Category Archives: Iran and Sunni jihadis

Gaza is Just One Front in Iran’s Regional War

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 27 May 2021

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system [left] activates over southern Israel against incoming HAMAS rockets [right], 14 May 2021

Naim Qassem, the deputy secretary-general of Hizballah, the Lebanese division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), gave an interesting interview to Hizballah’s Al-Nour radio station on 22 May, explaining IRGC/Hizballah’s vision for what it had achieved with the recent war in Gaza. Qassem added to a large body of evidence about Iran’s extensive role in the war, a lot of it supplied directly by the combatant parties themselves. Not only did the clerical regime in Iran supply the material basis for the Islamists’ war against Israel this month; they provided much of the ideological framework, too. Continue reading

What Can We Learn From Iran’s Foreign Minister?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 3 May 2021

Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, December 2020, during an interview with Lotfullah Najafizada of TOLO News

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Muhammad Javad Zarif, took part in an oral history project intended for internal use by the clerical dictatorship in February and on 25 April the audio was leaked—so goes the story. There is every reason to think this is a controlled leak, which is to say an information operation or a piece of strategic messaging—more pejoratively, propaganda or disinformation: choose the terminology as you will—intended to assist the Iranian theocracy as it works through its negotiations on the nuclear file with the new American administration of President Joe Biden. Still, there are some insights from this episode, as with an interview Zarif gave—focused on Afghanistan—in December. Continue reading

Bosnian General Convicted for Jihadist Crimes

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 24 January 2021

Sakib Mahmuljin [image source]

This week, Bosnia’s war crimes court convicted Sakib Mahmuljin, the General in charge of the state military unit that organised and controlled the foreign jihadi-Salafists, many connected to Al-Qaeda, who came to fight for the Bosnian government during the war in the early 1990s. Mahmuljin’s conviction for overseeing torture and murder by the jihadists highlights an aspect of the Bosnian war that is often left out of accounts. Continue reading

The Jihad Factor in Bosnia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 January 2021

Last week, as one of his last acts in office, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech about Iran’s collaboration with Al-Qaeda. It was unfortunate that Pompeo did this at this time and in this way, with such blatant political intent, because the factual content of Pompeo’s speech was unassailable: the Islamic Republic’s long relationship with Al-Qaeda does stretch back about three decades, the killing of Al-Qaeda’s deputy Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Abu Muhammad al-Masri) in Tehran in August 2020 is demonstrative of a shift in the strategic positioning of the organisation away from Pakistan to Iran, and even the part of Pompeo’s speech that got the most pushback—about Tehran’s contact with the 9/11 killers—is not controversial and is not new.

Unmentioned in Pompeo’s speech was one of the crucibles that forged this relationship, and forged Al-Qaeda into something more than a regional menace, namely the Bosnian war of 1992-5. Continue reading

The Death of Al-Qaeda’s Leaders and the Iran Factor

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 November 2020

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Abu Muhammad al-Masri) and Ayman al-Zawahiri. // Image sources: FBI, AFP

Credible reports over the last few days indicate that Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is dead, and there are even clearer reports that two of his most senior deputies have been killed. The terrorist network itself, however, will survive. Al-Qaeda has, in the last ten years, survived the killing of its charismatic founder Usama bin Laden, the upheaval of the “Arab spring”, and the rise of the Islamic State (IS)—all of them greater challenges than whatever short-term turbulence might attend the succession process. Continue reading

Iran Admits Collaborating with Al-Qaeda in Bosnia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 5 February 2020

The Mujahideen Battalion (El-Mudžahid) in Bosnia in the early 1990s [image source]

The clerical regime in Iran established a relationship with Al-Qaeda shortly after its foundation thirty years ago. One of Tehran’s and Al-Qaeda’s first joint projects was in Bosnia during the war (1992-5), where Iran helped to make Al-Qaeda a truly global phenomenon—with a foothold in Europe. For various reasons—some well-intended, some not—this fact has been either unknown or (shall we say) “controversial” in the West in the decades since. It is, therefore, important to note that there have been several recent revelations from in and around the Iranian regime itself that confirm the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the Balkans in the early 1990s. Continue reading

Examining Iran’s Long Relationship with Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 26 October 2018

At the beginning of September, New America published a paper, based on recovered al-Qaeda documents, which concluded that there was “no evidence of cooperation” between the terrorist group and the Islamic Republic of Iran. New America’s study lauds itself for taking an approach that “avoids much of the challenge of politicization” in the discussion of Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda. This is, to put it mildly, questionable.

A narrative gained currency in certain parts of the foreign policy community during the days of the Iraq war, and gained traction since the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in 2014, that Iran can be a partner in the region, at least against (Sunni) terrorism, since Tehran shares this goal with the West. Under President Barack Obama, this notion became policy: the US moved to bring Iran’s revolutionary government in from the cold, to integrate it into the international system. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda Letter on Relations with the Islamic State and Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 5 February 2018

Usama bin Ladin in an al-Qaeda video (image source: CNN)

A letter released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on 20 May 2015, the “Letter to Abu Abdallah al-Hajj”, was written by an al-Qaeda leader on 17 December 2007. The letter, reproduced below with some editions in transliteration and some important sections highlighted bold, is interesting for several reasons. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda Instructs the Islamic State’s Predecessor Not to Attack Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 November 2017

Usama bin Ladin, Qassem Sulaymani

Among the documents recovered from Usama bin Ladin’s compound in Abbottabad was the “Letter to Karim”, dated 18 October 2007. The letter was released in 2015 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). “Karim” likely refers to Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), the leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM), the predecessor organization to the Islamic State, after the group’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), was killed in June 2006. The letter is reproduced below with some interesting details highlighted in bold. Continue reading

Islamic State’s Attack in Iran Was a Bid For the Mantle of ‘Protector of the Sunnis’

Published at The Telegraph

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 June 2017

Armed terrorists stormed the Iranian parliament complex in Tehran (CREDIT: OMID VAHABZADEH/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

In its choice of target and timing, ISIL has shown, once again, its skill in exploiting the rivalries of its enemies—setting them against one another to buy itself greater room for manoeuvre. Continue reading