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Pompeo Says Iran Is New Base for Al Qaeda, but Offers Little Proof

  • January 12, 2021

Terrorism experts have suggested that Tehran allowed Qaeda officials to remain in Iran after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as insurance that the group would not conduct operations in the country. American counterterrorism officials believe Iran may have allowed them to stay to run operations against the United States, a common adversary.

Bahram Ghasemi, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman at the time, said in 2018 that because of Iran’s long, porous border with Afghanistan, some Qaeda members had entered Iran, but they had been detained and returned to their home countries.

Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden and other members of his family were freed by Iran in 2011 in exchange for an Iranian diplomat abducted in Pakistan. White House officials said last year that Hamza bin Laden had been killed in a counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Mr. al-Masri was one of the few high-ranking members of the organization to survive the American hunt for the perpetrators of 9/11 and other attacks. When he and other Qaeda leaders fled to Iran, they were initially kept under house arrest.

In 2015, Iran announced a deal with Al Qaeda in which it released five of the organization’s leaders, including Mr. al-Masri, in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who had been abducted in Yemen.

In his speech, Mr. Pompeo said surviving deputies to Al Qaeda’s spiritual leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, were “living a normal life” in Tehran. He said the Iranian government was allowing Qaeda militants to communicate with one another, raise funds and carry out other operational functions that were previously done from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He announced new sanctions against two Iranian-based Qaeda officials — Muhammad Abbatay, who is also known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, and Sultan Yusuf Hasan — and three leaders of a Kurdish offshoot of Al Qaeda who operate on the Iraq-Iran border.

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