After Abdolmalek Rigi—the suspected leader of the anti-Iranian jihadist group Jundullah—was arrested by Iranian authorities last week, he made a startling public claim: the Obama administration offered to give his group money and munitions to help in their efforts to undermine the government of Iran. Obama administration officials say Rigi is making up stories. They insist the United States has never had a relationship with Jundullah, a little-known group of Sunni jihadists based along Pakistan’s border with Iran. The group has carried out deadly bombing attacks that have killed hundreds of Iranian soldiers and civilians.
Yet there appears to be at least some brief history between the U.S. and Junduallah. Declassified has learned that several years ago, the group did in fact try to cut a deal with U.S. officials—but were rebuffed.
A former U.S. intelligence official said that soon after the 9/11 attacks, a top Jundullah operative, claiming to be acting on Rigi's authority, approached CIA representatives in Pakistan and told them the group would help the U.S. against both Iran and Al Qaeda. According to the former U.S. official—who like others cited in this article asked for anonymity when talking about sensitive information—the Jundullah operative proposed that the group would kidnap leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Al Qaeda and turn them over to the Americans. U.S. officials flatly rejected any relationship with the group, said the former official. But the official did say that the door was left slightly ajar in case Jundullah really did capture important Al Qaeda operatives. That never happened.
Jundullah has become the focus of news stories following Rigi’s reported capture. Iranian state-run television broadcast what it claimed was Rigi’s confession. On camera, Rigi said, that the Obama administration promised him unlimited military aid and funding for an insurgency against Iran's embattled clerical regime. "After Obama was elected, the Americans contacted us and they met me in Pakistan,” Rigi told his Iranian interviewers. “They said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran." (These quotes are taken from a transcript prepared by Press TV, an English-language network run by the Iranian government.)
The big question, of course, is whether Rigi was actually “confessing” or merely reciting what his Iranian captors wanted him to say. ( reported that the interview may have been intended to stir up anti-American sentiments within Iran.) Either way, Obama administration officials, like their Bush administration predecessors, have emphatically denied that U.S. agencies have ever been involved in any operations with Jundullah. They say that years ago the group was deemed too violent and untrustworthy by American intelligence. Current and former officials also say they suspect the group has been thoroughly infiltrated by Iranian intelligence.
“The Iranians are to Jundullah as termites are to wood,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told Declassified. “The group is hopelessly penetrated, and its methods don’t accord with those of the United States.”
In 2007, ABC News reported that Jundullah, which at the time was allegedly conducting bombing and other guerrilla operations inside Iran, had been secretly encouraged and advised by U.S. officials over a two-year period. U.S. officials denied the ABC report before congressional committees.
In his purported confession, Rigi suggested that when his plane was intercepted, he was on his way to a meeting at a U.S. airbase in Kyrgyzstan with a senior U.S. official, identified in some Iranian news reports as Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special diplomatic representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
State Department chief spokesman P. J. Crowley told Declassified that such reports were "complete nonsense."