A lengthy study prepared by the Washington-based New America think tank revealed cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda aimed at enabling the organization to serve Tehran’s interests.
This study canvassed nearly 300 declassified documents recovered in May 2011 by US Special Forces during the raid on the compound of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The documents reveal that al-Qaeda was pragmatic in its efforts to secure refuge for or the release of its personnel and their families and to facilitate the financing of its enterprise.
New America's study focused on two key documents released by the CIA in November 2017: a 19- page document that was likely written by an operative and a 220-page document erroneously described as bin Laden’s handwritten journal.
“Iran is prepared to support and assist—with money, weapons and whatever is needed, any person who wants to attack America without implicating the Iranians directly and explicitly,” the document read.
It argued that the Iranian regime “exemplifies political pragmatism” premised on the principle of “the goal justifies the means” given the ideological differences between them.
Their ties based on mutual interests as demanded by conditions at the time, said the report.
It even suggested that Iranians proposed to a few “new jihadists” that they would be prepared to support them and train them in “Hezbollah” training camps in Lebanon if they wished and “that they would support them with money and other [kinds of assistance] if they wanted to hit American targets in Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf.”
Moreover, a two-page handwritten letter in the report suggests that Iran reached out in 2004 to establish contact with al-Qaeda, and bin Laden in particular, in the hope that he could exert influence over Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi to stop attacks against Shiites and their holy sites in Iraq.
According to the documents, al-Qaeda believed that Iran had adopted a lenient approach in dealing with the group since its formation in 1988. The members of the group, even bin Laden’s family members, therefore, did not hesitate in seeking refuge in Iran after the September 11, 2001 attack against the US and the eventual downfall of Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
They also did not hesitate in using Iran as a route to traffic people and smuggle money.
Despite these ties, the documents revealed a lack of trust between al-Qaeda and Tehran. The group viewed Iran as a “hostile” entity and believed that its members were only staying there on temporary basis.
The lack of trust was demonstrated in one document in which al-Qaeda described the US as the “current enemy” and Iran as the enemy in the future.
Furthermore, the report said that several al-Qaeda members were arrested by Iranian authorities for violating their residency or discussed ideas considered against Iran’s policies.
After September 11, Iran’s policy towards al-Qaeda changed, especially after US President George W. Bush declared that Iran (along with Iraq and North Korea) constituted an “axis of evil.”
A recent report by the United Nations said that al-Qaeda is having a resurgence around the world due in part to help from Iran.
"Al-Qaida leaders in Iran have grown more prominent, working with Ayman al-Zawahiri and projecting his authority more effectively than he could previously," the report said.
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