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Translated Doc Debunks Narrative of Al Qaeda-Iran ‘Alliance’

For many years, major U.S. institutions ranging from the Pentagon to the 9/11 Commission have been pushing the line that Iran secretly cooperated with Al Qaeda both before and after the 9/11 terror attacks. But the evidence for those claims remained either secret or sketchy, and always highly questionable.

In early November, however, the mainstream media claimed to have its “smoking gun”—a CIA document written by an unidentified Al Qaeda official and released in conjunction with 47,000 never-before-seen documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The Associated Press reported [1] that the Al Qaeda document “appears to bolster U.S. claims that Iran supported the extremist network leading up to the September 11 terror attacks.” The Wall Street Journal said [2] the document “provides new insights into Al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran, suggesting a pragmatic alliance that emerged out of shared hatred of the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

NBC News wrote that the document reveals that, “at various points in the relationship… Iran offered Al Qaeda help in the form of ‘money, arms’ and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon in exchange for striking American interests in the Gulf,” implying that Al Qaeda had declined the offer. Former Obama National Security Council spokesman Ned Price, writing for The Atlantic, went even further, asserting [3] that the document includes an account of “a deal with Iranian authorities to host and train Saudi-Al Qaeda members as long as they have agreed to plot against their common enemy, American interests in the Gulf region.”

But none of those media reports were based on any careful reading of the document’s contents. The 19-page Arabic-language document, which was translated in full for TAC, doesn’t support the media narrative of new evidence of Iran-Al Qaeda cooperation, either before or after 9/11, at all. It provides no evidence whatsoever of tangible Iranian assistance to Al Qaeda. On the contrary, it confirms previous evidence that Iranian authorities quickly rounded up those Al Qaeda operatives living in the country when they were able to track them down, and held them in isolation to prevent any further contact with Al Qaeda units outside Iran.

What it shows is that the Al Qaeda operatives were led to believe Iran was friendly to their cause and were quite taken by surprise when their people were arrested in two waves in late 2002. It suggests that Iran had played them, gaining the fighters’ trust while maximizing intelligence regarding Al Qaeda’s presence in Iran. 

Nevertheless, this account, which appears to have been written by a mid-level Al Qaeda cadre in 2007, appears to bolster an internal Al Qaeda narrative that the terror group rejected Iranian blandishments and were wary of what they saw as untrustworthiness on the part of the Iranians. The author asserts the Iranians offered Saudi Al Qaeda members who had entered the country “money and arms, anything they need, and training with Hezbollah in exchange for hitting American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.”

But there is no word about whether any Iranian arms or money were ever actually given to Al Qaeda fighters. And the author acknowledges that the Saudis in question were among those who had been deported during sweeping arrests, casting doubt over whether there was ever any deal in the offing.


The author suggests Al Qaeda rejected Iranian assistance on principle. “We don’t need them,” he insisted. “Thanks to God, we can do without them, and nothing can come from them but evil.”

That theme is obviously important to maintaining organizational identity and morale. But later in the document, the author expresses deep bitterness about what they obviously felt was Iranian double-dealing in 2002 to 2003. “They are ready to play-act,” he writes of the Iranians. “Their religion is lies and keeping quiet. And usually they show what is contrary to what is in their mind…. It is hereditary with them, deep in their character.”

The author recalls that Al Qaeda operatives were ordered to move to Iran in March 2002, three months after they had left Afghanistan for Waziristan or elsewhere in Pakistan (the document, by the way, says nothing of any activity in Iran before 9/11). He acknowledges that most of his cadres entered Iran illegally, although some of them obtained visas from the Iranian consulate in Karachi.

Among the latter was Abu Hafs al Mauritani, an Islamic scholar who was ordered by the leadership shura in Pakistan to seek Iranian permission for Al Qaeda fighters and families to pass through Iran or to stay there for an extended period. He was accompanied by middle and lower-ranking cadres, including some who worked for Abu Musab al Zarqawi. The account clearly suggests that Zarqawi himself had remained in hiding after entering Iran illegally.

