AP Fact Check: US Vice President Mike Pence misleadingly links Iran general to 9/11

Published January 6, 2020
In this Oct 21, 2019 file photo, US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the opening ceremony of the International Astronautical Congress, in Washington. — AP
In this Oct 21, 2019 file photo, US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the opening ceremony of the International Astronautical Congress, in Washington. — AP

US President Donald Trump closed out the old year by reprising a selection of his most familiar falsehoods and putting a few of his predecessor’s accomplishments in his own win column.

His vice president, seeking to justify the US military’s targeted killing of a top Iranian general, helped begin the new year with a baseless claim tying that general to the 9/11 attacks.

What he said: US Vice President, listing some of the “worst atrocities” of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, on Friday: Trump “took decisive action and stood up against the leading state sponsor of terror to take out an evil man who was responsible for killing thousands of Americans. ... (Soleimani) assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.”

The facts: Pence misleadingly ties Soleimani to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center. There is no evidence that Iran directly supported the 9/11 hijackers, many of them Saudi members of Al Qaeda, nor are there any known reports that Soleimani was involved in assisting with their travel to Afghanistan.

First of all, there were 19 hijackers on 9/11, not 12. Pence spokeswoman Katie Waldman later clarified in a tweet that Pence was referring to those hijackers who traveled to Afghanistan through Iran before the attacks.

According to a 19-page, unsigned report found among Osama bin Laden’s personnel effects in the Abbottabad raid, Iran allowed Al Qaeda operatives to pass through its borders from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan without receiving stamps in their passports or with visas obtained at its consulate in Pakistan. Fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon.

That is consistent with the 9/11 Commission’s report, which found that some of the Sept 11 hijackers — possibly eight — passed through Iran.

However, nowhere does the commission’s report mention Soleimani, let alone indicate he was behind the lax travel practices that allowed Al Qaeda operatives through. The commission, in particular, “found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack” or that even the future hijackers themselves knew about their operation when traveling through Iran.

That makes it a stretch to imply Soleimani knew about plans for the 9/11 attacks and then worked to facilitate them.

After the attacks, Al Qaeda members, including Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, fled into Iran, but they were ultimately rounded up by the Iranian government and imprisoned.

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