US says Iran helping Al Qaeda in war zones
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration accused Iran yesterday of entering into a “secret deal’’ with an Al Qaeda offshoot that provides money and recruits for attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Treasury Department designated six members of the unit as terrorists subject to US sanctions.
The announcement was made despite disagreements in the US intelligence community about the extent of direct links between the Iranian government and Al Qaeda, officials said. Most analysts agree there is a murky relationship between the two and at least some cooperation.
But yesterday’s allegations go further. Treasury said its exposure of the clandestine agreement would disrupt Al Qaeda operations by shedding light on Iran’s role as a “critical transit point’’ for money and extremists reaching Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“This network serves as the core pipeline through which Al Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia,’’ a statement said.
Treasury said a branch headed by Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil was operating in Iran with the Tehran government’s blessing, funneling funds collected from across the Arab world to Al Qaeda’s senior leaders in Pakistan. Khalil, the department said, has operated within Iran’s borders for six years.
Also targeted by the sanctions is Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, appointed by Osama bin Laden as Al Qaeda’s envoy in Iran after serving as a commander in Pakistan’s tribal areas. As an emissary, Rahman is allowed to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of government officials, the statement claimed.
The sanctions block any assets the individuals might have held in the United States, and bans Americans from doing any business with them.
No Iranian officials were cited for complicity in terrorism. The others targeted were Umid Muhammadi, described as a key planner for Al Qaeda in Iraq’s attacks; Salim Hasan Khalifa Rashid al-Kuwari and Abdallah Ghanim Mafuz Muslim al-Khawar, Qatar-based financial supporters who’ve allegedly helped extremists travel across the region; and Ali Hassan Ali al-Ajmi, a Kuwait-based fund-raiser for Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
David S. Cohen, Treasury’s point man for terrorism and financial intelligence, said Iran entered a “secret deal with Al Qaeda allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory.’’ He didn’t provide any details of that agreement, but said the sanctions seek to disrupt Al Qaeda’s work in Iraq and deny the terrorist group’s leadership much-needed support.
“Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world today,’’ Cohen said in a statement. “We are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism.’’
The action comes a day after the top US commander for special operations forces said Al Qaeda is bloodied and “nearing its end,’’ even as he warned that the next generation of militants could keep special operations fighting for a decade to come.
Navy SEAL Admiral Eric T. Olson said bin Laden’s killing on May 2 was a near-fatal blow for the organization created by bin Laden and led from his Pakistan hideout. He said the group already had lost steam because of the revolts of the Arab Spring, which proved the Muslim world did not need terrorism to bring down governments, from Tunisia to Egypt.
Treasury’s public allegations against Iran may reflect part of a strategy to expand the pressure on smaller, less well-established offshoots of Al Qaeda as the weakening of the group’s leadership threatens to make its activities more disparate.