Abu Hafs al Mauratani did reach an understanding with Iran, according to the Al Qaeda account, but it had nothing to do with providing arms or money. It was a deal that allowed them to remain for some period or to pass through the country, but only on the condition that they observe very strict security conditions: no meetings, no use of cell phones, no movements that would attract attention. The account attributes those restrictions to Iranian fears of U.S. retribution—which was undoubtedly part of the motivation. But it is clear Iran viewed Al Qaeda as an extremist Salafist security threat to itself as well.

The anonymous Al Qaeda operative’s account is a crucial piece of information in light of the neoconservatives’ insistence that Iran had fully cooperated with Al Qaeda. The document reveals that it was more complicated than that. If Iranian authorities had refused to receive the Abu Hafs group traveling with passport on friendly terms, it would have been far more difficult to gather intelligence on the Al Qaeda figures who they knew had entered illegally and were hiding. With those legal Al Qaeda visitors under surveillance, they have could identify, locate and ultimately round up the hidden Al Qaeda, as well as those who came with passports.

Most of the Al Qaeda visitors, according to the Al Qaeda document, settled in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan Province where the majority of the population are Sunnis and speak Baluchi. They generally violated the security restrictions imposed by the Iranians. They established links with the Baluchis—who he notes were also Salafists—and began holding meetings. Some of them even made direct contact by phone with Salafist militants in Chechnya, where a conflict was rapidly spiraling out of control. Saif al-Adel, one of the leading Al Qaeda figures in Iran at the time, later revealed that the Al Qaeda fighting contingent under Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s command immediately began reorganizing to return to Afghanistan.

The first Iranian campaign to round up Al Qaeda personnel, which the author of the documents says was focused on Zahedan, came in May or June 2002—no more than three months after they have had entered Iran. Those arrested were either jailed or deported to their home countries. The Saudi Foreign Minister praised Iran in August for having transferred 16 Al Qaeda suspects to the Saudi government in June.

In February 2003 Iranian security launched a new wave of arrests. This time they captured three major groups of Al Qaeda operatives in Tehran and Mashad, including Zarqawi and other top leaders in the country, according to the document. Saif al Adel later revealed [4] in a post on a pro-Al Qaeda website in 2005 (reported in the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat), that the Iranians had succeeded in capturing 80 percent of the group associated with Zarqawi, and that it had “caused the failure of 75 percent of our plan.”  

The anonymous author writes that the initial Iran policy was to deport those arrested and that Zarqawi was allowed to go to Iraq (where he plotted attacks on Shia and coalition forces until his death in 2006). But then, he says, the policy suddenly changed and the Iranians stopped deportations, instead opting to keep the Al Qaeda senior leadership in custody—presumably as bargaining chips. Yes, Iran deported 225 Al Qaeda suspects to other countries, including Saudi Arabia, in 2003. But the Al Qaeda leaders were held in Iran, not as bargaining chips, but under tight security to prevent them from communicating with the Al Qaeda networks elsewhere in the region, which Bush administration officials eventually acknowledged. [5]

After the arrests and imprisonment of senior al Qaeda figures, the Al Qaeda leadership became increasingly angry at Iran.  In November 2008, unknown gunmen abducted [6] an Iran consular official in Peshawar, Pakistan, and in July 2013, al Qaeda operatives in Yemen kidnapped an Iranian diplomat. In March 2015, Iran reported [7]ly released five of the senior al Qaeda in prison, including Said al-Adel, in return for the release of the diplomat in Yemen.  In a document taken from the Abbottabad compound and published by West Point’s Counter-Terrorism Center in 2012, a senior Al Qaeda official wrote, [8] “We believe that our efforts, which included escalating a political and media campaign, the threats we made, the kidnapping of their friend the commercial counselor in the Iranian Consulate in Peshawar, and other reasons that scared them based on what they saw (we are capable of), to be among the reasons that led them to expedite (the release of these prisoners).”

