US secretary of state Mike Pompeo speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, US, January 12 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW HARNIK
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, US, January 12 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW HARNIK

Washington — US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, without providing hard evidence, that al-Qaeda has established a new home base in Iran and the US has fewer options in dealing with the group now it is “burrowed inside” that country.

With just eight days left in office for President Donald Trump, Pompeo alleged that Iran has given safe haven to al-Qaeda leaders and support for the group, despite some scepticism within the intelligence community and Congress.

The New York Times reported in November that al-Qaida’s Abu Muhammad al-Masri, accused of helping mastermind the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa, was gunned down by Israeli operatives in Iran. Iran denied the report, saying there were no al-Qaeda “terrorists” on its soil.

Pompeo told a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington that he was announcing publicly, for the first time, that al-Masri died on August 7 2020.

Pompeo said his presence in Iran was no surprise, and added: “Al-Masri’s presence inside Iran points to the reason we’re here today ... Al-Qaeda has a new home base: it is the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

On Twitter, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed Pompeo’s accusations as “warmongering lies”.

Iran has been a target throughout the Trump administration and Pompeo has sought to further ratchet up pressure on Iran in recent weeks with more sanctions and heated rhetoric.

Advisers to president-elect Joe Biden believe the Trump administration is trying to make it harder for him to re-engage with Iran and seek to rejoin an international deal on Iran’s nuclear programme once he takes office on January 20.

Pompeo said he was imposing sanctions on Iran-based al-Qaeda leaders and three leaders of al-Qaeda Kurdish battalions. He also announced a reward of up to $7m under for information leading to location or identification of Iran-based al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Abbatay — also known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi.

Pompeo has accused Iran of links to al-Qaeda in the past but has not provided concrete evidence.

Earlier accusations by the George Bush administration of Iranian links to al-Qaida’s September 11 2001, attacks on the US have been discredited. But reports have surfaced over the years of al-Qaeda operatives hiding out in Iran.

A former senior US intelligence official with direct knowledge of the issue said the Iranians have never been friendly with al-Qaeda before or after the September 11 attacks and any claims of current co-operation should be viewed warily.

Shi’ite Iran and al-Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim group, have long been sectarian foes.

Relations between Tehran and Washington have deteriorated since 2018 when Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which imposed strict curbs on its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions.


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