The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, accused the Iranian government of allowing Al Qaeda to establish a “new headquarters” for it in Iran.
Speaking to members of the National Association of Journalists, Pompeo said: “Unlike Afghanistan, when Al Qaeda was hiding in the mountains, today Al Qaeda operates under a solid cover protecting the Iranian regime.”
Pompeo did not provide any evidence for his allegations, which Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described as “war lies.”
And last November, Iran denied the contents of a report about the killing of the second man in Al-Qaeda, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Muhammad Al-Masry, on its soil during the summer, in an operation carried out by Israeli agents, at the request of the United States.
Pompeo said on Tuesday that he could, for the first time, confirm the killing of al-Masry on August 7, without providing further details.
He stressed that people were wrong to believe that a Shiite power (Iran) and a Sunni extremist group were sworn enemies.
He added, “Al-Masry’s presence in Iran indicates why we are here today. Al-Qaeda has a new headquarters: the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
“As a result, the evil entity of (the late founder of the organization Osama) bin Laden is poised to gain power and capabilities.”
Pompeo claimed that, since 2015, Iran has allowed al-Qaeda members present in the country to communicate freely with other members, and to perform many functions that were issued from Afghanistan and Pakistan, including authorizing attacks, propaganda, and collecting funds.
He added, “The Iran-Al Qaeda axis poses a grave threat to the security of states and the American homeland itself, and we are taking measures.”
He said that the United States intends to include two leaders of al-Qaeda, based in Iran, on the list of global terrorists, namely Muhammad Abati, known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghribi, and Sultan Yusef Hassan al-Aref.
The United States also decided to allocate a financial reward of up to seven million dollars to anyone who provides information that would locate or monitor Abd al-Rahman al-Maghribi. Rewards have already been offered to anyone who provides information on two of the most prominent members of al-Qaeda, who claim to be residing in Iran, Saif al-Adel and Yassin al-Suri.
A number of Al Qaeda fighters, as well as members of Osama bin Laden’s family, fled to Iran after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Iranian officials said that they crossed the border illegally, and that the authorities had returned them to their country after their arrest.
Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif stressed, after the news of the killing of Abu Muhammad al-Masri last year, that there were no “terrorists” from Al-Qaeda on Iranian soil.
A spokesman for Iranian state media said Tuesday that “Iran has been a victim of terrorism by the United States and its affiliated groups for years, and has a clear record in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.”
Reuters quoted a former senior US intelligence official as saying that the Iranian authorities had never been friendly with Al Qaeda before or after the September 11 attacks, and that any allegations of current cooperation should be considered “with caution”.
Analysts questioned the timing of Pompeos announcement, describing it as an attempt to create difficulties for President-elect Joe Biden, in reconnecting with Iran, and returning to the nuclear agreement signed in 2015.