Meanwhile in Iran: Some not-so-surprising news about Al Qaida

FPI / May 29, 2020

By Christopher W Holton, Center for Security Policy, May 29, 2020

Lost in the news surrounding the presidential election here in the U.S. was the extremely important story that Israeli agents acting at the request of the U.S., killed Al Qaida’s second in command on the streets of Teheran back in August.

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was shot and killed by two Israeli agents riding by on a motorcycle on Aug. 7.

The FBI wanted poster for Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, the second-highest official in Al Qaida. / FBI

It is of course significant that the Israelis acted at the behest of America, illustrating the close cooperation and warm ties that have characterized U.S.-Israeli relations in the post-Obama-Biden era during the Trump presidency. The Israelis no doubt have superior intelligence compared to U.S. agencies as to what is going on in Iran.

But what is even more significant is the fact that an Al Qaida’s number 2 commander was evidently living and operating freely in Iran.

The relationship between Iran and Al Qaida has been documented for years, yet for some reason many naïve Western observers continue to insist that Shia Iran and Salafi Sunni Al Qaida would never cooperate with each other.

But in this latest case there is clear evidence of cooperation and collusion. Al-Masri was not just some low level Jihadi or even an Al Qaida “lieutenant.” He was the second highest ranking Al Qaida terrorist in the world and the heir apparent to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the 68 year old head of Al Qaida. Not only that, Al-Masri’s daughter was the widow of Osama Bin Laden’s son, Hamza Bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. Special Operations forces in a counterterrorism operation sometime in 2018 or 2019. Al-Masri was one of the founding members of Al Qaida and is wanted by the FBI for his role in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings.

According to the New York Times, Al-Masri was in the protective custody of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the military and intelligence organization that facilitates Tehran’s support for and sponsorship of Jihadist terrorism around the globe.

This suggests a close relationship and very probably joint training and operational collaboration.

The Left in America in particular has long been in denial about Iran’s long-standing ties to Al Qaida, insisting that the two entities were arch enemies. That denial goes back over a decade.

In 2008, Obama campaign adviser Merrill McPeak was quoted as saying that “Iran is a big enemy of Al Qaida.” That statement was ignorant then and it’s ignorant today. When McPeak made that statement I wrote a column for National Review detailing Iran’s support for Al Qaida. It started with direct quotes from the 9/11 Commission Report which are just as relevant today as they were then:

‐ In late 1991 or early 1992, in meetings held in Sudan, Iran agreed to train al-Qaeda operatives. Not long afterwards, al-Qaeda terrorists traveled to Iran and received training in explosives. Subsequent to this, al-Qaeda terrorists also traveled to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where they received training from Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

‐ Once Osama Bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan and established terrorist training camps there, Iran facilitated the transit of jihadists to al-Qaeda training camps via Iran. Among other things, Iran did not stamp their passports when they passed through Iran on their way to Afghanistan. This made it impossible for countries to know when someone had attended a training camp in Afghanistan because there was no record. This policy particularly benefited Saudi members of Al Qaida, and the Commission reported that 8 to 10 of the Saudi 9-11 hijackers had transited through Iran.

‐ The Commission said that intelligence reports indicated continued contacts between al-Qaeda and Iranian officials after Bin Laden had moved back to Afghanistan and it recommended that the U.S. government further investigate the ties between al-Qaeda and Iran.

Of course Israel, who evidently carried out the termination of al-Masri, is no stranger to Iranian cooperation with Sunni Jihadist terrorism. For decades, Iran has been the primary sponsor of HAMAS, the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood Jihadist organization which seeks to replace Israel with an Islamic State ruled by Sharia.

The news about al-Masri comes at a very important time in the U.S. We could be confronted with the prospect of a new president who:
(i) has a history of bad decisions when it comes to fighting terrorism, such as his opposition to the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden;
(ii) has demonstrated an ignorance of the Jihadist threat, even comparing it to modern day fundamentalist movements in the Catholic and Protestant faiths;
(iii) supports the tragically flawed Iranian Nuclear Deal (JCPOA), which gives Teheran a path to uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons while ignoring Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and its ballistic missile program.

The available evidence suggests that America’s two most dangerous Jihadist enemies — Iran and Al Qaida — are in league with each other and if things do not go well in court and in audits of the election results in key states, the free world will be saddled with an ignorant and naïve commander in chief with a track record of letting those enemies grow strong and threaten us.

Christopher W. Holton is Senior Analyst and Director of State Outreach for the Center for Security Policy