There was a time when Iran did view Al Qaeda as an ally.  It was during and immediately after the war of the mujahedin against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. That, of course, was the period when the CIA was backing bin Laden’s efforts as well. But after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in 1996— and especially after Taliban troops killed 11 Iranian diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998—the Iranian view of Al Qaeda changed fundamentally. Since then, Iran has clearly regarded it as an extreme sectarian terrorist organization and its sworn enemy. What has not changed is the determination of the U.S. national security state and the supporters of Israel to maintain the myth of an enduring Iranian support for Al Qaeda.

Gareth Porter is an independent journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of numerous books, including Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Books, 2014).






24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "Translated Doc Debunks Narrative of Al Qaeda-Iran ‘Alliance’"

#1 Comment By Lenny On November 21, 2017 @ 10:38 pm

How much does Iran contribute to this publication?
I get it that the neocons are bad and many pf their worldviews are stupid

But Iran is not our ally either, and is actively undermining our interests

#2 Comment By Donald ( the left leaning one) On November 21, 2017 @ 11:26 pm

Whose interests, Lenny? I never know what people mean when they speak of “our” interests. And that isn’t snark. I don’t know of any interest I have in the US government playing power politics in the Mideast. And do ordinary Americans have the same interests as the Beltway denizens who run foreign policy?

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On November 22, 2017 @ 6:59 am

“But Iran is not our ally either, and is actively undermining our interests.”

Such is the nature of competing agendas. The only real link that Al Queada ha to Iran is the Islamic revolutionary verve that arrived with exiled Ayatollah Khomeini. There may be some other links, but there isn’t much in the way of factual direct links.

Had every opportunity to hold Iran in check by not invading Iraq, destabilizing Libya . . . even after the invasion we ad opportunities, we ignored them. I am not a huge fan of Iran, there’s reasons to hold them suspect, but we can accomplish that without a needless regime change, that will only put smiles om the faces of China and Russia. Until Iraq engages some provocative act, it’s a safe bet we are going to be in cold war mode, at least one hopes.

Because even winning a regime change conflict will not get us the long term win and we don’t have the resources to stay in country, in my view.

#4 Comment By Dieter Heymann On November 22, 2017 @ 7:10 am

Al Qaeda/Taliban in Afghanistan did not need Iranian funding because ObL was their generous paymaster and at that time there was no AQ outside Afghanistan. For those reasons alone I doubt that AQ asked for Iranian funding or that Iran had offered such funding to an armed Sunni group.

#5 Comment By Centralist On November 22, 2017 @ 7:20 am


I think it should be noted most nations are not our allies, it does not automatically make them our foes. If you believe in the Hobbesian Model of the world politics based on “no long term allies, only long term interests”. We support Iran’s greatest rival why would their policies line up with ours. It does not mean we can not work with them when it is to our benefit and does not mean we need to invade to put them in their place. We could I don’t know leave them to their own and see if we stop interfering in other nations if that helps in world opinion of us.

#6 Comment By Kent On November 22, 2017 @ 8:59 am

Comment by Dieter Heymann:

“Al Qaeda/Taliban in Afghanistan did not need Iranian funding because ObL was their generous paymaster and at that time there was no AQ outside Afghanistan.”

Agreed. Iran has absolutely no need to hire Al Qaeda to harm American interests in the region. There any number of radical Shia groups that would happily do the job.

#7 Comment By john On November 22, 2017 @ 10:34 am

What are American “interests” exactly. I am confused by this. It seems to me that Americans are interested in things like baseball and movie stars feeding their families and their health. How does Iran threaten any of these interests?

The American government, military and industrial institutions on the other hand see American, meaning their, interests as more like worldwide domination despite the fact that this is really unlikely to further the interest that actual American humans really have in baseball, feeding their families etc, etc

#8 Comment By John Mann On November 22, 2017 @ 11:57 am

How dare the American Conservative expose inaccuracy, falsehood, error, and misleading reporting?

