U.S. and European officials have quietly rejected recent reports of some sort of tactical cooperation between the Iranian government and al-Qaeda.
For years, propaganda reports have randomly cropped up alleging an Iran-Qaeda connection, although very little evidence has backed it up. “This should not be overblown,” said one U.S. official who requested anonymity.
The Iran-Qaeda connection propaganda has again made headlines in recent weeks, after the U.S. Treasury this month announced that it was imposing sanctions on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security for human rights abuses and for “its support of terrorist groups,” alleging that Iran had “facilitated the movement of al Qaeda operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards and passports.”
The war hawks who believe in this connection usually allege that Iran, largely Shiite Muslim, and al-Qaeda, Sunni, put their religious differences behind them to unite against a common enemy, the United States. In reality, the war hawks forfeit requirements for evidence to unite their two enemies, Iran and al-Qaeda.
“The relationship between al Qaeda and Iran is best described as complicated,” one U.S. official said. “The Iranians keep watch on what al Qaeda facilitators are up to. Sometimes the Iranians crack down on their activities; other times they don’t. Al Qaeda moving fighters or money is one thing, while planning major terrorist attacks against the West from Iranian soil is probably something they won’t allow.”
“Al Qaeda is not necessarily friendly to Iran,” the official continued, noting that for years Iran has reportedly held a number of top al Qaeda officials in detention. The official said there is no evidence of any tactical collusion between the two.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA Middle East expert who has advised President Barack Obama, also said that he did not take recent reports about improved relations between Iran and al Qaeda seriously. By any measure, U.S. policy in places like Libya and Syria has done more to directly assist al-Qaeda than anything Iran has ever done.