“Al Qaeda has a new home base: it is the Islamic Republic of Iran,” United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared, insisting it is time “for America and all free nations to crush the Iran-al Qaeda axis.”
Just days before the end of President Donald Trump’s term, Pompeo alleged that Tehran has allowed al Qaeda, the terror group notorious for committing the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, to establish a new operational headquarters in the Islamic Republic.
Branding al Qaeda as “the terrorist network with more American blood on its hands than any other,” Pompeo charged, “Tehran gives sanctuary to the terror group’s senior leaders as they plan attacks against America and our allies. Indeed, since 2015, Tehran has allowed al Qaeda figures in the country to freely communicate with other al Qaeda members and perform many functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan and Pakistan, including authorization for attacks, propaganda, and fundraising.”
Pompeo pointed out that “in 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department identified and sanctioned three senior al Qaeda operatives residing in Iran and noted that Iran had knowingly permitted these al Qaeda members, including several of the 9/11 hijackers, to transit its territory on their way to Afghanistan for training and operational planning.” He also asserted that the Iranian government is providing safe havens and logistical support (such as passports and identity cards) to enable activity by al Qaeda, which he insisted has “centralized its leadership” inside Iran.
The top US diplomat also announced publicly for the first time that al Qaeda operative Abu Muhammad al-Masri, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa, died on 7 August 2020.
The New York Times reported that al-Masri was killed by Israeli operatives in Iran. The Ayatollah Regime denied the allegation, saying there were no al Qaeda “terrorists” on its soil.
“The Iran-al Qaeida axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations and to the American homeland itself, and we are taking action,” said Secretary Pompeo.
He then announced the designations of Iran-based al Qaeda leaders Muhammad Abbatay (also known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi), and Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-‘Arif as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224.
“Under the same authority, I also announced the designations of Isma’il Fu’ad Rasul Ahmed, Fuad Ahmad Nuri Ali al-Shakhan, and Niamat Hama Rahim Hama Sharif as leaders of the al Qaeda Kurdish Battalions (AQKB), an al Qaeda-linked group that operates on the border between Iran and Iraq,” said Pompeo, stressing that “As a result of these designations, US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with these individuals and their property and interests in property subject to US jurisdiction are blocked. In addition, it is a crime to knowingly provide, or attempt or conspire to provide, material support or resources to al Qaeda.”
In a further commitment “to seeing that al Qaeda’s senior leadership based in Iran faces justice,” Pompeo said the State Department is offering a reward for up to $7 million for information leading to the location or identification of “key” Iran-based Al Qaeda leader Muhammad Abbatay, also known as Abd al-Rahman al Maghrebi. He also repeated previous reward offers for 3 other senior al Qaeda leaders, including two operating in Iran: Sayf al-Adel and Yasin al-Suri.
“Today, we are drawing attention to the nature of the Iran-al Qaeda relationship and are taking the actions necessary to crush al Qaeida and its links to Iran. We urge all nations to do the same – for the good of our nations, and of the free world,” Pompeo concluded.
While Iran belongs to the Shi’ite branch of Islam and al Qaeda is Sunni Muslim, sectarian Islamist foes have been known to establish bonds to fight perceived common enemies. Iran has also assisted the Sunni Hamas rulers of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, both financially and militarily.
U.S.-Iranian relations have deteriorated since 2018 when Trump abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal the Islamic Republic forged with world powers in 2015, to curb nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international economic sanctions. Washington restored harsh sanctions in a “maximum pressure campaign” to pressure Iran into negotiating stricter curbs on its nuclear program, ballistic missile development and support for regional proxy forces. The punitive US measures have been further ramped up in recent weeks, in what is widely seen as White House efforts to make it difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the JCPOA after taking office 20 January.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, which his nation will not tolerate.
“Iran has announced that it will raise the uranium enrichment level and will advance the industrial ability to enrich uranium underground. This is a gross and total violation of its commitments. There is no other explanation except for the continued realization of Iran’s intention to manufacture nuclear weapons. I reiterate: Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Netanyahu stated
Iran has adamantly denied Pompeo’s allegations over support of Al Qaeda.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter, where he wrote: “(With) fictitious Iran ‘declassifications’ and AQ (al Qaeda) claims, (Pompeo) is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies.”
Tehran’s top diplomat further insisted, “No one is fooled. All 9/11 terrorists came from @SecPompeo’s favorite ME destinations; NONE from Iran.”
Iranian state media cited Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as claiming his nation “has been a victim of U.S. state terrorism and affiliated groups for years and has had a clear …record in the fight against al Qaeda and Islamic State.”
Spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations Alireza Miryousefi further denounced Pompeo’s assertions as “preposterous, false accusations.”
A terrorism expert familiar with U.S. intelligence reporting analysis told Reuters that the US Congress has been informed of an al Qaeda presence in Iran which ebbs and flows and arguably is tolerated by elements of the Iranian government.
Meanwhile, Tehran further escalated tensions with arch-foe Washington by conducting a short-range naval missile drill today.
According to Iranian state television, the locally-manufactured Makran vessel and the Zereh (Farsi for “armor”) missile-launching ship are participating in the two-day exercise in the Gulf of Oman. The report described the Makran as Iran’s biggest warship, equipped with its own helicopter pad.
The Islamic Republic boasts one of the biggest missile programs in the Middle East, regarding its arsenal as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against US or other adversaries in the event of war.
Israel and the West condemn the Iranian weapons systems as a possible delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons, as well as a conventional military threat to regional stability.
There have been periodic confrontations between US and Iranian naval forces in the Gulf, where Tehran holds annual exercises to display the Islamic Republic’s military might to confront “foreign threats.”
Last week, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) seized the South Korean-flagged Hankuk Chemi tanker in the Persian Gulf and detained its crew amid tensions between Tehran and Seoul over Iranian funds frozen in South Korean banks due to US sanctions.
Tensions in the world’s busiest oil waterway also spiked after Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker two weeks after a British warship had intercepted the Iranian Grace 1 tanker off the coast of Gibraltar.