Do they not realise that it is grossly offensive to people like Lenny to do so?

Not everyone has this dumb obsession with truth that you guys have.

#9 Comment By Captain P On November 22, 2017 @ 1:49 pm

Lenny doesn’t seem to be interested in the story here — that the actual document contradicts the story neocons are telling — and just wants to engage in boilerplate Iran bashing.

The fact that Iran isn’t our ally doesn’t mean we should seek to destroy it. Iran’s neither an ally nor an enemy; we have some shared interests, and some contradictory interests. This is Geopolitics 101.

#10 Comment By Lenny On November 22, 2017 @ 4:44 pm

I get it, many people do not like America’s role in the world
However, if you want to maintain our current advantages, you have to accept our over-sized role in the world’s affair .
Freedom of commerce, the stability of the West among other perks we enjoy, did not come by themselves and will not last if this country retrieved to where Buchanan would like it to be.
The USA became the dominant power it is today because it won a World Wide War and built an alliance and an international order to support that win. Frankly, if you are not with us , you are in a way against us. May be not an enemy, but not a friend either

So yes, we have interests in every corner of this planet. Unless you want to be a citizen of an irrelevant nation, stop pretending otherwise.
Pax Americana has done some good in this world. take credit

#11 Comment By MEOW On November 22, 2017 @ 6:05 pm

Lenny’s comments are from the era of belief in neocons and even that the USS Liberty was a mistake. “We” are not “we” as Lenny & Co. perceives and hopes “we” are. The “we” idea has been shredded to bits by the “I have a bridge I want to sell you” incredibility. Believers are falling away in droves. Still, the “we” folks yield way too much power over our lives and resources. Never has so much disaster been created by so few aka “we.”

#12 Comment By alex sardari On November 22, 2017 @ 6:26 pm

I thank and respect the in dept analysis of Gareth Porter. From day one we all knew that there is sereious animosity between Iran and Alqeda. Specially after killing (beheading) of the Iranian Diplomats in Afghanistan. We and the Saudis trained Alqeda, we provided all of the monies and equipments, we saw what they did before during and after 911. There was no relation between Alqeda, Iran or Alqeda and Saddam. Therefore why certain group are trying so hard to fabricate false evidence. The Wall Street Journal and Atlantic should and those journalist should be punished for falsifying and misleading such important information. I alsmost want to call that an act of Treason because of its potential damage to US.

#13 Comment By rick On November 22, 2017 @ 8:56 pm

I’m wondering if the US would be trying to undermine Iranian interests if Iran was doing in Canada what the US is doing in the ME. Especially if Iran had repeatedly called for regime change in the US. I’m just wondering.

#14 Comment By Bob On November 22, 2017 @ 9:16 pm

If someone can prove Osama Bin Laden was even alive in 2011, let alone be living in Abbottabad, I might be willing to believe the rest of the garbage in this article. When will the US stop with the warmongering? Does the world really need to run by one central bank that badly? Aren’t the globalist oligarchs rich enough yet?

#15 Comment By Thomas Ancrum Moore On November 22, 2017 @ 11:03 pm

Of course once again, the elephant in the room is, you guessed it, our No1 Welfare Queen… She scams billions from hard working Americans, buys our politicians with OUR AID money we send to them, and buys the elections for their friends (the 1s who vote to send your/our extorted tax “gifts” to them.. They kill our soldiers and steal our nuclear secrets to trade with the Russians for favors. They are n more our ally that the highest grossing welfare queen in Ney York City.

Wake up, they own our congress, our judges,our money & Central Bank even our military…

#16 Comment By B. Bagheri On November 23, 2017 @ 3:57 am

To alex sardari: In the US, we don’t punish journalists for inaccuracies or even lies about political affairs.
The proper response is what this publication is doing: point out the inaccuracies or lies and let the public judge.

