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Is Al Qaeda Iranian? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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For years we have been reading about a group affiliated to Al Qaeda that fled Kandahar for Iran following the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. This story was not credible for one important reason: Al Qaeda is a militant Sunni organization that considers the Shia non-believers, whilst [on the other hand] the Iranian regime is a militant Shia regime. However two years later a bombing took place in Riyadh, and wire-tapping evidence revealed that instructions for this attack were given by none other than Saif al-Adel, an Al Qaeda commander rumoured to have fled to Iran. This call was also shown to have originated from Iran.

According to information released at the time, Iran did not deny that members of Al Qaeda were present on its soil, but it said that these members were being detained, and the regime claimed that it had no knowledge of how they were able to implement this operation from afar.

During the following years, the story has been clarified as a result of cooperation between Iran and Al Qaeda, despite the fact that the leaders of the militant Sunni [Al Qaeda] organization continue to incite against the Shia, and despite Iran expressing a hostile attitude towards Al Qaeda, particularly during the most recent bloody events in Iraq. Intermediary parties have concrete evidence of cooperation between the Iranian regime and the militant [Al Qaeda] organization. The reason [behind this cooperation] is logical as both parties share Arab and Western enemies.

The secrecy surrounding the Al Qaeda organization means that all the rumours about it are potentially true; that it is an organization being used by the intelligence apparatus, or a front through which operations are conducted, or a political tool, or a pretext for enmity, aggression, and hatred, and so on.

However Al Qaeda is a real and present organization and its crimes are spreading not just in the West, but also throughout the Islamic world, from Indonesia to Morocco. However the accumulation of [new] information necessitates the re-studying of history, even prior to the events of 11 September. Al Qaeda now seems to resemble those left-wing organizations in the seventies, which were like storefronts rented out by other [larger] organizations in the region for their own purposes. Abu Nidal was a commander who worked towards his own goals, whereas his fighters were loyal to the movement’s doctrine, but ultimately unaware of the truth.

The story of Saif al-Adel fleeing Kandahar for Iran, with 13 members of his brother-in-law Abu al-Walid’s family, along with Saad Bin Laden and a number of other fighters is an important chapter that requires a re-writing of the [accepted] history of Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has become, or perhaps was originally nothing more than an organization founded by the Iranians, or at the very least they [the Iranians] contributed to it later. This clarifies many ambiguities, particularly with regards to the readiness of the organization, and its planning and operational capabilities. The only dilemma is that many people find it difficult to believe that Sunni extremists can work with Shia extremists. For purely sectarian reasons, it would be practically impossible for Al Qaeda’s fighters to accept Iranian involvement in their activities had they been aware of this, however many of these activities took place via intermediaries, such as when Al Qaeda fighters were being sent over to Iraq to fight [against the US forces] over a period of five years.

There are many stories now that attest to the ignorance of these young men [who were sent to fight in Iraq] and who were unaware that those who received them and sent them to Iraq were intelligence officers pretending to be Al Qaeda commanders, and who ran such activities on behalf of the [Al Qaeda] organization.

The picture seems clearer, Al Qaeda is a real organization but with mixed leadership, and it is carrying out operations that serve two sides, but particularly the Iranian side which is experienced in managing several wings within Arab organizations and militias such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and others. The new chapter [in Al Qaeda’s history] is the battle in Yemen, and this is currently taking place on two fronts, a battle with the Iran-affiliated Houthi rebellion, and a battle with Al Qaeda whose fighters also admit they are being managed from Iran.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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