It’s been more than six years since a team of Navy SEALs brought justice to Osama bin Laden in a raid on his Abbottabad compound in Pakistan, and captured a priceless trove of intelligence at the same time. The CIA has begun releasing some of bin Laden’s papers, The Hill reports, but the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has already had an advance review of the material. Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio delve deeply into the new insights that will emerge from this release, with the most significant likely to be the revelation of a partnership between al-Qaeda and Iran that many said was impossible:
One never-before-seen 19-page document contains a senior jihadist’s assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran. The author explains that Iran offered some “Saudi brothers” in al Qaeda “everything they needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.” Iranian intelligence facilitated the travel of some operatives with visas, while sheltering others. Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, an influential ideologue prior to 9/11, helped negotiate a safe haven for his jihadi comrades inside Iran. But the author of the file, who is clearly well-connected, indicates that al Qaeda’s men violated the terms of the agreement and Iran eventually cracked down on the Sunni jihadists’ network, detaining some personnel. Still, the author explains that al Qaeda is not at war with Iran and some of their “interests intersect,” especially when it comes to being an “enemy of America.”
I’m old enough to recall when those who suggested an Iran/IRGC link to al-Qaeda got nothing but laughter. “Radical Sunnis and radical Shi’ites hate each other!” we’d be reminded. “They want to wipe each other out!” Well, it turns out that they hate something more than each other — and that’s the United States. As many of us suspected.
The partnership was not without its ups and downs, of course:
Bin Laden’s files show the two sides have had heated disagreements. There has been hostility between the two. Al Qaeda even penned a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei demanding the release of family members held in Iranian custody. Other files show that al Qaeda kidnapped an Iranian diplomat to exchange for its men and women. Bin Laden himself considered plans to counter Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East, which he viewed as pernicious.
However, bin Laden urged caution when it came to threatening Iran. In a previously released letter, bin Laden described Iran as al Qaeda’s “main artery for funds, personnel, and communication.” And despite their differences, Iran continued to provide crucial support for al Qaeda’s operations.
In a series of designations and other official statements issued since July 2011, the US Treasury and State Departments have repeatedly targeted al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline” inside Iran. Sources familiar with the intelligence used to justify those designations say they are based, in part, on the Abbottabad files. It is likely that still more revelations concerning al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran remain to be found in the cache made available today.
This raises even more questions about Barack Obama’s deal with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, and especially the release of $150 billion in assets to Tehran. By the time of the deal, the US had this information for almost five years. Bin Laden himself had written to his associates about the partnership with Iran being crucial to their operations. And yet Obama and John Kerry never made the ending of their state sponsorship of terrorism an explicit part of the agreement. In fact, Kerry told CNBC at the time that the Obama administration expected that some of the released assets would go to terrorist organizations:
The end of sanctions frees about $100 billion in frozen Iranian funds, but Kerry said Tehran will only have access to roughly $55 billion because much of that money will go toward repaying loans and other long-term commitments. The rest will likely be used to address Iran’s ailing oil operations and other infrastructure that went without maintenance for years, he added.
While there is no evidence that Iran is funneling newly released funds to organizations that the United States considers terrorist groups, Kerry said he believes Iran will eventually continue to support such groups.
At the time, Obama and Kerry were blocking the release of these papers that would have shown that one recipient of Iranian assistance was al-Qaeda — with whom the US was in a declared state of military conflict. Not only did the deal fail to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program — it claims to have stalled it for ten years — but it gave Iran a massive cash infusion for them to fund anti-American operations, including the perpetrators of 9/11.
Joscelyn and Roggio point out a few other nuggets from today’s release. Despite rumors of being cut off in Pakistan, the papers show that bin Laden very much remained in charge of al-Qaeda until the SEALs showed up in Abbottabad. Even the supposedly independent subsidiaries like AQAP and al-Shabaab received direction and advice from bin Laden until the very end. The most notorious satellite, al-Qaeda in Iraq/ISIS, should get a significant review in coming days, especially since one audio biography recovered in the raid puts Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iran prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Today’s release creates a unique opportunity for experts, researchers and journalists to garner a better understanding of al Qaeda.
We hope they will join us in the effort to learn more.
Keep checking back at FDD’s Long War Journal as the files emerge. In the meantime, have some fun with this:
Osama bin Laden had a file called "assss.jpg" on his computer pic.twitter.com/dB88WsOf5L
— Stefan Heck (@boring_as_heck) November 1, 2017