Terrorism analysts and counter-terrorism officials voiced extreme skepticism today in reaction to the report that Osama bin Laden's oldest son, Saad, has been released from custody in Iran and sent to Syria to recruit Lebanese refugees into Hezbollah.
The report, which first appeared in the German daily "Die Welt," is viewed as not credible because it is highly unlikely that Iran would elect to deploy such an important "guest" as Saad bin Laden in such a dubious mission, said the analysts.
The young Mr. bin Laden, a Sunni Saudi, who are notoriously anti-Shiite, would appear to be a poor choice to recruit fleeing Lebanese Shiites into an exclusively Shiite organization such as Hezbollah.
An estimated 12 to 15 senior-level al Qaeda operatives sought refuge in Iran after the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in 2001 eliminated al Qaeda's camps and sanctuaries. Iranian officials have, at various times, said the al Qaeda operatives were under house arrest or in jail awaiting trial.
Two years ago, Iran attempted through back channels to arrange a swap of the al Qaeda operatives for the leaders of the Iranian opposition group, Mujahadeen el Khalk, currently under U.S. protection in Iraq.