The CIA has released hundreds of thousands of documents that were recovered at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan after the raid in which the terrorist leader was killed. The documents make clear that:
1) Bin Laden was still actively leading al-Qaeda when he was taken out;
2) Iran and al-Qaeda have been working together for years; and
3) Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza was groomed to eventually take over leadership from his father from a very early age.
The second point, Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda, is by far the most important one. As Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio explain at The Long War Journal:
One never-before-seen 19-page document contains a senior jihadist’s assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran. The author explains that Iran offered some “Saudi brothers” in al Qaeda “everything they needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.” Iranian intelligence facilitated the travel of some operatives with visas, while sheltering others.
Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, an influential ideologue prior to 9/11, helped negotiate a safe haven for his jihadi comrades inside Iran. But the author of the file, who is clearly well-connected, indicates that al Qaeda’s men violated the terms of the agreement and Iran eventually cracked down on the Sunni jihadists’ network, detaining some personnel. Still, the author explains that al Qaeda is not at war with Iran and some of their “interests intersect,” especially when it comes to being an “enemy of America.”
Of course, none of that means al-Qaeda and Iran are one and the same. The two certainly have major disagreements, both on a more personal level (bin Laden was angry that Iran refused to let his family members go for a long time) and on an ideological level (Iran is Shiite, Al-Qaeda is Sunni). However, bin Laden made clear to his followers that he didn’t want them threatening Iran.
As he explained in a letter that was released previously, he actually called Iran his terror group’s “main artery for funds, personnel, and communication.” Joscelyn and Roggio:
And despite their differences, Iran continued to provide crucial support for al-Qaeda’s operations.
And so the question becomes: what does the Trump administration plan on doing about this?
Iran is quite possibly the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism. Although Ayatollah Khamenei is a radical Shiite, he has no problem whatsoever joining forces with radical Sunni groups. It’s important for the West to be aware of that strategy, but it doesn’t help us much if we don’t actively take steps to break up that alliance.