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
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
I recently wrote about the jihad in Bosnia. This much-neglected aspect of the war in the 1990s was crucial in shaping al-Qaeda, and global jihadism more broadly, providing this movement, and Clerical Iran, with a staging post in Europe, not least because Tehran’s spy-terrorist capabilities had been deployed to bring many of the jihadists into the country and train them in the first place. While Islamist militancy and terrorism were brought to Bosnia largely as imports, their entry was facilitated by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the ruling party to this day. While the war itself trained many jihadist “graduates,” almost all of whom were allowed to stay (or at least received Bosnian passports that gave them that right), the entry of extremist charities/missionaries to lead the rebuilding, many of them bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, entrenched the jihadists and spread their form of Islam in Bosnia after the war. As such, Bosnia became a hospitable operating environment for Islamist recruitment and training and both veterans of the war and people radicalized in Bosnia since have continued to show up in the ranks of international terrorism. It is of interest, therefore, to have an important old case re-emerge in a new way in the last few days, that of Mirsad Bektašević, which again highlighted Bosnia’s importance in the formulation of the infrastructure that underpins the jihadi-Salafist movement, the less-than-clear division between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) when it comes to the European facilitation networks, and the dangers of seeing Iran as a partner in stability. Continue reading
It was announced on Thursday that Guantanamo inmates Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed as-Sawah and Abd al-Aziz Abduh Abdallah Ali as-Suwaydi had been transferred to Bosnia and Montenegro respectively. Sawah’s path to jihadi-Salafism allows a window into the Bosnian jihad, a much-underestimated factor in shaping al-Qaeda, its offshoots, and the wider jihadist movement. In that story is an examination of the role certain States have played in funding and otherwise helping the jihadists. It also leaves some questions about whether emptying Guantanamo of its dangerous inhabitants is the correct policy.