Credit must be given to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. During his testimony before Britain’s Iraq inquiry, Blair addressed an issue considered taboo in many Western national security circles: the alliance between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al-Qaeda. “What nobody foresaw,” Blair said, “was that Iran would actually end up supporting al-Qaeda. The conventional wisdom was these two are completely different types of people because Iran is Shi’a, the al-Qaeda people are Sunni, and therefore, you know, the two would never mix. What happened in the end was that they did because they both had a common interest” in fighting the United States.
The Iran-al-Qaeda relationship is long and extensive. As with Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, the Iran-al-Qaeda alliance can best be understood simply by reanalyzing the very same documents that are said to contain evidence to the contrary. The 9/11 Commission, for example, states: “On November 4, 1998, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed its indictment of bin Laden, charging him with conspiracy to attack U.S. defense installations. The indictment also charged that al-Qaeda had allied itself with Sudan, Iran, and Hezbollah.”
The Iranian regime created Hezbollah in 1982 to serve as its terrorist proxy army throughout the world. Hezbollah and al-Qaeda have collaborated for many years. The Saudi branch of Hezbollah helped al-Qaeda commit the deadly Khobar Towers attack in June 1996. The 9/11 Commission elaborates:
In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al-Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support — even if only training — for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al-Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Laden reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983. The relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shi’a divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations (emphasis added).
The Commission continues:
Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaeda figures.… Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al-Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because bin Laden did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.
In this case, it was Iran reaching out to al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda had been an underling of Iran’s for some time.
The Commission points to Iranian and Hezbollah assistance to al-Qaeda’s 9/11-team. Though the Commission “found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack,” there was “evidence suggesting that eight to ten of the fourteen ‘muscle’ [9/11] operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”
The hijackers in question — Wail al-Shehri, Waleed al-Shehri, Ahmed al-Nami, and others — had taken advantage of the Iranian government’s practice of not stamping the passports of Saudi members of al-Qaeda. During interrogation, al-Qaeda leaders Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confirmed this Iranian policy, explaining how beneficial it was to members of al-Qaeda.
Iran also spent the better part of the previous decade sheltering high-ranking al-Qaeda members such as Saif al-Adel, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Osama bin Laden’s son and heir, Saad bin Laden. In 2008, a letter written by al-Qaeda’s number-two leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and intended for Saad bin Laden in Iran was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
In the letter, Zawahiri thanks the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for its “monetary and infrastructure assistance” in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater and credits Iranian sponsorship for al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks and strategic gains in Yemen. The Iranians had long supported Zawahiri prior to the formation of al-Qaeda. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Iranians assigned the notorious Hezbollah chieftain Imad Moughniyeh to train Zawahiri’s men.
This alliance is not an American-created fantasy. In early 2009, Saudi Arabia publicized a list of eighty-five of its “most wanted” terrorists. Eighty-three of these terrorists were Saudi nationals and forty-one were “currently in Iran,” including Abdullah al-Qarawi, leader of al-Qaeda’s Persian Gulf operations.