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
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
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
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
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
Brian Fishman’s The Master Plan provides a comprehensive history of the Islamic State’s (IS) strategic evolution, covering the personalities and events that shaped one of the most feared terrorist-insurgent groups that has ever existed. Eminently readable, in places even amusing—no small feat in a book about IS—Fishman flips with ease between the overview and the granular to demonstrate his points, using new sources that will allow as much supplementary research as a reader could wish for, and ties it together in a narrative that will be of use to both specialists and generalists. Continue reading
Originally published at The International Business Times
Fifteen years on from the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on the US, al-Qaeda is better-positioned than ever before. Its leadership held, and it has rebuilt a presence in Afghanistan. More importantly, al-Qaeda has built powerful regional branches in India, North Africa, Somalia, Yemen and Syria.
Rebranding itself away from the savagery of Iraq, al-Qaeda has sought to embed itself in local populations by gaining popular legitimacy to shield itself from retribution if, or when, it launches terrorist strikes in the West. This is proceeding apace, above all because of a failure to assist the mainstream opposition in Syria, sections of which were forced into interdependency with al-Qaeda to resist the strategy of massacre and expulsion conducted by the Assad regime. Continue reading