Iran’s Increasingly Dangerous Liaison with Al-Qaeda

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Al Jazeera and other Arabic and Persian media including Asriran carry an interesting news item about members of Osama bin Laden’s family in Iran.

In an interview Abdul Rahman bin Laden, a 30-year-old son of the al-Qaeda leader, claimed:

Eman his sister, one of his stepmothers and five of his brothers have been detained in Tehran since 1997.

He alleged that his sister had managed to escape several weeks ago while on a shopping tour permitted by authorities every six months.

She has since taken refuge in the Saudi Arabian embassy.

Abdul Rahman bin Laden said that he had been unaware whether his relatives were alive until Eman contacted him a month ago. He then told her to go to the Saudi embassy.

He told Al Jazeera that he was concerned for his sister's health and he called on Tehran to release his relatives.

The Al Jazeera story gives the interview an interesting spin, suggesting that Iran was “hosting” and “cooperating” with al-Qaeda. Evidence that Iran has assisted al-Qaeda periodically is not new. The issue was raised in the 9/11 Commission Report as well. Iran certainly has been a conduit for al-Qaeda operatives traveling between the Af-Pak region and the Middle East – although the extent to which Iranian authorities have cooperated either officially or unofficially in that transit remains unclear.

Abdul Rahman bin Laden’s comments appear to bolster conclusions that some Iranian authorities may be attempting to play a dangerous game. Iran’s leaders seem to be holding al-Qaeda fighters and their family members hostage as proverbial “guests of state.” Periodically releasing some of the terrorists to return to the Af-Pak region, Iranian authorities extend a degree of assistance to that militant organization and its ancillaries in causing difficulties there for the U.S. Both actions are likely aimed at keeping al-Qaeda from fermenting trouble in Iran among its minority Sunni Muslim population.

Yet such dirty deeds are proving to be self-defeating, as Tehran is slowly but surely realizing. Iran increasingly has its share of problems generated by militant Sunni Muslims who draw upon al-Qaeda’s ideology and violent techniques – from Jundallah suicide bombers in its southeastern provinces to militants infiltrating madrassas in its southwestern and western regions. All these events give the Shiite mullahs theological fits while bringing death to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

More problematic for the leaders in Tehran and Qom, growing Sunni militancy – which is in part a result of their tolerance of al-Qaeda – now extends to them the specter of chaos that grips nations on Iran’s western and eastern borders.

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