Al-Qaeda, Iran Speaks with Forked Tongue
By Sean Durns
April 20, 2017
leaders were quick to criticize the April 7, 2017 U.S. missile strike against a
Syrian airbase near Homs, that followed dictator Bashar al-Assad's use of sarin
gas against his own people. Iran's Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, claimed that
the strike against their ally, Assad, was evidence of the "U.S. military
fighting on [the] same side as al-Qaeda and ISIS." It was time, Zarif
exhorted, to stop the "cover-ups." But it is the Islamic Republic of
Iran that has a long, if seldom noted, history of boosting al-Qaeda, including
the Islamic States' progenitor, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
evidence of al-Qaeda's relationship with Iran has been steadily building for
years. In a recent report for West Point's Combating Terrorism Center (CTC),
terror analyst Assaf Moghadam highlighted
the "tactical cooperation" between Tehran and the terror group.
to Moghadam, ties between the Iran and al-Qaeda predate the Sept. 11, 2001
terror attacks "by roughly a decade." Current al-Qaeda head Ayman
al-Zawahiri secretly visited the Islamic Republic in April 1991. At the time,
al-Zawahiri was head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a group that later merged with
al-Qaeda. While there, al-Zawahiri requested—and received—Iran's help with
the training of its terror operatives, as well as $2 million in financial aid
from Tehran. Within less then a year, the agreement between al-Zawahiri and Iran
was extended to include al-Qaeda and the Lebanese-based Shi'ite terror group
Hezbollah, which often functions as a proxy for its Iranian benefactor.
Kyle Orton of the Henry Jackson Society, a U.K.-based think tank, pointed out,
Hezbollah's military leader at the time, Imad Mughniyeh, personally
met with al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Sudan to work out the details of
the Islamic Republic of Iran is a Shi'ite Muslim theocracy, this has not impeded
it from working with and actively supporting terrorist groups of the Sunni
Muslim variety, such as al-Qaeda or Hamas. The exponents of the two ideologies
may be regional competitors for power, but this has not stopped them from making
common cause against the "far enemy" of the United States, and its
allies, including Israel.
as Lawrence Wright noted in his 2006 book The Looming Tower, Iran's 1979 Islamic
Revolution inspired budding jihadists of all variants by showing that secular
governments could be overthrown and replaced with Islamist rule.
the mid-1990's, Iran was assisting al-Qaeda in setting up its Yemeni branch,
later to gain infamy as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In so doing,
Iran enabled the terror group's attack on the USS Cole in 2000, killing 17 U.S.
service members and wounding 39.
also granted al-Qaeda terrorists transit through Iran to Afghanistan, both
before and after the 9/11 attacks, according to the bipartisan commissioned
tasked with investigating the events leading up to that terrible day. Several
future 9/11 hijackers were among those who took advantage of Iranian generosity.
In his CTC report, Moghadam cited al-Qaeda operative Saif al-Adl, who claimed
that Iran set up "guest houses in Tehran and Mashhad to facilitate the
movement of fighters" to a training camp in Heart, Afghanistan. That camp
was run by al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi. AQI would later
morph into the Islamic State.
the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Iran continued to host al-Qaeda fighters. This
sanctuary was often provided under the guise of "house arrest." Yet,
the mullahs in Iran spurned requests to extradite these terrorists to their home
of those who received refuge in Iran occupied the upper ranks of al-Qaeda.
bin Laden, son of the terror group's founder and the heir apparent before his
death in a July 2009 U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, was among several top
Iran-based al-Qaeda officials who were sanctioned
by the U.S. Treasury Department in January 2009. Another, Mustafa Hamid, was
described as al-Qaeda's "emir in Iran." According to Treasury, during
the 1990s, Hamid "passed communications between Osama bin Laden and the
Government of Iran. In late 2001, Hamid also negotiated on behalf of al-Qaeda in
an attempt to relocate al-Qaeda families to Iran."
also provided sanctuary to another top jihadist, Abu Musab al-Suri, a man whose
long-running connections to various terror groups led terror analyst Will
McCants of the Brookings Institution to call him the "Carlos the
Jackal" of Islamist terror. Al-Suri is the author of a 1600 page jihadist
playbook, "The Global Islamic Resistance Call," which has informed and
inspired numerous terrorists in the post-9/11 age.
to Moghadam, by early 2003, Tehran began to closely monitor and even detain—as
"an insurance policy"—some al-Qaeda members living in Iran, as well
as their families. Nonetheless, Moghadam noted that "Iranian officials
continued to allow al-Qaeda to use Iran as a facilitation hub," including
"as a staging ground for attacks against the West." In exchange for
being what bin Laden called "a main artery for funds, personnel and
communication," the group has forsworn attacking the Shi'ite theocratic
his condemnation of the U.S. strikes against Assad—himself a state sponsor of
terrorism—Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi asserted
that the United States' actions would "strengthen the terrorists."
Yet, the evidence clearly shows that Iran, for years, has been doing just that.