US government accuses Iran of harbouring senior Al Qaeda leaders

In its annual terrorism report, the US State Department accused Iran of providing a safe haven for senior Al Qaeda members despite the regime’s public condemnation of the group.

The report, released on Thursday, claimed senior Al Qaeda leaders are currently residing in Iran and “[facilitating] terrorist operations from there”.

It added that Iran remained unwilling to bring those leaders to justice and has refused to publicly identify them.

Today we released the 2020 Country Reports on Terrorism. Amid a challenging and changing threat environment, this report provides an overview of how we are marshaling international counterterrorism efforts.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) December 16, 2021

“Iran has allowed [Al Qaeda] facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling [Al Qaeda] to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria, among other locales,” the State Department said.

John Godfrey, the US acting co-ordinator for counterterrorism, said Iran’s relationship with Al Qaeda is “a reflection” of their foreign policy behaviour.

“The fact that they have enabled that leadership cadre to safely reside in Iran is a reflection of their use of terrorism as an adjunct of their foreign policy goals,” Mr Godfrey said in a call with reporters.

“Iran … continues to support a range of designated terrorist groups in training weapons and equipment. And the fact that this Al Qaeda leadership has to reside there is reflective of that approach.”

The report mentions a number of groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, Saraya Al Mukhtar in Bahrain and Asa’ib Ahl Al Haq in Iraq, as among those that receive Iranian funding and support.

“Iran also provided weapons and support to other militant groups in Iraq and Syria, to the Houthis in Yemen, and to the Taliban in Afghanistan,” the report added.

The report considered Lebanon’s Hezbollah as “Iran’s most dangerous terrorist partner”, estimating that it receives hundreds of millions of dollars from Tehran annually.

It also noted the growing number of countries that have listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, including Australia and Germany.

More generally, the report spoke on growing terrorism activity by ISIS in West Africa and the Sahel.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed to the rising threat from Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremist (Remve) groups, “including those promoting the superiority of the white race”, especially in Europe, a first for the report.

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