What we know about Iran and Al-Qaeda


On May 1, 2011, then-President Barack Obama announced to the world the death of Osama bin Laden during a US commando operation in Pakistan called Neptune Spear.

In 2012, Nelly Lahoud was teaching at West Point when the CIA declassified the first 17 documents captured in the raid. He was asked to lead the analysis of these documents for the West Point Counterterrorism Center.

In an interview with 60 minutes on CBS, Lahoud, a senior fellow with the New America International Security Program and an expert on al-Qaeda (AQ) and “Islamic State” (ISIS/ISIL), explained that in November 2002, US intelligence officials warned that al-Qaeda could plan, “attacks” which could cause “many victims”.

However, Lahoud also revealed that bin Laden wanted to replicate the September 11 attacks in the United States. “Bin Laden writes that rather than hijacking a plane, agents should charter one for their next attack on the United States.” He adds that if it’s too difficult, they should target the American railroads.

In the 21 years since 9/11, Iran has maintained a relationship with al-Qaeda and its members, primarily driven by an anti-American agenda.

After two decades, the relationship between Iran and the terrorist network, which started in the early 1990s, is still being debated within the counterterrorism community and government officials, according to Asfandyar Mir, senior expert at the Asian Center of the American Institute for Peace, and Colin P. Clarke, senior fellow at the Soufan Center.

A 2019 poster of bin Laden’s son, Hamza

At the time, al-Qaeda and Iran reached an agreement to train al-Qaeda operatives with Iranian intelligence operatives in Iran and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

However, Tallha Abdulrazaq, an academic specializing in Middle Eastern security affairs, says Iran has provided shelter for many al-Qaeda operatives over the years.

Bin Laden’s son Hamza is believed to be among those harbored in Iran.

Even though predominantly Shiite Iran claims to fight extremism, Tehran has supplied Sunni and Shiite terrorist organizations with advanced weapons such as seesaws and improvised explosive devices.

A photo of Bin Laden at a pro-American rally in India in 2001

After bin Laden was moved from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996, Iran provided al-Qaeda operatives with logistical and travel support, the bipartisan US 9/11 Commission report concluded. .

“Intelligence indicates continued contact between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaeda officials following Bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan,” the report saidadding that the evidence suggested that “8 to 10 of the 14 ‘muscled’ Saudi operatives traveled to or from Iran between October 2000 and February 2001”.

By 2003, relations between Iran and al-Qaeda had become turbulent, possibly due to the growing presence of the terrorist network in Iran.

In 2010, through strenuous diplomacy and numerous assurances, al-Qaeda secured the release of key members and their families from detention, while Iran securedrelease of Heshmatollah Attarzadeh Niyakithe commercial attaché of the Iranian consulate in Peshawar after his abduction in Pakistan.

Tehran continued to allow al-Qaeda to To transfer money via Iran, as well as to transit staff and resources in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Syriaaccording to the US State Department’s 2019 Terrorism by Country Report.

Iran’s geographical position, neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan, also greatly helped al-Qaeda to cross key battlefields when under direct pressure from the United States.

While Iranian aid has enabled al-Qaeda to continually challenge the United States and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, the Sunni terror group has in turn refrained from carrying out attacks in inside Iran or against Shiite populations in other countries in the region.

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