US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will accuse Iran of having secret links with al-Qaeda in a speech Tuesday based on recently declassified intelligence, according to several people with knowledge of the plans.
The State Department has spent weeks negotiating with U.S. intelligence agencies to declassify certain information. The revelations are expected to make negotiating conditions with Iran more difficult for the incoming Biden administration, according to people.
“It’s been on the books for a long time,” said a person briefed on the effort, adding that Mr Pompeo was now making the move as part of a “truth” exercise. “It’s important enough to be in the public interest. There are mistaken accounts that al-Qaeda and Iran hate each other. “
Al Qaeda jihadists and Iran’s theocratic rulers are at the extreme end of the Sunni-Shiite religious divide of Muslims and the two are on opposite sides in some places.
But the United States has consistently accused the two of teaming up. President Donald Trump said in 2017 that Iran had provided assistance to Al Qaeda and was sheltering key figures. Mr. Pompeo said that when he was director of the CIA, it was “an open secret” that there were relations and connections between Iran and al-Qaeda. The newly declassified information is expected to add details to these claims.
Experts have long believed that some leaders of the Islamist group fled to Iran in the wake of the US invasion of Afghanistan that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks, but they differ on the extent of subsequent ties.
Iran has long denied claims it harbors al Qaeda, but the latest US assessment promises to shed more light on the alleged relationship.
The New York Times reported in november that Israeli agents shot dead Al Qaeda number two Abu Muhammad al-Masri in Tehran at the behest of the United States over the summer. Al-Qaeda has not announced his death and Iran has denied the report. The United States did not comment.
Masri, born in Egypt, who was a founding member of Al Qaeda and real name Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, was on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists, indicted for his alleged role in the bombings against the 1998 US Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania. killed hundreds of people, including a dozen Americans.
Mr Pompeo, who his colleagues say is paving the way for a possible presidential race in 2024, backed Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Mr Biden plans to enter into .
In his final days in office, Pompeo embarked on a wave of last-minute policy changes, ranging from dropping guidelines that limit U.S. contact with Taiwanese officials to naming Yemen. The Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization and Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Colin Clarke, a terrorism expert at the Soufan Center, a global security research institution, said academics disagreed on the extent of al Qaeda’s freedom of movement in Iran.
The United States had little operational capability in Iran, so hiding there had helped preserve the group’s leadership “in a form that could survive,” he said, adding that he did not believe that Iran was working “hand in hand” with Al Qaeda.
The Trump administration has pursued the remains of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen, Mali, Somalia and Afghanistan. Mr Pompeo previously said there were fewer than 200 Al Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan.
Mr Clarke described Mr Pompeo’s decision as a “coup de grace” to make it harder for the new Biden administration to undertake a thaw with Iran. “It is true that Iran has hosted [some of] the leadership of al-Qaeda remaining, but overall what is the biggest threat? A couple of old al Qaeda guys hanging out in Iran or a nuclear weapon? Obviously, it is the latter.
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