At the end of July, the U.S. Treasury Department released the names of six al Qaeda members Americans are now prohibited from transacting with, commercially or financially. All are members of a network that “serves as the core pipeline through which al Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia,” according to the press release.
The critical point of transit in this network? Iran.
We should not be surprised. Foreign Policy magazine writes, “Iran has had links to members of what became known as al Qaeda since the early 1990s, when both had a presence in Sudan” (August 1).
The 9/11 Commission 2004 report stated that it was in the 1990s that Iran and al Qaeda reached an “informal agreement to cooperate in providing support—even if only training—for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives.”
As the Foreign Policy article points out, it may seem an unlikely match because of the longstanding Sunni-Shiite rivalry. But as the old proverb says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”—and both al Qaeda and Iran vehemently despise the United States and Israel. The cooperation between what would otherwise be bitter enemies proves Iran’s willingness to stop at nothing to sponsor terror against the U.S. and Israel.
After the Taliban fell in 2001, Iran caught and deported dozens of fleeing al Qaeda members. “Iran, however,” continues Foreign Policy, “held on to several of bin Laden’s children and senior figures, including Saif al-Adel, then al Qaeda’s number 3. Iranian officials said they were under ‘hotel arrest.’” The captured al Qaeda members were retained as bargaining chips; some were successfully traded off, but others have since been given greater freedoms, including the ability to travel and resume contact with other al Qaeda leaders.
Now, it appears the cooperation has gone much further. “The U.S. Department of the Treasury today announced the designation of six members of an al Qaeda network headed by Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a prominent Iran-based al Qaeda facilitator, operating under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Iranian government,” the July 28 Treasury Department press release says. “As al Qaeda’s representative in Iran, Khalil works with the Iranian government to arrange releases of al Qaeda personnel from Iranian prisons. When al Qaeda operatives are released, the Iranian government transfers them to Khalil, who then facilitates their travel to Pakistan.”
While some say the link between the two should not be overestimated, it is clear Iran is at least looking the other way as al Qaeda funnels funds and personnel through the country.
The discovery “demonstrates that Iran is a critical transit point for funding to support al Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the press release says.
Accompanying the designation, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen declared, “Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world today. 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.”
The Trumpet reported in 2001 that Iran, not the Taliban or al Qaeda, was the biggest sponsor of terrorism. “Make no mistake about it,” we wrote, “Iran is the head of the snake.” ▪