Iran's powerful former president told Friday worshippers chanting "Death to America" that there was nothing in the Sept. 11 commission report to incriminate Iran, while Saudi Arabia also found exoneration in conclusions drawn by the U.S. investigation into the deadliest assault on American soil.
The commission report, which followed a 20-month independent investigation, said intelligence points to contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaida figures. It also found Iran allowed eight to 10 of the Sept. 11 hijackers to pass through its territory on their way from Afghanistan and other countries without stamping their passports. While the commissioners said no evidence had been found that conservative, Shiite Muslim Iran was aware extremist, Sunni Muslim al-Qaida was planning the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, "we believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government."
On Saudi Arabia, the commissioners said they found no evidence the Saudi government directly contributed money to al-Qaida or its Saudi-born leader Osama bin Laden. They also said Saudi Arabia itself was threatened by the terror network, which accuses the Saudi royal family of being insufficiently Islamic. But the panel criticized what it saw as lack of Saudi cooperation with U.S. investigators of al-Qaida before the Sept. 11 attacks and called the kingdom "a problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism."
The commissioners said the United States must: "confront problems with Saudi Arabia in the open and build a relationship beyond oil, a relationship that both sides can defend to their citizens and includes a shared commitment to reform."
Saudi ambassador ignores criticism
In his government's first response to the report, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, ignored the criticism. In a statement on his embassy's Web site Thursday, he pointed to the commission's findings that the Saudi government had not funded al-Qaida and was pursuing bin Laden and concluded the commission "has confirmed what we have been saying all along. The clear statements by this independent, bipartisan commission have debunked the myths that have cast fear and doubt over Saudi Arabia."
During his sermon at weekly prayers in Tehran, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani sounded a similar theme.
"First of all, we don't know whether they (al-Qaida hijackers) passed through Iran ... every day thousands of people come and go ... such people usually carry false passports. Moreover, many can illegally cross the border. It has been always like this," Rafsanjani said.
"Even if it's true that they have passed through Iran, can you really incriminate Iran with this bit of information?" he said in a sermon that drew chants of "Death to America" from the thousands of worshippers.
Rafsanjani, still a key figure in Iran, also accused Washington of creating extremist Sunni Muslim al-Qaida to fight mainly Shiite Iran and weaken both Islamic factions. America's critics often point to U.S. support of a war on Afghanistan's Soviet invaders as proof it helped create al-Qaida. Bin Laden was among the thousands of Arab fighters inspired by Islamic fervor to fight in Afghanistan.
Rafsanjani said Americans should blame their government for failing to uncover the plot and protect Americans instead of pointing fingers at others.