Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the death of al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader and said Iran is al-Qaeda’s “new home base” during a speech at the National Press Club on Tuesday.
“Abu Muhammad al-Masri [was] al-Qaeda’s worldwide No. 2, and on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for slaughtering members of our State Department family in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings of 1998,” Pompeo said. “The New York Times reported in November that he was shot to death on the streets of Tehran. Today, I can confirm publicly to the world for the first time his death on August 7 of last year.”
Pompeo said that despite the Times reporting that Iran and al-Qaeda are “bitter enemies,” it is not true and they are now in fact “partners.”
“They aren’t enemies. Al-Masri’ s presence inside Iran points to the reason I gathered you all here today,” he told the audience of ambassadors and Iran experts. “Al-Qaeda has a new home base: the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Pompeo said after 9/11, the U.S.-led NATO coalition had al-Qaeda on the ropes in Afghanistan, prompting them to seek a “safer haven.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran was the perfect choice,” he said. “After 9/11, hundreds of al-Qaeda terrorists and their families fleeing America’s righteous vengeance took refuge in Iran.”
He said that while Tehran imposed tight restrictions on al-Qaeda operatives inside Iran, “everything changed in 2015,” when the Obama administration was finalizing the Iran nuclear deal. “A sea change was happening within the Iran-al-Qaeda axis,” he said.
He said in information “that is brand new to the public,” Iran decided to allow al-Qaeda to establish a new operational headquarters, on the condition that al-Qaeda operatives inside abide by the regime’s rules governing al-Qaeda’s stay inside the country.
Since 2015, Iran has also given al-Qaeda leaders greater freedom of movement inside Iran. The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the IRGC have provided safe havens and logistical support — like travel documents, ID cards, and passports — that enable al-Qaeda activity.
As a result of this assistance, al-Qaeda has centralized its leadership inside Tehran. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s deputies are there today — and they’re living a normal life. Al-Qaeda terrorists like Sayf al-Adl and the now-dead Abu Muhammad al-Masri have been able to place a new emphasis on plotting attacks.
Tehran has allowed al-Qaeda to fundraise, freely communicate with other al-Qaeda members, and perform many other functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have time and money. They have a range of Iranian support. They have new tools for terror.
The worst state sponsor of terrorism in the world, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is now al-Qaeda’s home base. They are partners in terrorism, partners in hate. This axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations, and to the American homeland itself.
I would say Iran is the new Afghanistan — as the key geographic hub for AQ — but it’s actually worse. Unlike in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda is festering under the hard shell of the Iranian regime’s protection.
Pompeo warned that America has far less visibility on al-Qaeda’s capabilities and activities now than on their activities in Tora Bora or the mountainous regions of Pakistan or Yemen.
“We don’t have the same options today with regard to AQ thugs burrowed inside Iran. And if we did have that option, there’s a much greater risk in executing it,” he said.
He warned that the “Iran-al-Qaeda axis” posed a threat to the entire region and Europe, as well as to the progress of the Trump administration brokered Abraham Accords.
“If al-Qaeda can use terror attacks in the region to blackmail nations from joining the warm peace with Israel, then we risk grinding generational momentum for peace in the Middle East to a halt,” he said.
“As Iran permits al-Qaeda to communicate freely with exponents of hate abroad, countries like France become even more vulnerable to al-Qaeda attacks like the despicable Charlie Hebdo massacre,” he said. “As Iran provides al-Qaeda with travel documents like passports, countries like Germany are ripe to be the site of the re-creation of something like the Hamburg cell, so instrumental in the 9/11 attacks.”
“You don’t have to be a former CIA director to see the Iran-al-Qaeda axis as a massive force for evil all over the world. The time is now for America and all free nations to crush the Iran-al-Qaeda axis,” he said. “Let’s not tolerate Iran giving al-Qaeda a second wind. Let’s not downplay the danger of Sunni-Shia cooperation in terror.”
In a potential message to the incoming Biden administration that seeks to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, he added, “Let’s not lie to the American people about Iranian ‘moderation’ and pretend appeasement will work.”
He called on nations to sanction Iranian entities associated with al-Qaeda under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1267 and announced new U.S. sanctions on Iran-based al-Qaeda leaders Muhammad Abbatay — also known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi — and Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-Arif, as well as the designations of three leaders of the al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions, an al-Qaeda-linked group that operates on the border between Iran and Iraq.
He also announced a reward for up to $7 million under the State Department’s Rewards for Justice for information leading to the location or identification of al-Maghrebi.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has given a new operational headquarters to the terrorist network with more American blood on its hands than any other … people who are plotting fresh atrocities from Tehran as we speak,” he said,
“We cannot ignore this truth. Just as we have done with other horrible regimes, like the one in China, the Trump administration sees the world as it is — not as we wish it to be,” he added.
“We see the true nature of the Iranian regime, and refuse to indulge it. We speak the truth about the nature of the Iran-al-Qaeda relationship, and take action to crush it,” he said. “And we urge all nations to do the same — for the good of our nation, and of the free world.”