Iraqi politician and Iranian-backed Shia militia leader Qais Khazali, who had been in US custody from 2007 to 2009, said that “every group that is fighting in Iraq trained in Iran, including al-Qaeda,” according to transcripts of his interrogation, which were declassified in late August.
Links between the clerical Shia regime of Iran and the Sunni terrorist group al-Qaeda? This may sound strange and antithetical, but the links between the two seemingly opposed sides have been documented for many years, with Iran also supporting some Sunni groups in Palestine, such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
While the Iranian mission to the United Nations has stated that “Iran has fought ISIS, al-Qaeda, their various associate and affiliated terror groups and other terrorist groups in the region for decades,” evidence to the contrary is abundant.
According to the US State Department’s recently released annual “Country Reports on Terrorism”, the clerical regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei allows al-Qaeda to operate globally from within its borders.
The report added that “Iran has allowed al-Qaeda facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling al-Qaeda to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”
According to a UN report released in July, “al-Qaeda leaders in Iran have grown more prominent,” adding that the Iran-based al-Qaeda leaders have been aiming to eliminate the Turkish-backed Hayat Tahir al-Sham rebel group in Syria’s Idlib.
The US treasury and state departments have claimed that the al-Qaeda leaders based in Iran are part of a “secret deal” between the clerical regime and the senior al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Iran “allows al-Qaeda to move personnel, funds and communications to and from South Asia. This ‘core pipeline’ connects al-Qaeda’s senior leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the organization’s arms throughout the Middle East,” said Tom Joscelyn, the senior editor of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) Long War Journal.
According to a US intelligence source, “al-Qaeda needs the safe haven, and the Iranians get a cut of the smuggling and drug money. Been going on for years.”
At the same time, Iran and al-Qaeda “share a set of common enemies: the United States, Israel, and Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Iran undoubtedly saw al-Qaeda as a useful force for undermining Arab governments aligned with the United States,” stated Jim Phillips, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
Ariane Tabatabai, an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation, has said that “Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda goes back to the 1990s and has long been documented by researchers in and outside the US government.”
Following meetings between Iran and Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, facilitated by Sudanese officials, Iran began to train terrorists within its own borders and facilitated the transfer of militants from Sudan to Afghanistan after the Taliban took control there in 1996.
After al-Qaeda bombed the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, the US indicted members of the terrorist group, stating that “al-Qaeda also forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West.”
Ali Mohamed, an al-Qaeda/Egyptian Islamic Jihad terrorist implicated in the embassy bombings, admitted that he “arranged security for a meeting in the Sudan between [Imad] Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s chief, and bin Laden. Hezbollah provided explosives training for al-Qaeda and al-Jihad. Iran supplied Egyptian Jihad with weapons. Iran also used Hezbollah to supply explosives that were disguised to look like rocks.”
The US 9/11 Commission reported, “In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al-Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support – even if only training – for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al-Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives.”
The commission’s report added that several of the 9/11 hijackers had passed through Iran before coming to the US.
Moreover, according to documents recovered from bin Laden’s bunker in Pakistan during the raid that killed him in 2011, after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, an al-Qaeda operative arranged for some of the group’s militants to receive asylum in Iran, where bin Laden’s wives and children also relocated.
Iran’s Quds Force also reportedly provided false travel documents for al-Qaeda operatives, disguising them as Shia refugees and sending them to other countries, including to Iraq, where they were to target US troops.
Saif al-Adel, who is reportedly al-Qaeda’s military chief and oversaw the 2003 attacks in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, was believed to be residing in Iran’s eastern region bordering Afghanistan under the protection of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
While the CIA released some of the bin Laden raid documents, the intelligence agency left them untranslated and kept much of the contents redacted, but intelligence experts expect there is a lot more to the connections between Iran’s clerical regime and al-Qaeda that will soon become known.