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Al-Qaeda Leaders Fight Iran in Syria…and Iran Welcomes Them! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front gesture as they drive in a convoy touring villages in the southern countryside of Idlib. REUTERS/KHALIL ASHAWI

Mullah Omar successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour was targeted by a drone as soon as he returned from his secret visit to Iran. This may not be his first visit to Iran as it is said that he was there in February and March for medical treatment.

EU Special Representative in Afghanistan Franz Michael Mellbin revealed that Iran is working with Taliban on creating a buffer zone on the Iranian – Afghani borders to keep ISIS from that area. According to Mellbin, Iran wants to secure its 527 miles borders. The zone is expected to be between Helmand province in the south till Kunduz in the north which Taliban controls a great part of.

On the latest developments, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said that his country wants Iran to work constructively with the Afghani government and international community to promote Afghanistan’s sovereignty and unity.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad said that Iran refused to give Washington al-Qaeda groups that resorted to it.

Since the beginning of this year, al-Bina’a ISIS bulletin published a series of testimonies of “The Lebanese Abu Obeida” who disassociated himself from al-Qaeda to join ISIS after a series of members left in 2014. “Abu Obeida” was an important security official in al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He later joined ISIS and revealed many of al-Qaeda’s internal acts and connections. During one of its issues, The Lebanese spoke of the relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran. Due to the significance of the information he revealed, one of al-Qaeda’s members “Abu Karima al-Khorasani” responded to his allegations.

During issue number 19 of al-Bina’a, “Abu Obeida” is asked how he succeeded to travel from Khorasan (i.e.: Pakistan and Afghanistan) to Center of the Caliphate in Raqqa after his struggle with the leadership. He responded that it was an easy task as coordinators from al-Qaeda overlooked the arrangements of members entering Iran. He explained that travelers stay in “Guest Houses” until their travel arrangements to Syria are done, adding that Iranian government and security forces are aware of this. Abu Obeida stressed that it was easy and that as soon as a traveler entered the “Guest House”, intelligence knew of his arrival. He explained that supervisors of these homes meet with Iranian Intelligence every week and that all the houses and their phones are monitored. Abu Obeida said that his stay was long in the House until al-Qaeda coordinators made sure he wouldn’t travel to the land of ISIS, “but that’s exactly what I did.” He went on to say that he ran away after Iranian Intelligence knew through coordinators that he was in one of the houses.

Al-Qaeda responded on the internet to these testimonies through “Abu Karima al-Khorasani” saying that “Abu Obeida” was a security official for few months in al-Qaeda before he was expelled for deceiving the organization. Al-Khorasani said that the Shari’a court ruled that “Abu Obeida” be punished harshly for his crimes. Abu Obeida’s testimony that al-Qaeda works with Pakistani Intelligence stimulated al-Khorasani to respond saying that al-Qaeda’s first operation in the Indian Subcontinent was against the Pakistani Navy Headquarters. Yet al-Khorasani didn’t deny there are safe houses in Iran. Addressing “Abu Obeida”, he said, “People who live in house of glass, should not throw stones at others.” He then questioned allegations of “Abu Obeida” saying: “The Lebanese spoke of the Iranian Intelligence. If that is true, why did he go to ISIS through the road used by the intelligence? How was he able to move freely in Tehran streets?” He then addressed ISIS asking them to issue a Fatwa against “your comrade who came to you through the channels of the Iranian Intelligence willingly, then give us a Fatwa on “The Lebanese” who met with the Iranian Intelligence before he fled away to you.”

Al-Khorasani aimed to increase the doubts regarding ISIS because they are welcoming supporters through the deal between al-Qaeda and Iran. Al-Khorasani issued the problematic nature of the past of “Abu Obeida”. He claimed that “The Lebanese” is a former member of an organization supported by Iran and before joining al-Qaeda he concealed that fact. He also said that after giving his testimonies to al-Bina’a, “Abu Obeida” left ISIS due to disagreements with al-Baghdadi’s men.

Al-Qaeda in Iran is mentioned on the U.S. list of terrorist groups which only means that the statement of “The Lebanese” has been verified by an independent source (the US government). Since July 2010, U.S. Treasury has been targeting al-Qaeda network in Iran through a series of sanctions imposed on its main leaders. On July 28, 2010, U.S. Treasury named six members of the network including its extremist supervisor “The Syrian Yasin”. The State named “The Syrian” as one of the prominent leaders in al-Qaeda who lives in Tehran for the facilities provided to the organization.

The strange thing about the deal “Iran – al-Qaeda” is that they are on opposing sides in Syria. Yet, according to the U.S. government, al-Qaeda leaders are using Iran to send money and fighters from Turkey to Syria. Those members would then instantly join al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda official branch in Syria.

Al-Nusra is fighting to topple the Syrian regime and al-Qaeda is fighting Iranian Forces and appointed members (like Hezbollah) in Syria.

This raises an important question: Why would Iran allow al-Qaeda to continue its work through its network even though both are at war?

During one of his testimonies, “The Lebanese Abu Obeida” answers that saying: “it might be strange to say that Iran allowed fighters to pass to Syria even though they are fighting her army and militias. But this is the truth. Iran’s biggest fear is for these operations to happen on Iranian ground.” He then added, “Iran guaranteed the loyalty of al-Qaeda by hosting most of its leaders like Ateyyah Abdul Rahman who was allowed to travel freely. He was Osama bin Laden’s Chief of Staff who was killed in a drone in August 2011.”

U.S. Treasury mentioned weeks ago that Abdul Rahman was killed and was al-Qaeda envoy in Iran which allowed him to travel to Iran with permission from officials.

“The Lebanese” said that other members like “Seif al-Adel” and “Abu Mohammed al-Masri” are in Iran. In 2015, Iran swapped those two with an Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Yemen. “The Lebanese” said that some al-Qaeda officials consider Iran an ally in their war against U.S. as Iran uses them to double the pressure on U.S. and its allies in the Gulf.

In his testimonies, “The Lebanese” speaks of al-Qaeda’s rejection for ISIS’ approach and the role of Ayman al-Zawahiri, whether in Iran or Syria and the deep disagreements between branches of al-Qaeda and branches of ISIS.

It is important to interpret the role of Iran in the relationship with al-Qaeda and sending fighters to Syria. There may be many goals, but the clearest one is to extend the duration of war in Syria and destroy the Syrian opposition.