WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda’s new base of operations is in Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated on Tuesday, utilizing his final days in workplace to tie collectively two of what he called the world’s greatest terrorism threats however providing no underlying intelligence as proof.
His conclusions have been rapidly tempered, and even contradicted, by some present and former American officers who stated there was little new intelligence to counsel that Iran was any type of energetic headquarters, a lot much less a hub the place Al Qaeda’s leaders can direct operations with the help of the federal government in Tehran.
Mr. Pompeo, who was President Trump’s first C.I.A. director for a yr, referred to as Iran “the brand new Afghanistan” for Qaeda militants. He described the ties between Tehran and Qaeda leaders in a lot starker phrases than what most counterterrorism officers view as a really difficult relationship.
“They’re companions in terrorism, companions in hate,” Mr. Pompeo advised an viewers on the Nationwide Press Membership in Washington, the place he didn’t take questions from journalists afterward.
“The time is now for America and all free nations to crush the Iran-Al Qaeda axis,” he stated, crediting the Trump administration for making progress on that entrance.
Mr. Pompeo spoke alternately about Al Qaeda’s “new house base” and a “new operational headquarters” in Tehran, bewildering counterterrorism officers, who stated there was no proof for his assertions. Some stated his feedback appeared to symbolize his personal analytic conclusions, slightly than these of the USA intelligence group.
Mr. Pompeo cited a “sea change” within the ties between Sunni-led Al Qaeda and Shiite Iran after 2015, when he stated the clerical authorities in Tehran had allowed the terrorist community’s senior operatives to centralize inside their borders.
He stated Iran had given journey paperwork, identification playing cards and passports to Qaeda militants and allowed them to maneuver freely across the nation. He additionally confirmed for the primary time a New York Times report in November that Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who glided by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was assassinated in Tehran in August.
In some unspecified time in the future earlier than Mr. al-Masri’s death, the C.I.A. concluded that he and one other senior Qaeda chief in Iran, Saif al-Adl, reorganized Al Qaeda’s international administration construction and positioned a renewed precedence on plotting assaults, in keeping with a senior State Division official who briefed reporters after Mr. Pompeo’s speech. The official wouldn’t give a date or approximate time-frame for the C.I.A. evaluation, saying solely that it had occurred after 2015 and was despatched to the State Division prior to now week.
Different American officers who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate intelligence stated the affirmation of the al-Masri assassination was the core of any new or particular data that Mr. Pompeo revealed on Tuesday.
But it surely gave the secretary of state yet one more platform to criticize Iran — a mainstay of his insurance policies. That prompted swift pushback, together with from Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian international minister, who on Twitter accused Mr. Pompeo of “pathetically ending his disastrous profession with extra warmongering lies.”
A lot of Mr. Pompeo’s speech, some American officers cautioned, represented an inflated rehash of details about the ties between Al Qaeda and Iran that has lengthy been identified.
“The connection between Al Qaeda and Iran is much extra difficult than the image laid out by Secretary of State Pompeo,” stated Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst on the Soufan Group, a New York-based safety consulting agency.
Mr. Clarke stated Mr. Pompeo’s characterizations obfuscated essential particulars in regards to the variations in ideology, goal preferences and different crucial elements between Iran and Al Qaeda.
Analysts additionally identified that at the same time as Mr. Pompeo heralded a brand new daybreak for Al Qaeda, in March he had dismissed Al Qaeda’s significance in arguing why the USA ought to help a peace deal with the Taliban that referred to as for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
“Al Qaeda is a shadow of its former self,” Mr. Pompeo stated then.
It’s true that Iran has constantly and unconvincingly denied housing Qaeda officers.
Terrorism consultants have prompt that Tehran allowed Qaeda officers to stay in Iran after the assaults of Sept. 11, 2001, as insurance coverage that the group wouldn’t conduct operations within the nation. American counterterrorism officers imagine Iran might have allowed them to remain to run operations towards the USA, a typical adversary.
Bahram Ghasemi, an Iranian International Ministry spokesman on the time, stated in 2018 that due to Iran’s lengthy, porous border with Afghanistan, some Qaeda members had entered Iran, however that they had been detained and returned to their house nations.
Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden and different members of his household have been freed by Iran in 2011 in trade for an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Pakistan. White Home officers stated final yr that Hamza bin Laden had been killed in a counterterrorism operation within the Afghanistan-Pakistan area.
Mr. al-Masri was one of many few high-ranking members of the group to outlive the American hunt for the perpetrators of 9/11 and different assaults. When he and different Qaeda leaders fled to Iran, they have been initially stored underneath home arrest.
In 2015, Iran announced a deal with Al Qaeda through which it launched 5 of the group’s leaders, together with Mr. al-Masri, in trade for an Iranian diplomat who had been kidnapped in Yemen.
In his speech, Mr. Pompeo stated surviving deputies to Al Qaeda’s religious chief, Ayman al-Zawahri, have been “dwelling a standard life” in Tehran. He stated the Iranian authorities was permitting Qaeda militants to speak with each other, increase funds and perform different operational features that have been beforehand carried out from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He announced new sanctions towards two Iranian-based Qaeda officers — Muhammad Abbatay, who’s also referred to as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, and Sultan Yusuf Hasan — and three leaders of a Kurdish offshoot of Al Qaeda who function on the Iraq-Iran border.
Mr. Pompeo additionally introduced a $7 million reward for data resulting in the arrest of Mr. al-Maghrebi, who’s Mr. Zawahri’s son-in-law. State Division officers wouldn’t touch upon Mr. Zawahri’s whereabouts, together with whether or not he was in Iran.