Al Qaeda Leadership in Iran?!

The National Intelligence Estimate reportedly finds that the Salafist Sunni terrorist group al Qaeda has been reconstituted in Shiite theocracy of Iran.

One of two known Al Qaeda leadership councils meets regularly in eastern Iran, where the American intelligence community believes dozens of senior Al Qaeda leaders have reconstituted a good part of the terror conglomerate’s senior leadership structure. That is a consensus judgment from a final working draft of a new National Intelligence Estimate, titled “The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland,” on the organization that attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The estimate, which represents the opinion of America’s intelligence agencies, is now finished, and unclassified conclusions will be shared today with the public.

[…]

The judgment that Iran has hosted Al Qaeda’s senior leadership council is likely to draw some criticism from those outside the government who doubt Iran plays a significant role in bolstering Sunni jihadist terrorism. Iran’s Shiite Muslims are considered infidels by the Salafi sect of Sunnis that comprise Al Qaeda.

While there is little disagreement that a branch of Al Qaeda’s leadership operates in Iran, the intelligence community diverges on the extent to which the hosting of the senior leaders represents a policy of the regime in Tehran or the rogue actions of Iran’s Quds Force, the terrorist support units that report directly to Iran’s supreme leader.

While Sunni and Shiite terrorist groups have worked together in Iraq and elsewhere under the age-old concept that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” this one may be a bit hard to swallow. Still, as Noah Pollak points out, the Iranian regime has been quite flexible in this regard:

It is long past time that one important piece of fantastical rubbish be finally sent on its way: this is the idea that Islamists maintain some kind of fastidious ethnic and theological separatism when it comes to who they’re willing to work with on killing people. The co-option of Hamas and Islamic Jihad (Sunni Arab) by Iran (Shia Persian) is one piece of reality that intrudes on this comforting notion; so is the Iran-Syria alliance, along with the reality of Iranian support for both Shia and Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

We’ll see. The American intelligence community has taken enough hits the last few years that many will naturally view their findings with a great deal of skepticism.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Cernig says:

    Eli “now finish the war against the arabs” Lake? And you questioned the sourcing of a Guardian report only yesterday? I notice that none of the other sneak-peaks at the NIE are mentioning this.

    Regards, C

  2. Triumph says:

    Uhh…Why don’t we ever hear about SAUDI ARABIA?!?!

    Given the fact that most of the foreign fighters captured in Iraq are from Saudi, maybe we should start putting pressure on the Wacky Whabbis who are the main supporters of Al Qaeda?!?

  3. Michael says:

    It is long past time that one important piece of fantastical rubbish be finally sent on its way: this is the idea that Islamists maintain some kind of fastidious ethnic and theological separatism when it comes to who they’re willing to work with on killing people.

    The Iranians, contrary to some people’s beliefs, are not fanatical Islamists. Al Qaeda may be willing to work with Iran, but I doubt Iran would have any interest in working with Al Qaeda. They don’t have the same goals, operating procedures, or even enemies. On top of all that. Iran couldn’t trust Al Qaeda, because they’d be as much a target in the future as the USA is now.

    The co-option of Hamas and Islamic Jihad (Sunni Arab) by Iran (Shia Persian) is one piece of reality that intrudes on this comforting notion;

    Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad want to overthrow the government of other Islamic states, they pose no threat to Iran’s government and provide a popular propaganda tool. Al Qaeda on the other hand would just as soon overthrow the Iranian government and Supreme Council.

  4. Andy says:

    Uhh…Why don’t we ever hear about SAUDI ARABIA?!?!

    Given the fact that most of the foreign fighters captured in Iraq are from Saudi, maybe we should start putting pressure on the Wacky Whabbis who are the main supporters of Al Qaeda?!?

    Come now, how is this going to help us start a war with Iran? Let’s get serious.

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    Micheal? you said,
    ******The Iranians, contrary to some people’s beliefs, are not fanatical Islamists. Al Qaeda may be willing to work with Iran, but I doubt Iran would have any interest in working with Al Qaeda. They don’t have the same goals, operating procedures, or even enemies. On top of all that. Iran couldn’t trust Al Qaeda, because they’d be as much a target in the future as the USA is now.
    Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad want to overthrow the government of other Islamic states, they pose no threat to Iran’s government and provide a popular propaganda tool. Al Qaeda on the other hand would just as soon overthrow the Iranian government and Supreme Council.*****

    So Hammas and Islamic Jihad are good terrorists because they only want to destroy Israel? And Iran is not Fanatical Isalmists because of this same position, and Al Qaeda are are bad terrorists because they might turn on the good terrorists?

