News / Middle East

Iran's Ties to Terror Shadow Nuclear Talks

Iran’s Ties to al-Qaida Pose Nagging Questionsi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 24, 2014 11:08 PM
As the U.S. and the West continue negotiations with Iran over its controversial nuclear program, the specter of Iran’s ties to terrorism - and specifically al-Qaida - lingers in the background, analysts and U.S. officials say. Jeff Seldin has the details.
As the U.S. and the West continue negotiations with Iran over its controversial nuclear program, the specter of Iran’s ties to terrorism - and specifically al-Qaida - lingers in the background, analysts and U.S. officials say.
 
“This is something that has gone back several decades now, but continues to get short shrift from the U.S. government,” said Jonathan Schanzer at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
 
“Iran’s playing three dimensional chess,” he said. “We see al-Qaida becomes useful to Iran in terms of attacking the United States, attacking the West, vilifying and targeting Israel.  All these things very much work in Iran’s favor.”
 
For the past several years, the only U.S. government agency to consistently make the case linking Iran to al-Qaida has been the Treasury Department, which in February designated an Iran-based terrorist, Jafar al-Uzbeki, as a key al-Qaida facilitator.  The designation accused him of funneling a “significant amount” of money from Iran into Afghanistan and Pakistan to help fund al-Qaida activities.
 
The designation also linked al-Uzbeki to Yasin al-Suri, previously identified as the head of al-Qaida’s Iran network and one of a handful of operatives identified since 2011 for getting al-Qaida fighters into Syria.  And according to a senior Treasury official, al-Uzbeki has been “operating with the knowledge of the Iranian authorities.”
 
“This really deserves attention,” said U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “We see a relationship between Iran and al-Qaida that at times is difficult to figure out, because on the one hand they would be natural adversaries, but in that part of the world, terrorism makes strange bedfellows.”
 
Still, the apparent union is between two opposing branches of Islam -- Shi’ite Iran and Sunni al-Qaida. It runs contrary to conventional wisdom, analysts say, as Shi’ites and Sunnis have targeted each other through violence across the Middle East.
 
Al-Qaida-linked groups targeted Iran late last year, killing 23 people, including a cultural attaché, in an attack on Tehran’s embassy in Lebanon.
 
“Ultimately the enmity between Iran and al-Qaida is almost deeper than the enmity between the United States and al-Qaida,” said Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. “But Iran is stuck in the region, and as a result sometimes it does strike small deals in order to actually protect itself or to advance its interests in other ways.”
 
Parsi said that in 2003, Iran was willing to trade al-Qaida operatives it caught fleeing from U.S. forces in Afghanistan to the United States in exchange for several concessions, a deal Washington rejected.
 
Yet not everyone is convinced the relationship between Iran and al-Qaida is one of forced convenience.
 
Investigators looking at the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. raised concerns in their final report, pointing to “discussions in Sudan between al-Qaida and Iranian operatives” in the early 1990s.
 
“We thought it was an important question but you could not investigate every important question that arose from 9/11 fully,” said 9/11 commission co-chair and former congressman Lee Hamilton. “We had recommended in our report that the United States government further investigate the links between Iran and al-Qaida, including any collaboration prior to 9/11. To my knowledge the United States government has not done so.”
 
The 9/11 commission’s report cited possible collaboration between Iran and al-Qaida in the June 1996 attack on Khobar Towers, a residential complex housing American Air Force personnel in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.  Nineteen Americans were killed and 372 wounded.
 
The commission also turned up evidence suggesting Iran gave passage to the 9/11 hijackers, although commission member and former CIA operative Mike Hurley said there never was anything to suggest a larger role for Tehran in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
 
“We could never establish that there was Iranian participation, Iranian government participation in the 9/11 plots,” Hurley said.  But he added “there was a pattern of being open and welcoming to al-Qaida members, and sometimes even some senior figures of the al-Qaida shura [council] in Afghanistan.”
 
Hurley, who now serves as an advisor to the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, is among those who hoped the U.S. government would have done more to clarify the nature of the Iran-al-Qaida relationship.
 
“I don’t have a good sense and I don’t know that there’s been kind of deep active pursuit and investigation of that.  I think it may be an area where the government has fallen down to some extent,” he said.
 
More recently, Canadian investigators alleged that two men arrested in connection with a 2013 plot to derail a train, Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, received "directions and guidance" from members of al-Qaida in Iran.  Iran denied any involvement.
 
