Barbara Slavin writes: Newly released correspondence from Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan contradicts U.S. assertions that al-Qaeda has a close relationship with Iran.
According to a U.S. analysis of letters found in the Abbottabad compound when U.S. Special Forces killed bin Laden a year ago, “the relationship is not one of alliance, but of indirect and unpleasant negotiations over the release of detained jihadis and their families, including members of bin Laden’s family.”
The report by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point, released Thursday, goes on to say that Iran’s detention of some prominent al-Qaeda members who fled Afghanistan after 9-11 “seems to have sparked a campaign of threats, taking hostages and indirect negotiations …that have been drawn out for years and may still be ongoing.”
Iran and the group that became al-Qaeda have had some sort of ties for more than two decades, but the nature of the relationship has been subject to considerable speculation and hype. The newly released documents suggest that the two are largely antagonistic and underline the view that the George W. Bush administration missed what could have been a major opportunity to work with Iran against the Sunni militant group responsible for the 9-11 attacks.
The report also suggests that the Barack Obama administration may have overstated the case when the U.S. Treasury Department designated Iran last July 28 for having a “secret deal with al-Qaeda allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory.”
Iran and al-Qaeda did establish a relationship in the 1990s in Sudan when Khartoum was a terrorist haven. According to the 9/11 Commission, the two reached an “informal agreement to cooperate in providing support — even if only training — for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States.”
Eight of the 10 Arab “muscle hijackers” who took part in the 9-11 attacks entered Afghanistan via Iran between October 2000 and February 2001 but the commission “found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.”
However, after the attacks, Iran turned against al-Qaeda and detained hundreds of Arab fighters fleeing the U.S. war in Afghanistan. According to research I did for my book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies, Iran extradited a number of these detainees to their home countries.
But Iran held on to high-profile detainees including several children of bin Laden and Saif al-Adel, then al-Qaeda’s number three, for insurance against al-Qaeda and as potential bargaining chips. [Continue reading…]