Last week, the Obama administration exposed a “secret deal” between Iran and Al-Qaeda, debunking the myth that radical Shiites and Sunnis would never cooperate. The disclosure adds new urgency to the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, as the regime makes common cause with America’s worst enemies to wage proxy warfare.
“By exposing Iran’s secret deal with al-Qaeda, allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism,” said the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen.
The Treasury Department blacklisted six members of Al-Qaeda working with Iran. A Syrian named Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, also known as Yasin al-Sura, has overseen the Gulf-Iran-Pakistan pipeline since 2005. The finances are raised and transferred through the informal hawala networks, especially in Kuwait and Qatar. Operatives that travel through Iran must make a payment of $10,000 upon arrival in Pakistan. Khalil has also negotiated the release of Al-Qaeda members from Iranian prisons.
Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was personally chosen by Osama Bin Laden to be Al-Qaeda’s representative to Iran, and he manages the receiving of the personnel and money in Pakistan. Rahman is said by some to be Al-Qaeda’s operations chief, and he is now known to have worked with Bin Laden on planning an attack on the U.S. on the tenth anniversary of 9⁄11. This makes Rahman’s relationship with Iran even more dangerous.
Sanctions were also placed on Umid Muhammadi, who has planned bombings on behalf of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and has also handled Al-Qaeda’s negotiations with Iran over prisoner releases. The other three operatives sanctioned by the Treasury Department handle the Gulf end of the pipeline. Salim Hasan Khalifa Rashid al-Kuwari has been imprisoned in Qatar for his involvement with Al-Qaeda. He works with Abdallah Ghanim Mafuz Muslim al-Khawar. The sixth operative, Ali Hasan Ali al-Ajmi, is based in Kuwait and delivers support for Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban, in addition to the Pakistan-based Al-Qaeda.
The Treasury Department has sanctioned Al-Qaeda members in Iran before. In January 2009, four members of Al-Qaeda’s Shura Council in Iran were sanctioned, including Saad Bin Laden, Osama’s eldest son. He is believed to have since been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan after he left his Iranian safe haven. One of those sanctioned negotiated safe harbor for Al-Qaeda members in Iran, including Ayman al-Zawahiri’s family. Another one oversaw an Al-Qaeda network in Zahedan and planned attacks on Israel.
Mustafa Hamid was accused of negotiating a deal (perhaps the same one recently disclosed) for Al-Qaeda members to go to Afghanistan through Iran. In late 2001, he moved to Tehran, and acted as a liaison between the regime and the Taliban. In 2002, he became the liaison between the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and a senior Al-Qaeda leader, probably Saif al-Adel. He also negotiated a deal with Iran for the families of some Al-Qaeda members to live in Iran. Up to 40 members of the Bin Laden family have been housed in Iran, protected by the Revolutionary Guards. There is evidence that Osama Bin Laden may have even visited Iran after the invasion of Afghanistan.
The 9⁄11 Commission found that Iran’s ties to Al-Qaeda go all the way back to the early 1990s in Sudan. Cooperation began in “late 1991 or 1992” after Sheikh Hasan al-Turabi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader in Sudan, facilitated dialogue to try to bring together Sunni and Shiite extremists. Iran began training Al-Qaeda members in bomb-making, and later in intelligence and security. The commission said that there are “signs” that Al-Qaeda was involved in the Iranian-sponsored bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996. Iran and Hezbollah gave Al-Qaeda an education in terrorism, including truck bombings, that was then used to carry out the 1998 embassy bombings.
Al-Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole motivated Iran to develop deeper ties with Al-Qaeda, but Bin Laden kept a distance out of a fear that it would jeopardize Saudi support. The 9⁄11 Commission found that 8 to 10 of the hijackers traveled through Iran between October 2000 and February 2001. There are strong indications that their travel was coordinated with Hezbollah. Now, a lawsuit has been filed that accuses Iran and Hezbollah of having responsibility for the attacks, using information from the 9⁄11 Commission report and defector testimony. Unsurprisingly, Iran claims it is an enemy of Al-Qaeda. The 9⁄11 Commission concluded in Chapter 7 that, “After 9⁄11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda.”
The Obama administration confirms that Iran still supported Al-Qaeda after 9⁄11 and still does today. General David Petraeus also says that Iran’s support is important for Al-Qaeda’s global operations. The country is used as a “key facilitation hub, where facilitators connect Al-Qaeda’s senior leadership to regional affiliates,” he told Congress in March 2010.
Ayman al-Zawahiri’s taking over of Al-Qaeda means that the partnership with Iran is likely to become closer than it was with Bin Laden at the helm. It has been reported that Ayman al-Zawahiri has a relationship with Iran’s Defense Minister, Ahmad Vahidi, that stretches back a decade. Former CIA case officer and terrorism expert with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Reuel Marc Gerecht, says Zawahiri “was Iran’s favorite Sunni jihadist poster boy, an honored guest in Iran in the 1980s. If Al-Qaeda again gains a global strike capacity, it will most likely be because of the aid that Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and his Revolutionary Guards have given it.”
If Iran is willing to embrace Al-Qaeda before it gets a nuclear bomb, then it is frightening to think what the regime will do once it has the protection of a nuclear deterrent. Al-Qaeda is in a wounded state, making Iran’s support critical to its operations. If the U.S. wants to defeat Al-Qaeda, then it must also confront the Iranian regime.
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