  6. Cynthia says:

    What is “rubbish”, is the continuous pushing by this pathetic administration of the concept that somehow IRAN is now linked to Al Qaeda.

  7. Michael says:

    G.A.Phillips, how in the world did you read all of that into my post?

    I didn’t say Hamas and Islamic Jihad are good terrorists (there is no such thing anyway), I said that they don’t pose a threat to Iran. You’ll also notice I never mentioned Israel in my post, and was referring only to positions on foreign *Islamic* governments.

    Iran’s goal is to replace western (US) hegemony in the region with their own, Al Qaeda’s goal is to replace governments and institutions with their own. To that end, they are antithetical to each other. Hamas and Islamic Jihad want to replace Israel with an Islamic state, which Iran wants in it’s sphere of influence. To that end, they are compatible.

  8. Cernig says:

    James. re-read the piece with the same eye as you applied to the Guardian report. Eli Lake is sourcing his report on what the classified portion of the NIE says (so no, we won’t see if it says what Lake says it does) on “three American intelligence sources” (not “officials” – they needn’t even be members of the administration so how did they get access to a classified report?) and “an intelligence official sympathetic to the view that it is a matter of Iranian policy to cooperate with Al Qaeda” i.e. someone from Cheney’s office who has already made his mind up.

    Agitprop.

    Co-incidentally, Heritage Foundation insider and blogger Captain Ed will have Lake and some bod from the Heritage Foundation on CQ radio tonight. Smooth.

    Regards, C

  9. Barry says:

    Is the AQ HQ in Iran right next to Saddam’s WMD stockpile? Then we could hit both at once!

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    There have been rumors of this kind since early in 2002. Here’s a sample.

    I honestly don’t get much out of this story. The present Iranian regime is not favorably-disposed to us. They have interests of their own. They’re willing to support other enemies of ours against us. How is any of this earth-shattering?

    Stories of this sort are mostly good for generating complaints that we’re ginning up a war against Iran.

  11. Barry says:

    What always amazes me is that, last I heard, a couple of the major militia/parties in the Iraqi government were formed in Iran. To the extent that Iran is playing games in Iraq, they wouldn’t *need* to play cloak-and-dagger games; they’d use sympathetic parties and militias already in place.

  12. Cernig says:

    Barry, if all the demonization the far right has done on Iran were true, then we would have entirely lost in Iraq and Iran would be the clear victor, having co-opted Shia, Kurds, Sunni and Al Qaeda to their plans. Worse, we would now be spending US lives in Iraq cleaning house on their behalf, so that their most favored proxies won’t have to worry about their least favored proxies getting in the way of doing Iran’s exact bidding.

    And all on Dubya’s watch.

    Regards, C

  13. Barry says:

    Cernig, the frightening thing is that is close to the truth. Iran’s backing the Shiite militias, with the exception of Sadr, whom *we* are fighting. Al Qaida’s actions have led to a horrifying ethnic war, which will be won by the Shiites, further aiding Iran. Again, we are fighting both the Sunni Arab Iraqis (Iran’s enemies) and Al Qaida – both poorly enough that they can still fight on.

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    Michael,

    It was the impression that I got, but I was not saying that’s what you meant, which explains the ?

    but then you respond with,

    *****Iran’s goal is to replace western (US) hegemony in the region with their own, Al Qaeda’s goal is to replace governments and institutions with their own. To that end, they are antithetical to each other. Hamas and Islamic Jihad want to replace Israel with an Islamic state, which Iran wants in it’s sphere of influence. To that end, they are compatible.*****

    replace?

    do you see why now?

    Those are some very soft words for what I see as 4 different banners of the same murder-crazed fanatical true believers and it seemed like the first time you where excusing 3 of them as not so bad,and you seemed to infer that because they were after Israel, which explains my use of the analogy of good and bad.

  15. Marketing says:

    Iran cooperation with Al Qaeda is nothing new. The bipartisan 9-11 Commission Report had extensive coverage of this. Anyone that doubts the connection should just go read it.

    Also, Bill Gertz, Richard Miniter, Ken Timmerman and Curt Weldon have all written books discussing Iranian connections to Al Qaeda…

  16. Cernig says:

    Ken Timmerman? LOL!

  17. Michael says:

    G.A.Phillips, Please keep in mind that I am only talking about what would seem to be in Iran’s best interest, and am not making any statements about which groups or actions are morally right or wrong.

    I would like to point out, though, that while Iran’s interests do not align with our interests, Al Qaeda’s interests do not align with our existance, something I find all together more troubling. For that reason, I would rather we capture Osama Bin Laden instead of Ahmadinejad.