Iran is new ‘home base’ of Al-Qaeda, alleges Pompeo

WASHINGTON: Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged Tuesday that arch-enemy Iran has become a new “home base” for Al-Qaeda, an assertion mocked by Tehran and questioned by experts.

A week before President-elect Joe Biden takes over, Pompeo confirmed a New York Times report that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command was killed last year in Tehran, although he did not comment on the paper’s reporting that Israel carried out the ambush.

“Al-Qaeda has a new home base. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said in a speech at the National Press Club. “I would say Iran is indeed the new Afghanistan, as the key geographic hub for Al-Qaeda but it’s actually worse.”

“Unlike in Afghanistan, when Al-Qaeda was hiding in the mountains, Al-Qaeda today is operating under the hard shell of the Iranian regime’s protection,” he said.

Pompeo — who has championed sweeping sanctions on Iran and an attack that last year killed its leading general — urged more international pressure, calling the alleged alliance a “massive force for evil all over the world.”

President Donald Trump’s top diplomat stopped short of urging military action, saying: “If we did have that option, if we chose to do that, there’s a much greater risk in executing it.”

He announced sanctions on several individuals and a $7 million reward for information on an Al-Qaeda member he said was believed to be in Iran identified both as Muhammad Abbatay or Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi. Iran is ideologically opposed both to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group and has fought on fronts abroad against both.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Pompeo “is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies.” “No one is fooled,” Zarif wrote, noting that hijackers from the September 11, 2001 attacks came from Pompeo’s “favorite” countries rather than Iran.

Pompeo acknowledged that late Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden himself considered members inside Iran to be “hostages” and that there was no evidence Iran backed the September 11 attacks.

Pompeo said Iran in recent years has let Al-Qaeda centralize leadership in Tehran by issuing travel documents and allowing unimpeded fund-raising and communications.

Pompeo did not address the Islamic State extremist group, which has surpassed Al-Qaeda in much of the world as a major threat and carried out two attacks in Tehran in 2017.

Biden is expected to seek a return to diplomacy and has tapped Bill Burns, a respected retired diplomat who has led secret negotiations with Iran, as CIA director.