Analysis from LIGNET.com
The fear is that Iran could help al-Qaeda move beyond the type of “lone-wolf” attacks we’ve seen from al-Qaeda in recent years. Iran could provide the financial, logistical, and operational support that could significantly boost al-Qaeda’s ability to carry out a large-scale event.
At first glance, the idea of al-Qaeda and Iran cooperating may seem odd as al-Qaeda is backed by Sunni Muslims and Iran is controlled by Shia Muslims, two groups that have been in conflict for centuries. It now appears, however, that they have put aside their differences to face a common enemy — the West.
Officials frequently speculated about the relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran, but ties became a matter of public record on July 28, 2011 when the United States formally accused Iran of forging an alliance with al-Qaeda to allow the terrorist group to use Iranian soil as a transit point for moving money, arms and fighters to its bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In testimony before Congress describing how the formal relationship began at least as far back as 2005, David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said: “By exposing Iran’s secret deal with al-Qaeda and allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism.”
While al-Qaeda has been relatively quiet this past year, in large part due to the success of U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts, Iran has taken steps to secure its already well established position as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. In the last week alone, Iran targeted Israeli diplomats in both India and Georgia. Although Iran denied any involvement in those attacks, Tehran was directly implicated in the failed attempt in Thailand after three Iranian terrorists mishandled and accidentally set off explosives. According to Thailand’s National Police Chief Prewpan Dhamapong, and as reported in the Bangkok Post, Thai authorities now “know for certain that the target was Israeli diplomats.”
These terrorist attacks in the past week come on top of a disclosure that Iran was planning to assassinate a foreign dignitary, in this case, the Saudi Ambassador to the United States on American soil, possibly in a crowded restaurant.
Given Iran’s increasingly brazen activity in the past week alone, LIGNET believes there is a credible threat regarding both Iran’s willingness and ability to aid al-Qaeda in carrying out a terrorist attack. It is important to keep in mind that a “spectacular” type of attack as reported in the news can be one that applies to a public event or against a high-profile individual. Put differently, one should not equate “spectacular” with some type of event involving weapons of mass destruction.
With that caveat, though, high-profile events like the Olympics are always potential targets for terrorists, even home-grown ones. Security in London this summer will be on heightened alert for a variety of potential threats, including a terrorist attack.
LIGNET assesses that should al-Qaeda launch an attack, Iran would go to great lengths to distance itself from any involvement for fear of losing backing from its main sponsors diplomatically, namely China and Russia. While there is virtually no doubt about Iran’s involvement in the attacks in India, Georgia and Thailand, those did not include any al-Qaeda fighters. Instead, those attacks were part of Iran’s anti-Israel campaign. In the event that Iran is confronted with evidence of Iranian involvement in these attacks, which is essentially a certainty in the case of Thailand, Tehran likely will try to claim that the perpetrators were rogue elements in Iranian society and that the government had no involvement.
Al-Qaeda’s capability to carry out terrorist attacks has been severely curtailed over the last several years, in large part due to the U.S.-led war on terrorism and counter-terrorism cooperation from other countries. There are still cells operating, however, mostly in Europe, and there are al-Qaeda sympathizers in Africa and elsewhere. Iran’s new willingness to openly conduct activities overseas raises the possibility of additional attacks against Tehran’s enemies. Iran has the means and financing to assist al-Qaeda and has a proven track record of doing so. As open conflict between Iran and the West looms, there is a credible threat that extremist Mullahs in Tehran would assist al-Qaeda at the operational level to target mutual enemies.
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