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Al Qaeda and Iran: Friends or Foes, or Somewhere in Between?

NCJ Number
Studies in Conflict & Terrorism Volume: 30 Issue: 4 Dated: April 2007 Pages: 327-336
Paul Hastert
Date Published
April 2007
10 pages
This article analyzes connections between the Iranian Government and al Qaeda leaders.
Although the operational goals of al Qaeda, which is composed of Sunni extremists and the Shiite Iranian leadership sometimes coincide, their geopolitical goals do not. There is clear evidence of operational cooperation between al Qaeda and Iranian regime elements, notably Imad Mughaniyah (head of the military wing of Hezbollah) and the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Prior to the September 11 attacks, passage through Iran to Afghanistan had become the preferred method of travel for al Qaeda from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the same route was used by al Qaeda elements escaping from Afghanistan. Although many al Qaeda operatives were arrested by Iranian authorities, some high-ranking al Qaeda leaders were allowed to remain in Iran. They had the freedom to coordinate the May 2003 attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is also clear that when al Qaeda obstructs Iranian geopolitical goals, Iranian authorities crack down effectively. The arrest and deportation of hundreds of al Qaeda members was a shock to people like Sayf al-Adl and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who expected protection in Iran. Limiting the influence of U.S. power in the region is certainly a goal of the Iranian Government; however, this goal alone is not sufficient to gain the Iranian Government's unqualified cooperation with al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has never recognized the Iranian theocracy as a suitable base for building a Caliphate; and despite operational cooperation, there has never been an Iranian member of al Qaeda. Some al Qaeda members have shown a hatred of Shiite Muslims that even surpasses their hatred of Americans. 72 notes