The Al-Qaeda-Iran Relationship

Pompeo Says the Islamic Republic is Jihadist Network's 'New Home Base'
Mike Pompeo alleged that Iran has become a new "home base" for Al-Qaeda worse than Afghanistan
Nairobi bombing

As the Trump administration winds down, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed a New York Times report that Al-Qaeda's second-in-command was killed last year in Tehran and accused Iran's government of allowing the jihadist network to establish a "new home base" there. His speech was intended to ratchet up even more pressure on Iran and to make it harder for the incoming Biden administration to re-enter a nuclear deal with the country’s leaders.
"Al-Qaeda has a new home base. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said in a speech at the National Press Club. "I would say Iran is indeed the new Afghanistan –- as the key geographic hub for Al-Qaeda -- but it's actually worse”
Unlike in Afghanistan, where the United States fought almost two decades of war in the name of destroying Al Qaeda following the 9/11 attacks, “when al-Qaeda was hiding in the mountains, al-Qaeda today is operating under the hard shell of the Iranian regime's protection," he told the National Press Club.
Last November, Iran denied a report that al-Qaeda's second-in-command Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Muhammad al-Masri, had been shot dead in Tehran in the summer by Israeli agents, following a request from the US. At Tuesday's news conference in Washington, Mr Pompeo said he could confirm for the first time that Masri had died on 7 August, although he gave no further details.
He asserted that people were wrong to believe that a Shia Muslim power and an extremist Sunni group that considers Shia heretics were bitter enemies.  "Masri's presence inside Iran points to the reason that we're here today. Al-Qaeda has a new home base: it is the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a result, [Osama] Bin Laden's wicked creation is poised to gain strength and capabilities."
Since 2015, Mr Pompeo alleged, Tehran had allowed al-Qaeda figures in the country to freely communicate with other members and to perform many functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan and Pakistan, including authorisation 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.
Because of Iran's links to Al Qaeda, Pompeo said the United States will impose sanctions on Al Qaeda leaders who he said are based in Iran, Muhammad Abbatay — also known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, and Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-Arif, as well as three leaders of an Al Qaeda-linked group operating on the border between Iran and Iraq. The State Department is also offering a reward of $7 million for information leading to "the location or identification of al-Maghrebi," he said.
Iran has always denied any official links with al-Qaeda. Although Tehran has often fought the group -- most notably during Afghanistan’s civil war, the U.S.’s toppling of the Taliban and, more recently, in its conflict with ISIS -- it’s also widely believed to have engaged with the group pragmatically to shore up anti-U.S. resistance in the Middle East.
A number of al-Qaeda militants and family members of Osama Bin Laden fled to Iran after the US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan in 2001. Iranian officials said they crossed the border illegally and that they were arrested and extradited to their home countries. Many experts believe that Tehran has allowed Al-Qaeda operatives to stay on its soil -- comparatively safe from the US military -- as leverage to prevent attacks on Iran.
An investigative article in The Atlantic published in 2018, noted that despite the most costly counter-terrorism campaign ever waged by the West, al-Qaeda had flourished—“its comeback assisted by a remarkable pact with Iran.”
“President Trump had pointed to this relationship to justify de-certifying the Iran nuclear deal. Facing overwhelming European opposition to that move, CIA director Mike Pompeo suggested the al-Qaeda-Iran pact had been an “open secret” during the Obama administration, which had failed to act.”
The article referred to a trove of documents from the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden that has been CIA declassified. “This document dump, which will take years to sort through and analyze, appeared to confirm the relationship—detailing among other things how Hamza, Osama bin Laden’s son, sheltered in Iran and even got married there; and how, according to one 19-page document, negotiations between al-Qaeda and the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran touched on funding and arming the Sunni terror outfit so it could strike at American targets.”
According to their research, The Atlantic revealed that al-Qaeda and covert agents acting for the Iranian deep state first attempted to broker an unlikely agreement more than two decades back, after Saddam Hussein flat-out rejected al-Qaeda’s request for military assistance. “The pact then flourished under the George W. Bush administration, when a back-channel from the White House to Tehran, running from 2001 to 2003, discussed it frequently.”
A 2004 U.S. report on the 9/11 attacks said investigators had uncovered evidence of cooperation between al-Qaeda and Iran-backed Hezbollah, and that some of the key operatives had travelled through the Islamic Republic.
An article published in the Council of Foreign Affairs in 2006, cited several other sources claiming that al-Qaeda and Hezbollah had worked together, including Douglas Farah, a journalist and consultant with the NEFA Foundation, a New York-based counterterrorism organization, who said that Hezbollah helped al-Qaeda traffic its assets through Africa in the form of diamonds and gold shortly after the 9/11 attacks. European intelligence reports from that time suggest the two groups were collaborating in such activities as money laundering, gun running, and training.
The Council of Foreign Affairs article also mentions a book called The Age of Sacred Terror by former National Security Council members Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon which said that a small group of al-Qaeda members visited Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon in the mid-1990s.
“Shortly thereafter, according to testimony from Ali Mohammed, an Egyptian-born U.S. Army sergeant who later served as one of bin Laden’s lieutenants and pled guilty to participating in the 1998 embassy bombings in eastern Africa, Osama bin Laden and Imad Mugniyeh met in Sudan. The two men, who have both topped the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists, agreed Hezbollah would provide the fledgling al-Qaeda organization with explosives and training in exchange for money and manpower. Though it is unclear whether all terms of that agreement were met or the degree to which the two groups have worked together since,” the report said.