accuses Tehran of deal with
al-Qaeda By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - In a significant escalation
in the battle of rhetoric against Iran, the United
States Treasury Department on Thursday accused
Tehran of having forged a "secret deal" with
al-Qaeda to allow it to use Iranian territory to
transport money and operatives to Pakistan and
The statement marked the
first on-the-record accusation by a senior
administration official under President Barack
Obama that the Islamic Republic has a specific
agreement with the terrorist group.
same time, one government official stressed, the
statement did not assert that Tehran is directly
providing support to al-Qaeda. Nor did it impose
sanctions on any Iranian official, as it did on
the six-member Al-Qaeda network that it alleged is using
Iran as a "core pipeline"
between the Middle East and South Asia.
Nonetheless, the statement is almost certain
to increase pressure from neo-conservatives and
other hawks, especially Republicans in the US
Congress, to take stronger action against Tehran,
according to some observers here who noted that
allegations that tied Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda
was a critical element in rallying the US public
behind war with Iraq eight years ago.
Treasury statement, which imposed financial
sanctions against six alleged al-Qaeda activists
living in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Qatar and Kuwait,
charged that they constituted a network headed by
Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil that "serves as the core
pipeline through which al-Qaeda moves money,
facilitators and operatives from across the Middle
East to South Asia".
Khalil, a Syrian
national, has operated in Iran since 2005 "under
an agreement between al-Qaeda and the Iranian
government", according to the treasury's
In addition to collecting
funding from donors in the Gulf and moving the
money on to senior al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan
and Iraq, it said, Khalil "works with the Iranian
government to arrange releases of al-Qaeda
personnel from Iranian prisons". When successful,
Khalil "then facilitates their travel to
"Iran is the leading state
sponsor of terrorism in the world today," said
Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and
Financial Intelligence David S Cohen in the
written release published on the treasury's
"By exposing Iran's secret deal
with al-Qaeda allowing it to funnel funds and
operatives through its territory, we are
illuminating yet another aspect of Iran's
unmatched support for terrorism. Today's action
also seeks to disrupt this key network and deny
al-Qaeda's senior leadership much-needed support."
Thursday's announcement comes amid a spate
of charges by senior US officials, including
former Pentagon chief Robert Gates and his
successor, Leon Panetta, that Iran has sharply
increased its arming of Shi'ite militias that have
been attacking US troops in Iraq, and, to a
somewhat lesser extent, to suspected Taliban
forces in Afghanistan.
"Iran is very
directly supporting extremist Shi'ite groups which
are killing our troops," declared the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen,
earlier this month. Of the 15 soldiers slain in
June - the worst monthly US death toll in three
years - nine were killed in rocket attacks that US
military officials said they could trace to Iran.
Those charges have provoked a chorus of
calls by neo-conservatives and other hawks for the
administration to take strong action.
ought to go after the militias in Iraq as well as
their backers in Iran who've decided to make Iraq
a proxy war," urged an editorial in the Wall
Both the administration
and Iran hawks here have also charged that Tehran,
and particularly its Islamic Revolutionary Guard
Corps' Qods Force, has provided material and other
assistance to the security forces of President
Bashar al-Assad in their brutal crackdown of the
ongoing protest movement in Syria.
Meanwhile, no progress has been made in
persuading Iran to freeze its uranium-enrichment
program, which Washington and its allies charge is
aimed at building nuclear weapons. The continued
impasse on that front has added to pressure,
especially from congress where the so-called
"Israel Lobby" exercises considerable influence on
both parties, to take a more confrontational
stance toward Tehran.
background, Thursday's accusation of a "secret
deal" between Iran and al-Qaeda is likely to add
to that pressure, according to some analysts,
although others argued that it also served to
reassure the public and other interested parties,
including foreign intelligence agencies, that
Washington was keeping a careful eye on Tehran and
successfully disrupting key networks.
shows we're watching these guys and stopping these
activities," said Gary Sick, an Iran expert at
Columbia University who served in senior posts in
the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations.
"They're saying, 'Hey, we're doing things, we're
on top of this situation'."
Leverett, an Iran analyst who served in the Bill
Clinton and George W Bush administrations, agreed
that the administration was "showing they're in
control and that they're watching Iran ever second
of every day".
"But," she added, "it's
pretty dangerous because, at the end of the day,
this can be used as part of the case to further
confrontation with Iran. This is exactly the kind
of thing that we saw in the lead-up to the
invasion of Iraq in terms of trying to make the
connection with al-Qaeda."
has had a presence in Iran has long been accepted
by US officials and independent observers,
including the 9/11 Commission which concluded in
2004 that Tehran likely had more connections to
al-Qaeda than Baghdad before the US invasion of
The nature of the relationship,
however, has always been a source of contention.
"It's no secret that al-Qaeda types have been
known to be in Iran under circumstances about
which American analysts and commentators
disagree," said Paul Pillar, a 28-year Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) veteran who served as
the National Intelligence Officer in the Near East
and South Asia during George W Bush's first term.
"The circumstances seem to have been
something between house arrest and some other form
of restricted residence, if not outright
incarceration," he told Inter Press Service (IPS),
noting that Khalil's main responsibility appeared
to be to gain the release of al-Qaeda members from
He added that Tehran may have
been using al-Qaeda militants as a "bargaining
chip" to bolster its demands that Washington
repatriate or disperse militants of the Iraq-based
Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), a terrorist group whose
activists have enjoyed US protection at Camp
Ashraf, located close to the Iranian border, since
the 2003 invasion.
"We've got the MEK as a
stick hanging over the Iranian head, and any
dealings they have had with al-Qaeda serve largely
as a terrorist stick that the Iranians can hold
over ours," he said.
announcement, he added, "reads like a strained
effort to implicate Iran as much as possible,
without giving us details. In fact, all but one of
the individuals [Khalil] named as part of the
network aren't even in Iran."
five alleged network members include al-Qaeda's
overall commander in Pakistan's tribal areas,
Atiyah Abd al-Rahman; a "key supporter" of
al-Qaeda in Iraq, Umid Muhammadi; and two Qatari
citizens and one Kuwaiti who raised hundreds of
thousands of dollars in the Gulf and provided
logistical and other support for al-Qaeda.
"I'm sure Treasury would not issue the
statement unless they had a lot of evidence," said
Sick, who added that he suspected the assertion
about an "agreement" may have been based on the
intelligence gained from Osama bin Laden's
computers files seized during the May raid in
which he was killed.
A possible reason
that Treasury focused on Khalil and the Iran
connection in its statement, he said, was that,
"From a bureaucratic point of view, you get points
for being tough on Iran. The story could as easily
been written with the headline, "Two US Allies in
the Gulf promote and support anti-US terrorism."
In congressional testimony last year,
General David Petraeus, who will soon take over
the CIA, charged that al-Qaeda used Iran "as a key
facilitation hub". Although Iranian authorities
"periodically disrupt this network by detaining
select al-Qaeda facilitators and operational
planners, Tehran's policy in this regard is often
unpredictable," he said in what was until now the
strongest official US assertion of Iranian
complicity with al-Qaeda.
Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read