Commentary Magazine


What Al-Qaeda’s Departure Says About Iran

In the wake of 9/11, when it became clear that the United States would go after al-Qaeda without mercy, several senior al-Qaeda leaders accepted safe-haven in Iran, often staying under regime control in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bases, for example outside of the Caspian Sea town of Chalus. That Iran would cooperate with al-Qaeda is not news, at least not to anyone who read the 9/11 Commission Report. Al-Qaeda might be Sunni and the Islamic Republic Shi’ite, but sometimes hatred of the United States makes strange bedfellows. That Iran became a transit point for the 9/11 hijackers during the administration of Mohammad Khatami is an inconvenient fact that many forget, for it shows that Khatami was either not sincere in his “Dialogue of Civilizations” or simply did not have the policymaking power that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has. In either case, it raises questions about current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s sincerity or power.

At any rate, according to the Washington Post, senior al-Qaeda officials long sheltered by Iran are now leaving that country:

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, dozens of al-Qaeda fighters, including some senior personnel, fled to Iran. It has never been clear how much freedom of movement they enjoyed while in the country, but for some the welcome appears to be over. In the past two years, up to a dozen notable figures have left Iran, and two — Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, accused in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and former spokesman — have subsequently ended up in U.S. custody.

What the Washington Post doesn’t mention is that it is no thanks to Iran (or Turkey, which refused to release Sulaiman Abu Ghaith to U.S. custody) that any al-Qaeda figures have ended up in U.S. custody. If Iran has really reformed and if it really is serious about coming in from the cold, perhaps it behooves the White House or the press corps to ask why Iranian authorities are not handing al-Qaeda figures over to the United States. Let us hope that the reason isn’t that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry haven’t simply neglected to ask for fear of what the answer might be. Regardless, Iran has every reason to hate al-Qaeda, all the more so since Tehran and al-Qaeda are on opposite sides of the Syria fight. That Iran would rather set al-Qaeda leadership free than allow them to face justice in the United States once again reinforces that there has been no significant change in the mindset of Iran’s leaders.

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