Al-Qaeda’s Big Fat Iranian Wedding
America’s top spy says the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and the world’s most infamous terrorist organization are married.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper


Clifford D. May

In the years since 2001, Iran has continued to cooperate with al-Qaeda. In January 2009, Treasury designated four senior al-Qaeda members who had received Iran’s assistance. Among them: Saad bin Laden, one of Osama’s sons. Joscelyn records that the young bin Laden “received safe haven inside Iran after 9/11 and was placed under a loose form of ‘house arrest’ in 2003 after he was implicated in al-Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Saad and the other designated al-Qaeda operatives were responsible for moving al Qaeda families, including some of Osama bin Laden’s and Ayman al Zawahiri’s closest relatives, to Iran after the 9/11 attacks. Saad subsequently left Iran for northern Pakistan, where he was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike.”

Last July, as Joscelyn also reported, “Treasury designated six al Qaeda operatives who use a network headquartered in Iran to move cash and terrorists. Iran, Treasury noted at the time, is ‘a critical transit point for funding to support al Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.’” And in September 2011, the State Department designated a Hamas operative, Muhammad Hisham Muhammad Isma’il Abu Ghazala, linking him to both Iran and al-Qaeda.

In recent days, Britain’s Sky News has been reporting that its “intelligence sources” have strong evidence that “Iran has been supplying al-Qaeda with training in the use of advanced explosives.” Sky News claims it has seen a “secret intelligence memo” describing “intensive co-operation over recent months between Iran and al Qaeda — with a view to conducting a joint attack against Western targets overseas.” Sky News adds: “We do know that an operation is under way. We assess that the most likely target is to be European.”

In light of all this, why has there been so little public discussion of the Iranian-al-Qaeda relationship? Two reasons suggest themselves: (1) Scholars, journalists, and intelligence analysts who denied this association in the past are reluctant to admit they were wrong. (2) Knowledge conveys responsibility: If Iran is — and long has been — married to al-Qaeda, and if Iran is now just a few spins of a centrifuge away from acquiring nuclear weapons, it follows that strong measures must be taken against this growing threat.

That’s a message many Americans do not want to hear. It’s certainly a message many American leaders do not want to tell them.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.