Pompeo accuses Iran of being al-Qaeda’s new ‘home base’
WASHINGTON - Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused arch-enemy Iran of serving as a new “home base” for al-Qaeda, surpassing Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Barely a week before US 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 newspaper’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 Tuesday 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.”
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.”
US 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.”
But 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.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected the accusations, saying that Pompeo “is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies.”
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.
But Pompeo, a former CIA chief, said Iran in recent years has let al-Qaeda centralise leadership in Tehran by issuing travel documents and allowing unimpeded fundraising and communication.
US Representative Ted Deutch, who heads the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and terrorism, was sceptical. He said Pompeo presented little proof of his claims and should share any evidence with Congress.
Many experts believe that Tehran has allowed al-Qaeda operatives to stay on its soil — comparatively safe from the US military — as leverage to prevent attacks on Iran.
– Preempting Biden –
Biden is expected to seek a return to diplomacy and has tapped Bill Burns, a respected retired diplomat who led secret negotiations with Iran, as CIA director.
Pompeo in his final days has pushed through a slew of hawkish policies as Trump faces impeachment for inciting a mob to attack the US Capitol.
He has branded Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels as terrorists, defying warnings from aid workers of humanitarian consequences.
On Monday, a Politico reporter spotted Pompeo dining with the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency at a Washington restaurant.
The New York Times last year said that Israeli operatives were believed to be behind the killing in Tehran of al-Qaeda’s number two, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, who was wanted by Washington over the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.