U.S. officials also have said former al-Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith, now being tried on terror charges in the U.S., spent time in Iran along with one of former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s sons, Saad.  The Iranian government claimed the two were “in custody,” but U.S. officials say Abu Ghaith was arrested last year in Jordan.
 
Still, despite the numerous concerns and the terrorist designations from the Treasury Department, officials at the State Department remain focused on the nuclear negotiations with Tehran, mentioning only their broad concerns about Iran’s ties to terror.
 
“While we are continuing engagement on the nuclear program and our concerns about that in a comprehensive deal, we have remaining concerns about human rights violations, about terrorist activities that they are up to,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last week. “Certainly, I don’t think there’s a secret about our concerns, given we expressed them very publicly, about Iran’s engagement and efforts to assist Hezbollah and others who are encroaching into Syria.”
 
That approach concerns the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Schanzer, who worries that a lack of attention to Iran’s support of terrorism, and its links to al-Qaida, ultimately could give Iran an advantage in negotiations.
 
“This is a very dangerous regime that we’re playing with, and I don’t believe we’re playing on equal footing,” he said. “You have to really begin to wonder if Iran crosses that nuclear threshold, they’re able to get that nuclear weapon, they could put it in the hands not just of Hezbollah or Hamas but potentially into the hands of al-Qaida.”
 
But former congressman Hamilton, while concerned about the Iran-al-Qaida connection, plays down the danger.
 
“Nations do not usually share nuclear secrets very easily with anyone, and certainly with one they do not control,” Hamilton said. “The paramount interest of the United States now, of course, is to limit any possibility of a breakout toward a possible nuclear weapon in Iran," he said. “That is the focus of the diplomacy today and it seems to me, should be.”

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Multimedia Ferguson, Missouri Streets Calm After Days of Violence

Police official says authorities responded to fewer incidents, noting there were no shootings, Molotov cocktails or fires More

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

For Chanthy Sok, rap infused with Cambodian melodies is a way to pay respect to the survivors of the victims of Khmer Rouge genocide More

Study: Our Life with Neanderthals Was No Brief Affair

Scientists discover thousands of years of overlap between modern humans and their shorter, stockier cousins More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Amin from: Texas
March 27, 2014 9:54 AM
Lets look at the source of all this misinformation: "Jonathan Schanzer at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.", a zionist organization funded by Sheldon Adelman. What else would you expect? Surprised that VOA would allow itself to be used for false propaganda!


by: spring12 from: us
March 26, 2014 9:48 AM
I agree w/ most people here. this news is nothing but junk. Alqueda is a saudi terrorist organization and it is a proven fact that the saudi elite have supported them even in the 9/11 probably w/ the help of the Israeli intelligence. there is zero chance that Iran will get involved with alqueda even if they wanted to the alqueda sunnis are sworn enemies of the iranian shiites. they are like a 2 pole of the magnet which repels each other and no way they can attract one another. another Iranophobia bs by the Israeli stooges.


by: Change Iran Now from: USA
March 25, 2014 9:23 PM
Iran is bound and determined to support Islamic terror, instigate violence in Syria's civil war, expand its cyber warfare capabilities and strengthen a nefarious relationship with Russia. All are grave issues that are occurring as Iran negotiates with the West over lifting sanctions in exchange for the Islamic Republic halting its nuclear weapons program.
Iran is the world's leading state-sponsor of terror, and how the Islamist state will not end its global ambitions despite any assurances given to the West.


by: kat from: California
March 25, 2014 6:39 PM
This article sounds really bizarre. I smell an agenda! These two, iran and alqada are sworn enemies. These weird and nonsensical articles pop up when the nuclear negotiations heat up again. We do not want or need another war. Lets negotiate in good faith. Their economy is in shambles and I've read they haven't seen any improvements either. Their Crazy bizarre nonsensical hardliners are also spewing nonsense to derail the negotiations. Obama and rahani both need to be empowered.


by: mirab from: LA
March 25, 2014 5:52 PM
The Iranian regime is not my favorite and is an enemy of its people but US and Israel are also plotting against Iran (its people and not the government) by telling lies, misrepresentation, and conspiracy against a nation.


by: Babu from: USA
March 25, 2014 3:03 PM
I am amazed by the writer's imagination. He should write fictional stories. I am sure he is being paid by Saudi Arabia and USA. Can he be so childish?

Bin Laden was a Saudi, all the people involved in 9-11 were Saudi Arabian and all of these were Al-Qaeda people. Zawahri is Egyptian. How can his sane mind link Iran to Al-Qaeda...looks like he doesn't have a mind at all. How can idiots like him exist. Be thankful to your masters who pay you to write lies.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid