Iranian defector began spying in 2003

An Iranian general who defected to the West last month had been spying on Iran since 2003 when he was recruited on an overseas business trip, the online edition of The Sunday Times quoted Iranian sources as saying.

This weekend Brigadier General Ali Reza Asgari, 63, the former deputy defense minister, is understood to be undergoing debriefing at a Nato base in Germany after he escaped from Iran, followed by his family, the UK-based newspaper said.

It is unclear which intelligence organization he was spying for, the report said. “He probably was working for Mossad but believed he was working for a European intelligence agency,” an Israeli defense official was quoted by the Times as saying.

According to the Times, a daring getaway via Damascus was organized by western intelligence agencies after it became clear that his cover was about to be blown. Iran’s notorious secret service, the Vavak, is believed to have suspected that he was a high-level mole, the report said.

The Iranian sources told the Times that the escape took several months to arrange. At least 10 close members of his family had to flee the country, they added. The Times said Asgari has two sons, a daughter and several grandchildren and it is believed that all, including his daughters-in-law, are now out of Iran. Their final destination is unknown.

Asgari is said to have carried with him documents disclosing Iran’s links to Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups based in the Middle East.

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Report: Al-qaeda wants to buy hostages

Al-Qaida terrorists are trying to buy the British diplomats kidnapped in Ethiopia , a British newspaper reported Sunday.

The Mail on Sunday reported that diplomatic and intelligence sources said Osama Bin Laden’s terror network was not involved in kidnapping the hostages, but al-Qaida is trying to persuade the group holding them to sell them.

“Al-Qaida have deep pockets and have a history of ‘buying’ hostages taken by criminals and other groups, particularly in Iraq,” a source told The Mail on Sunday. “This abduction may have been opportunistic, but we are worried al-Qaida are making efforts to get involved.”

The hostages, three British men, an Anglo-Italian and a French woman — were seized in northeastern Ethiopia while on a tourist trip. When their vehicles were found, they were riddled with bullets and still contained the party’s luggage and cellphones. link

Hamas official freed by Israel

Saleh al-Aruri, Hamas kingpin, was released Sunday from an Israeli prison after serving a ten-year sentence, plus five additional years after being convicted of anti-Israeli attacks. The release comes concurrently with the Olmert-Abbas talks in Jerusalem, but Israeli officials had no immediate comment.

Olmert said earlier that Abbas had assured him a new Palestinian government will not be formed before the release of a soldier captured by Gaza militants last year.

“The head of the Palestinian Authority has committed himself that any Palestinian government will be formed only after the release of the soldier Gilad Shalit and I expect it to be that way,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

Hamas and Abbas’s moderate Fatah faction are expected within days to announce a government of national unity after a power-sharing agreement signed in Saudi Arabia on February 8

This is the second Olmert-Abbas meeting in less than a month.

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