Although Iran has covert relations with Al-Qaeda for decades, it began to surface in the mid-1990s, although policymakers, analysts and media in the western nations as well as the Middle East were quite reluctant in exposing it further mostly because they might have bought the false narrative – buttressed by Tehran regime, its agents and some media outlets – that Al-Qaeda and Tehran are enemies because the former is Sunni and the latter is Shiite.
The first federal indictments of Al-Qaeda under the Clinton administration stated: “Osama bin Laden, the defendant, and Al-Qaeda also forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in Sudan and with representatives of the government of Iran, and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah, for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States”.
In December 1992, Al-Qaeda carried out its first known terrorist attack: The bombing of the Gold Mohur hotel in Aden, Yemen. The following year, it bombed the World Trade Center in New York. The group’s modus operandi was entirely shaped by the Iranian regime. This included bombs in vehicles, suicide bombers and simultaneous multidimensional attacks on several targets. But unfortunately, western media were silent in tagging Iran with the heinous 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
After acquiring tactical, technical and bombing expertise, Al-Qaeda carried out its second large-scale attack in August 1998 — the truck bombs at the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in which more than 200 people died.
A US district court found that, before Iran and Hezbollah’s training, Al-Qaeda “did not possess the technical expertise required to carry out the embassy bombings.” In fact, they were replicas of the Hezbollah attacks of 1983. In other words, the Iranian regime was responsible for the attacks.
Later, ahead of the 9/11 attacks, the Iranian regime allowed Al-Qaeda operatives to cross through its territory without visas or passports. Robust evidence, including a federal court ruling, found that “Iran furnished material and direct support for the 9/11 terrorists”.
Al least eight of the hijackers passed through Iran before heading to the US. Iran also provided funds, logistical support and ammunition to Al-Qaeda leaders and sheltered several of them in exchange for the terrorist group attacking US interests.
The Iranian regime also supported Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Syria and other countries with the goal of pushing out forces that were rivals to Tehran.
In fact, the regime released Al-Qaeda operatives to Syria during the country’s civil war in order to impose fear in the society, battle Western elements, provide an excuse for the IRGC to ratchet up its influence in the country, and to buttress Bashar Assad and Tehran’s argument that the Syrian government was fighting “terror groups,” not legitimate oppositional groups.
In 2017, a trove of 470,000 documents released by the CIA revealed close ties between Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and the Iranian regime. The files confirmed what had been known by several intelligence agencies, courts and experts for a long time. According to the files, Iran offered Al-Qaeda fighters “money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia”.
Further evidence came from former IRGC general Saeed Ghasemi, who shared a surprising revelation in 2019. He stated that the Iranian government sent agents to Bosnia in the 1990s to train Al-Qaeda members, and that these operatives hid their identity by posing as humanitarian workers for Iran’s Red Crescent Society.
Another Iranian official, Hossein Allahkaram, confirmed this account. He said: “Al-Qaeda has different ranks, and the rank that was in Bosnia were connected to us in some ways. Occasionally, some of them, after they were trained in Al-Qaeda bases and received their weapons, for some reasons, they would leave that place and come to us”.
Al-Qaeda has helped Iran against Western forces in Syria and Iraq and has provided the pretext for the IRGC to increase its influence in Baghdad, Damascus and Sanaa. Their alliance likely explains why the terrorist group has never carried out an attack against the Iranian regime.