping them under house arrest as a strategic asset against the United States.

Al-Qaeda's top leadership including Bin Laden and Zawahiri are believed to be in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but a blitz of CIA drone strikes has taken a major toll on the group.

The Times quoted Pakistani officials as saying that Al-Adel had been named al-Qaeda's chief of operations for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In July, Bin Laden's son Omar said that 20 members of the al-Qaeda chief's family were stranded in Iran as Tehran was refusing to discuss their fate with Saudi Arabia.

In many cases they are being facilitated by Iranian Revolutionary Guards

A senior Pakistani intelligence official