"Iran has decided to allow al-Qaeda to establish a new operational headquarters, on condition that they abide by the regime's rules governing their stay within the country". The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has thus accused Iran of being the refuge of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the attacks of 11 September.
Pompeo confirmed a news item published by The New York Times last November which he described as "surprising". The article reported the death of Abu Muhammad al-Masri, al-Qaeda's number two, who was shot dead in the streets of Teheran. The outgoing secretary of state furthermore stated that "it was not at all surprising. More importantly, [Iran and al-Qaeda] are not enemies".
"The presence of al-Masri inside Iran is the reason why we are here today. Al-Qaeda has a new base of operations: the Islamic Republic of Iran". Pompeo added that, since 2015, Iran has granted al-Qaeda's leaders greater freedom of movement within the country under its supervision. According to the US State Department, the Iranian authorities "have provided safe havens and logistical support" to the organisation.
Pompeo ended the communiqué by announcing a package of sanctions on several leaders of the Iranian-based terrorist group, including Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-Arif and Muhammad Abbatay, the latter also known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi.
The State Department is offering a $7 million reward for providing information to help locate or identify al-Maghrebi. "We want to bring him to the United States for justice," Pompeo said. Al-Maghrebi has served as the director general of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2012.
The head of the State Department described Iran as "the new Afghanistan", and warned that this partnership is a serious threat to progress on the Abraham agreements, as well as a source of further instability in the Middle East. Pompeo called on the rest of the "free nations" to "crush" the Iranian regime.
Although the chief diplomatic representative of the Trump Administration did not call for direct military action, he recognised that "if we had that option, if we decided to do so, there is a much greater risk in executing it".
The head of Iran's Centre for Public and Media Diplomacy, Saeed Khatibzadeh, attacked Pompeo's statements: "The repetition of such accusations and the use of false documents under the pretext of revealing classified information by the outgoing US Secretary of State just one week before the end of his illegal administration shows the policy of maximum desperate and failed pressure of the United States against Iran".
Javad Zarif, the current Iranian foreign minister, accused Pompeo of fabricating lies about Iran's relations with al-Qaeda in exchange for petrodollars when he was the head of the CIA. Zarif was adamant: "All the terrorists involved in 9/11 were from Mike Pompeo's favourite countries in the Middle East, and none from Iran".
Alireza Miryousefi, minister and head of the Media Office of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, was the last one to join the accusations: "They only reinforce the fact that Trump is desperately continuing with his failed policy of attacking Iran".
Pompeo's comments come a week before the transition of power in the White House. Experts interpret this latest move by the Trump Administration as a strategy to influence President-elect Joe Biden's stated desire to resume negotiations with Iran on the nuclear deal reached by Obama in 2015.
Iran, ruled with an iron hand by Shiites, and al-Qaeda, a predominantly Sunni organisation, are not natural allies in the Islamic world. They have had a tense relationship since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, however, other experts point out that "the Sunni-Shiite divide was never a problem for the Ayatollahs' regime as long as the terrorist group could help it achieve its revolutionary goals".