By Arab News
By Siraj Wahab
Wednesday’s release by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of documents seized during the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden has “conclusively proved” the terror chief’s cosy relationship with Iran, experts say.
US intelligence officials and prosecutors have long said Iran formed loose ties to Al-Qaeda from 1991 onward.
This was noted in a 19-page report in Arabic that was included in the release of some 47,000 other documents by the CIA.
Iran has long denied any involvement with Al-Qaeda, but the report included in the CIA document dump shows how Bin Laden partnered with Tehran to target the US.
The Associated Press (AP) examined a copy of the report released by the Long War Journal, a publication backed by the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank fiercely critical of Iran and skeptical of its nuclear deal with world powers. The CIA gave the Long War Journal early access to the material.
“Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric,” AP quotes the report as saying.
The unsigned report is dated in the Islamic calendar year 1428 (2007), and offers what appears to be a history of Al-Qaeda’s relationship with Iran.
It says Iran offered Al-Qaeda fighters “money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia.”
This coincides with an account offered by the US government’s 9/11 Commission, which said Iranian officials met with Al-Qaeda leaders in Sudan in either 1991 or early 1992.
The commission said Al-Qaeda militants later received training in Lebanon from the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
US prosecutors also said Al-Qaeda had the backing of Iran and Hezbollah in their 1998 indictment of Bin Laden following Al-Qaeda’s truck bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the documents provide for the first time direct evidence of the symbiotic relationship between Al-Qaeda’s most senior operatives and Tehran.
“Without Iranian support and safe haven, Al-Qaeda as an organization couldn’t have endured for as long as it did following the international backlash it faced after the 9/11 terror attacks,” Shahbandar told Arab News.
“That Bin Laden was personally involved in establishing Al-Qaeda’s network in Iran shows how shrewd and cynical the regime in Tehran truly is, and how capable and willing it is to support international extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and its successor Daesh.”
Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said he is not surprised by the damning revelations.
“There has long been strong evidence showing the connection between Tehran and Al-Qaeda, including the fact that the Iranian regime has sheltered Al-Qaeda leaders,” he told Arab News.
“Iran is the top state sponsor of terrorism. Its regime supports, funds, arms and trains any terrorist group that shares its revolutionary values, such as anti-Americanism and pursuing hegemonic ambitions in the region,” he said.
“As a US federal judge found, Iran was a key player in facilitating the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The US should’ve confronted the Iranian regime, not Iraq,” Rafizadeh added.
“The US should hold the Iranian regime, and those leaders who helped facilitate the 9/11 attacks, accountable through various means such as sanctioning them, bringing them to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and isolating them.”
On Thursday, the semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), dismissed the CIA documents as “a project against Tehran.”