Al Qaeda's safe haven in Iran

The Treasury Department yesterday identified six al Qaeda members as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. These six terrorist operatives form a network that funnels money and personnel from the Gulf to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan via Iran. The head of the network, Syrian-born Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, operates from inside Iran with the full knowledge of the Iranian regime.

Al Qaeda’s presence in Iran and its operatives’ links to the Iranian government and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were known to exist prior to this designation. In the 1990s, al Qaeda associates negotiated an agreement between Osama bin Laden and the Iranian government that allowed the transit of al Qaeda operatives through Iran into Afghanistan. According to Treasury, Khalil, who represents al Qaeda in Iran, has run the current network since 2005 “under an agreement between al-Qaida and the Iranian government.” The network is “the core pipeline” for moving money and personnel from the Middle East into South Asia.

The announcement is significant for at least two reasons. First, the operability of the network confirms that the Iranian regime is directly facilitating al Qaeda activity in the region, including coordinating with al Qaeda’s representative in Iran to arrange the release of al Qaeda members from “detention.” This arrangement, in place since 2005, further demonstrates the Iranian regime’s willingness to discount the Sunni-Shi’a sectarian divide if it can help inflict harm on American security and interests. Previously, the Treasury identified two senior IRGC Quds Force officers overseeing the provision of financial and material support to Taliban insurgents on behalf of the Iranian regime.

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