U.S. officials, analysts: The Iran-al Qaeda relationship is cracking

Iran’s expulsion of a senior al-Qaeda official appears to signal a crackdown on the terrorist group that has long been granted safe haven within its borders, U.S. officials say.

Iran’s ouster of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a former al-Qaeda spokesman and the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, marked at least the third time in the past year that a prominent al-Qaeda figure has left the country after living for years in a limbo between house guest and home detainee.

U.S. officials and terrorism experts say the tougher stance appears to reflect growing tensions between Iran’s Shiite clerics and the Sunni Muslim terrorist group, particularly over the civil war in Syria, where they are backing opposing sides.

At the same time, Western intelligence agencies see steps by Iran to preserve ties with al-Qaeda by allowing the group to use Iranian territory as a transit route to and from Afghanistan, U.S. officials and analysts say.