January 19, 2021
Keep Al Qaeda out of the Iran file
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo painted an alarming picture of a close relationship between Al Qaeda and the Iranian regime on January 12. The timing and content of this statement indicate that the Trump administration is primarily concerned not with the rising Al Qaeda threat, but with heaping more pressure on the Iranian regime. Viewing every Middle East issue through the prism of Iran, which the incoming administration also seems to do, masks the reality of the Al Qaeda threat and drives the US even farther from an effective counterterrorism policy.
Much of the information released confirms prior assessments, including Iranian entities’ facilitation of Al Qaeda’s presence and financial activities. Senior Al Qaeda members have been based in Iran for years, including the group second in command, who was killed in Tehran in August. The American government has now identified a senior media operative, also the son-in-law of Al Qaeda’s leader, in this cohort.
More explosively, Pompeo accused elements of the Iranian regime of directly enabling and overseeing Al Qaeda, including facilitating the formation of an operational headquarters and allowing senior operatives to plan attacks. Analysts wary of politicization have met these claims with skepticism. There would be nothing especially surprising about Iran supporting Al Qaeda, however, superficial arguments about the incompatibility of Al Qaeda with Shiism notwithstanding. The administration must release evidence to back up its assertions.
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