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Al-Qaeda and Iran: Bedfellows in Terror

FEBRUARY 2011

  • Many doubt that Iran (Shiite) and al Qaeda (Sunni) could work together because of theological differences. But this is simply not true.
  • Iran has worked with terrorists of all stripes since the Khomeini revolution in 1979.
  • Hamas, a Sunni terrorist organization, is a client of Iran today. Hamas shares ideological roots with al Qaeda.
  • Iran allied itself with Sudan’s de facto leader in the early 1990s, Hassan al Turabi. Sudan was the home to al Qaeda at the time. Al Turabi is a Sunni extremist.
  • Iran sponsors the Taliban, an ally of al Qaeda, in western Afghanistan today. Iran and the Taliban used to be enemies.
  • Iran has long sponsored Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is close to Osama bin Laden and has worked with al Qaeda for decades. Hekmatyar lived in Iran from 1996 until 2002.
  • Tactical cooperation (the enemy of my enemy is my friend) often trumps theological differences.
  • The relationship between Iran and al Qaeda has been recognized by all of the following sources.

    • The 9/11 Commission.
    • Clinton administration prosecutors.
    • Captured al Qaeda operatives.
    • The governments of Egypt, Algeria, Israel, UK, post-Saddam Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Germany.
    • General David Petraeus and other senior U.S. military leaders.
    • U.S. Treasury Department.
    • U.S. intelligence officials at Guantanamo.
    • Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
    • State Department cables and ISAF intelligence reports released by Wikileaks
  • The relationship is decades old at this point. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, studied the Iranian revolution and advocated working with the Iranians early in al Qaeda’s evolution.
  • Osama bin Laden asked Iran and its chief terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, for help in executing suicide terrorist operations in the early 1990s. Bin Laden was especially interested in executing attacks similar to Hezbollah’s terrorist strikes in Lebanon in the early 1980s.
  • Iran and Hezbollah agreed to help. Al Qaeda operatives were trained in Hezbollah’s camps in Lebanon as well as in Iran.
  • Al Qaeda’s 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania were modeled after Hezbollah’s operations in Lebanon, including its attacks on the U.S. Marine Barracks and embassy there. Iran and Hezbollah trained members of the Kenyan cell, as well as members of al Qaeda’s military committee, in how to execute such an attack.
  • The 9/11 Commission found that al Qaeda may have assisted Iran in the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996. However, that is not definitive.
  • The 9/11 Commission found evidence of Iran’s and Hezbollah’s possible complicity in the 9/11 attacks. The commission also called for further investigation by the U.S. government, because it found the evidence at the last minute. But no such investigation has been held to date. Evidence includes:

    • 8-10 muscle hijackers flew to Iran en route to the U.S.
    • Some of the hijackers also flew to Lebanon
    • Hezbollah officials seem to have been expecting some of the hijackers in Lebanon
    • Two senior Hezbollah officials accompanied some of the hijackers on their flights to Iran
    • Ramzi Binalshibh, al Qaeda’s point man for the operation, fled to Tehran less than a week prior to the attack.
  • After 9/11, dozens of senior al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists fled to Iran. Some examples include:

    • More than 20 members of Osama bin Laden’s family, including several sons who are operational
    • Ayman al Zawahiri’s daughters and son-in-law (who is an al Qaeda terrorist)
    • Saif al Adel (a member of al Qaeda’s military committee), who is wanted for his role in the aforementioned August 1998 embassy bombings
    • Al Qaeda’s “nuclear chief”
    • Al Qaeda’s spokesman
  • The al Qaeda network in Iran was involved in international attacks in 2002 and 2003, including the May 2003 Riyadh bombings.
  • It was only after the Riyadh bombings that Iranian officials placed some al Qaeda operatives under a loose form of house arrest. However, they have still been able to operate to a certain degree.
  • Some top al Qaeda terrorists were allowed to leave and rejoin the fight.
  • Post-9/11, an al Qaeda network threatening Saudi Arabia sprung up. The Saudis accuse a senior al Qaeda terrorist of operating a network that includes 100 operatives.
  • The Saudis have also accused Ibrahim bin Laden, one of Osama’s sons, of staying in contact with al Qaeda operatives inside the Kingdom.
  • Iran and al Qaeda cooperated in Iraq after the March 2003 invasion.
  • Iran, al Qaeda and the Taliban cooperate in Afghanistan to this day.