January 18, 2021
Recent revelations by the outgoing Trump administration have uncovered heinous breaches by the Iranian regime, among which are the ties between the Islamic Republic and the terrorist organisation al-Qaeda.
As a few days left in the office for the U.S. President Donald Trump before handing over to the incoming Biden administration, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that he intended to reveal newly declassified U.S. intelligence to publicly accuse Iran of having ties to al-Qaeda. Among the revelations which Pompeo is expected to offer is a safe haven that Iran has offered to high ranking member in al-Qaeda, along with other supports for the terrorist organisation.
In a response to Pompeo’s announcement, Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham stated that al-Qaeda terrorist group established a home base in Iran, adding that Iran has become a “safe haven” for al-Qaeda terrorist group and its regime was the “architect” of September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. “The Iranian regime is the largest state sponsor of terrorism and they have become a safe haven for al-Qaeda, the architects of 9/11,” Graham said on Twitter.
Graham said: “While not surprising, it is still stunning the Iranian regime continues to offer sanctuary to al-Qaeda members and leaders. Those who believe the JCPOA (Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal) would bring about change in Iran are incredibly naive.” “I hope the Biden Administration will understand the true nature of the Iranian regime before they engage with them a second time,” Graham added:
Pompeo is also expected to cite the declassified intelligence on the assassination of al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Abu Muhammad al-Masri in Tehran last August. The Secretary of State said: “Tehran gives sanctuary to the terror group’s senior leaders as they plan attacks against America and our allies. Indeed, since 2015, Tehran has allowed al-Qaeda figures in the country to freely communicate with other al-Qaeda members and perform many functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan and Pakistan, including authorization for attacks, propaganda, and fundraising.” “The Iran-al-Qaeda axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations and to the American homeland itself, and we are taking action,” he added.
Al-Masri who was also known as Abdullah Ahmed Abdulla had been wanted by the U.S. government for more than two decades. He was accused of being one of the masterminds of the deadly 1998 attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The twin attacks left 224 people dead and the F.B.I. offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.
The assassination of al-Masri was a joint operation between the US and Israel and it would reflect the two nations’ close intelligence cooperation, with the US typically stronger in the technical aspects of intelligence gathering, the US provided intelligence to the Israelis on where they could find Masri and the alias he was using at the time, and Israel sent its agents behind the enemy lines to carry out the killing.
Two Israeli operatives reportedly killed al-Masri at the behest of the United States. His killing followed the decades-old pattern of targeted killings by Israel’s Mossad. Israel’s News Channel 12 reported on the killing of al-Masri and the reasons why Israel was involved in his killing, revealing that he had planned to attack Israeli and Jewish targets. The report stated that the killing of al-Masri was a “clean operation that was carried out without incident.”
According to a highly classified document produced by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center in 2008, Masri’s death is a blow to al-Qaeda and Tehran. He was the most experienced and capable operational planner, and was a “former chief of training.” American intelligence officials say that al-Masri had been in Iran’s “custody” since 2003, though he was living freely in the Pasdaran district of Tehran, an upscale suburb, since at least 2015.
Commenting on Pompeo’s accusations, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said they were “warmongering lies” and claimed that no September 11 “terrorists” came from Iran. “(With) fictitious Iran ‘declassifications’ and AQ (al-Qaeda) claims, (Pompeo) is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies,” Zarif tweeted.
Despite being bitter enemies, Iran is Shiite Muslim theocracy, and Al Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim jihadist, Tehran has been harbouring the most notorious al-Qaeda high ranking members and taking in the Qaeda leader. They are on opposite sides of the wars in Syria and Yemen and have fought each other on the battlefields of Iraq and other places. Therefore, it is understandable why Tehran is hiding the fact that it is harbouring its enemies such as al-Masri and the family of al-Qaeda’s former leader Osama Bin Laden, including Hamza Bin Laden who was believed to have been killed in an American strike two years ago. Hamza was married to al-Masri’s daughter Mariam who was killed along with her father last August.
But why is Tehran harbouring al-Qaeda high-ranking officials? It seems that the Iranian regime overlooks ideological and sectarian divides when it suits its interests. It is most likely that Tehran finds that its ties with them will provide some insurance that the terrorist group would not carry out operations inside Iran. The Iranian might think that they could use the al-Qaeda leaders to attack the interests of the United States and its allies. Iran has not been the first time joining forces with the extremist Sunni groups as it has supported Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Afghani Taliban.
Despite being at odds in various ways, Iranians have cooperated with al-Qaeda since the 1990s. This cooperation is reflected in the most terror operation carried out by al-Qaeda operatives such as the 9/11 bombings. The American 9/11 Commission found Iran and its chief Lebanese terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, gave al-Qaeda the “tactical expertise” necessary for those attacks. The report states that Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants were impressed with how Iranian-backed terrorists forced America’s retreat from Lebanon in the 1980s. As consequence, al-Qaeda wanted to replicate that success. Former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden reached out to Iran’s master terrorist and Hezbollah’s chieftain, Imad Mughniyah while living in Sudan in the early 1990s. As a result of their encounter, as well as other meetings, al-Qaeda sent personnel to Iran and Hezbollah’s stronghold in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon to be shown how to build bombs necessary to conduct operations such as Hezbollah’s 1983 bombings on the American and French military barracks in Lebanon. Thus, Iran’s 1983 barracks bombings served as a template for al-Qaeda’s 1998 embassy bombings.
The details of a formerly “secret deal” between Iran and al-Qaeda have repeatedly exposed by the Treasury and State Departments which revealed that under this agreement the Iranians allow al-Qaeda to maintain its “core facilitation pipeline” on their soil. Osama bin Laden himself referred to this Iranian hub as the “main artery” for his global network.
The Trump administration has long believed several al-Qaeda leaders have been living quietly in Iran for years and publicly released intelligence assessments have made that case. In October 2017 when Pompeo was CIA director he said: “There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside al Qaeda.” However, the new revelations against Tehran in recent weeks are not only aimed at further ratcheting up Tump’s “maximum pressure” on Tehran and deter it from continuing its nefarious and aggressive behaviour in the region but also to make it harder for Biden administration to re-engage with Tehran and seek to rejoin Iran nuclear deal of 2015 which Trump abandoned in 2018 when relations between them deteriorated. Since then the U.S. imposed hard sanctions Iran to curb its nuclear activities.
The earlier accusations by the George W. Bush administration of Iranian links to al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were discredited, yet the recent public revelations surfacing over the years of al-Qaeda operatives hiding out in Iran by the senior US officials could have more reactions and impacts on Iran.