#17 Comment By Greater Israel On November 23, 2017 @ 6:18 am

“Agreed. Iran has absolutely no need to hire Al Qaeda to harm American interests in the region. There any number of radical Shia groups that would happily do the job.”

Can you believe how twisted this is?

Agreed. The US has absolutely no need to hire Zionists to harm Iranian interests in North America. There any number of radical Evangelical groups that would happily do the job.

The US is so just in its imperial causes in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. that local sects and tribes are painted as the rough aggressors for wanting to have a say in their own countries.

#18 Comment By Stephen J. On November 23, 2017 @ 11:32 am

I believe the war criminals in our midst are determined to start a war with Iran. See link below for more info.
February 4, 2017
Will There Be War With Iran?

#19 Comment By EliteCommInc. On November 23, 2017 @ 11:56 am

“Can you believe how twisted this is?’

I would need more than multiple speculative tangential speculation to agree that there was any real operational activity for 9/11.

However, I have no doubt buying into a contention that there was some relationship as to taking on Pres Hussein, or the Russians in Afghanistan as part of a larger sympathies regarding a war on Islam in general. Those types of connections are easy to make and understand.

#20 Comment By MEOW On November 23, 2017 @ 2:01 pm

Lenny Says The US won WW2
A French lady was chatting with three allied troops just after VE Day. A Brit. A French soldier and a GI. They all tried to impress this attractive lady. The Brit “We stopped the Nazis in the desert and alone in the Battle of Britain.” The Frenchman “No! No! it was our resistance that kept Europe alive…..” The GI “Wait a minute – we did it all. We were everywhere. We won WW2.” The French lady turned and said “Very good English for a Russian.” Of course we all contributed – but it was shared.

#21 Comment By Whine Merchant On November 23, 2017 @ 7:50 pm

I find it interesting that the most vocal “Iran is Satan’s true home” alleged ‘conservatives’ conveniently look the other way when we mention St Ronny’s numerous double-dealings with the Ayatollahs to illegally further his own puppet masters’ agenda [including prolonging the time the hostages were held in Iran]. Ollie North was a criminal, not a hero.

#22 Comment By Youknowho On November 24, 2017 @ 8:44 am

@Whine Merchant.

I am not so ready to blast Ollie North. He carried out the policy, yes, but it was not him who decided it. He deserved better leadership.

“Oh, Dios, que buen vasallo, si hubiese buen senor”

“God, what a good subject, if only he had a good Prince”

As for Iran, I am convinced that the sooner we ally ourselves with them, the sooner we can stop kissing the a*** of the Saudis.

And as for grievances, yes, we do not forget the hostages, but they do not forget that we overthrew Mossadegh and they had to endure years and years of the Shah. I think that their grievance is greater than ours.

And before anyone starts talking about how awful the current regime, two points

1) All those awful things do not erase the years of good governance that substantially raised the standard of living of the population.

2) The Saudis are much worse.

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On November 25, 2017 @ 10:37 pm

“And as for grievances, yes, we do not forget the hostages, but they do not forget that we overthrew Mossadegh and they had to endure years and years of the Shah. I think that their grievance is greater than ours.”

Our involvement was but a surface issue. The coupe was an inside job by the military and established elite. Nothing we did made much difference. It has been convenient fair for Iranians to dash about creaming foul at the US, but in the end, this was a military coupe, one the CIA believed would fail.

What brought matters to a head were the embargo that caused money shortages, and subsequently supply shortages in essentials, bread, food water and medicine.

#24 Comment By Youknowho On November 26, 2017 @ 1:25 pm


Oh, poor innocent CIA, they plot regime change, but when it happens, they had nothing to do with it.

Heard the same argument about the OTHER 9/11, the overthrow of Allende, and the turning over of Chile to the tender mercies of Pinochet.

And the CIA had nothing to do with the overthrow and murder of Lumumba, and turning the Congo over to the tender mercies of Mobutu.

Poor, innocent, CIA, the things they accuse it of.