The Corner

National Security & Defense

Pence Is (Mostly) Right About Iran and the 9/11 Hijackers

Vice President Mike Pence in the U.S. Capitol, December 17, 2019 (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Mike Pence tweeted out a series of justifications for the U.S. drone attack on Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Here is one of the last reasons he offered:

The tweet instantly sparked outrage on social media, with journalists accusing Pence of spreading conspiracy theories, lying, and rehashing provocations that got us entangled in the Iraq war. Really, it’s remarkable that so many journalists are seemingly unaware that the 9/11 Commission Report found that 8 to 10 hijackers — of 19, not twelve — traveled through Iran to Afghanistan with the help of the Islamic Republic. Let’s not forget: Iran still owes the families of victims of 9/11 billions of dollars for its role in the attacks.

Rereading the Commission Report’s section on Iran’s extensive ties to anti-U.S. terror networks leading up to the 9/11 attack is also a helpful reminder that Soleimani, surely a player in most of this, deserved his fiery end. Iran and al-Qaeda had had a relationship since the early 1990s. After the bombing of the USS Cole, for example, Iranian officials, most likely Soleimani’s Quds Force, approached al-Qaeda about fostering closer ties with the terror group. “Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan,” the report reads. It was Bin Laden who turned down the Iranians for fear of alienating his supporters in Saudi Arabia.

I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve read journalists declaring that Shi’ite Iran would never assist Sunni terrorists. This is a myth. Even today, Iran funds the terrorist group Hamas.

In any event, the chances that Sunni terrorists who “received advice and training” from the Iranian-affiliated Hezbollah in Lebanon were traveling through Iran without the knowledge and assistance of higher-ups is in the vicinity of zero percent. “In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers,” the report says. (Emphasis added.)

The commission could unearth no evidence proving that the Iranians knew what the 9/11 team was planning (which doesn’t mean they did not). In a report teeming with wrongdoing, this is the one assertion that Iran apologists love to highlight. But we know that before 9/11, Iran had ties to al-Qaeda terrorists, offered them safe passage, and helped train them. Perhaps the Iranians never imagined the extremists they were aiding would be as successful as they were on 9/11, but that doesn’t mean they don’t bear any responsibility.

Now, if you want to argue that we possess no hard evidence that Soleimani himself was involved in this dealing, despite this kind of thing being his bailiwick, fine (though there is also evidence that Iran-al Qaeda relationship persisted after 9/11). If you want to argue that Iran’s actions back then aren’t justification for war today, fine. But nowhere does Pence allege that Iran had planned 9/11 or that it knew what hijackers were planning, or that Soleimani’s covert help to the 9/11 terrorists was the lone justification for killing him. He merely states that Iran gave clandestine safe passage to many of the same people who ended up murdering 3,000 Americans. This is inarguable, whether it bolsters your narrative or not.