WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda’s new base of operations is in Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned on Tuesday, utilizing his final days in workplace to tie collectively two of what he referred to as the world’s best terrorism threats however providing no underlying intelligence as proof.
His conclusions have been shortly tempered, and even contradicted, by some present and former American officers who mentioned there was little new intelligence to recommend that Iran was any form of energetic headquarters, a lot much less a hub the place Al Qaeda’s leaders can direct operations with the assist of the federal government in Tehran.
Mr. Pompeo, who was President Trump’s first C.I.A. director for a 12 months, referred to as Iran “the new Afghanistan” for Qaeda militants. He described the ties between Tehran and Qaeda leaders in a lot starker phrases than what most counterterrorism officers view as a really sophisticated relationship.
“They are partners in terrorism, partners in hate,” Mr. Pompeo instructed an viewers on the National Press Club in Washington, the place he didn’t take questions from journalists afterward.
“The time is now for America and all free nations to crush the Iran-Al Qaeda axis,” he mentioned, crediting the Trump administration for making progress on that entrance.
Mr. Pompeo spoke alternately about Al Qaeda’s “new home base” and a “new operational headquarters” in Tehran, bewildering counterterrorism officers, who mentioned there was no proof for his assertions. Some mentioned his feedback appeared to characterize his personal analytic conclusions, slightly than these of the United States intelligence group.
Mr. Pompeo cited a “sea change” within the ties between Sunni-led Al Qaeda and Shiite Iran after 2015, when he mentioned the clerical authorities in Tehran had allowed the terrorist community’s senior operatives to centralize inside their borders.
He mentioned Iran had given journey paperwork, identification playing cards and passports to Qaeda militants and allowed them to maneuver freely across the nation. He additionally confirmed for the primary time a New York Times report in November that Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who glided by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was assassinated in Tehran in August.
At some level earlier than Mr. al-Masri’s loss of life, the C.I.A. concluded that he and one other senior Qaeda chief in Iran, Saif al-Adl, reorganized Al Qaeda’s world administration construction and positioned a renewed precedence on plotting assaults, in keeping with a senior State Department official who briefed reporters after Mr. Pompeo’s speech. The official wouldn’t give a date or approximate time-frame for the C.I.A. evaluation, saying solely that it had occurred after 2015 and was despatched to the State Department up to now week.
Other American officers who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate intelligence mentioned the affirmation of the al-Masri assassination was the core of any new or particular data that Mr. Pompeo revealed on Tuesday.
But it gave the secretary of state one more platform to criticize Iran — a mainstay of his insurance policies. That prompted swift pushback, together with from Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian international minister, who on Twitter accused Mr. Pompeo of “pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies.”
Much of Mr. Pompeo’s speech, some American officers cautioned, represented an inflated rehash of details about the ties between Al Qaeda and Iran that has lengthy been identified.
“The relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran is far more complicated than the picture laid out by Secretary of State Pompeo,” mentioned Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst on the Soufan Group, a New York-based safety consulting agency.
Mr. Clarke mentioned Mr. Pompeo’s characterizations obfuscated necessary particulars in regards to the variations in ideology, goal preferences and different important elements between Iran and Al Qaeda.
Analysts additionally identified that whilst Mr. Pompeo heralded a brand new daybreak for Al Qaeda, in March he had dismissed Al Qaeda’s significance in arguing why the United States ought to assist a peace cope with the Taliban that referred to as for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
“Al Qaeda is a shadow of its former self,” Mr. Pompeo mentioned then.
It is true that Iran has constantly and unconvincingly denied housing Qaeda officers.
Terrorism consultants have advised that Tehran allowed Qaeda officers to stay in Iran after the assaults of Sept. 11, 2001, as insurance coverage that the group wouldn’t conduct operations within the nation. American counterterrorism officers consider Iran might have allowed them to remain to run operations in opposition to the United States, a standard adversary.
Bahram Ghasemi, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman on the time, mentioned in 2018 that due to Iran’s lengthy, porous border with Afghanistan, some Qaeda members had entered Iran, however they’d been detained and returned to their home nations.
Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden and different members of his household have been freed by Iran in 2011 in trade for an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Pakistan. White House officers mentioned final 12 months that Hamza bin Laden had been killed in a counterterrorism operation within the Afghanistan-Pakistan area.
Mr. al-Masri was one of many few high-ranking members of the group to outlive the American hunt for the perpetrators of 9/11 and different assaults. When he and different Qaeda leaders fled to Iran, they have been initially stored below home arrest.
In 2015, Iran introduced a cope with Al Qaeda through which it launched 5 of the group’s leaders, together with Mr. al-Masri, in trade for an Iranian diplomat who had been kidnapped in Yemen.
In his speech, Mr. Pompeo mentioned surviving deputies to Al Qaeda’s non secular chief, Ayman al-Zawahri, have been “living a normal life” in Tehran. He mentioned the Iranian authorities was permitting Qaeda militants to speak with each other, elevate funds and perform different operational features that have been beforehand carried out from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He introduced new sanctions in opposition to two Iranian-based Qaeda officers — Muhammad Abbatay, who’s also referred to as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, and Sultan Yusuf Hasan — and three leaders of a Kurdish offshoot of Al Qaeda who function on the Iraq-Iran border.
Mr. Pompeo additionally introduced a $7 million reward for data resulting in the arrest of Mr. al-Maghrebi, who’s Mr. Zawahri’s son-in-law. State Department officers wouldn’t touch upon Mr. Zawahri’s whereabouts, together with whether or not he was in Iran.