When Hamza bin Laden stumbles and falls in line with Iran

While many are aware of Iran’s meddling in Arab affairs, few are familiar with its indirect support for al-Qaeda.
Sunday 08/04/2018
A file picture of Chiheb Esseghaier, one of two suspects accused of plotting with al-Qaeda in Iran to derail a train in Canada.   (AP)
Global outreach. A file picture of Chiheb Esseghaier, accused of plotting with al-Qaeda in Iran to derail a train in Canada. (AP)

Since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed between Iran and the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany, resulting in an influx of cash for the clerical regime, Iran has grown more emboldened than ever, conducting increasingly aggressive activities to expand its influence.

In particular, Iran has ramped up its support for terrorism. While many are aware of Iran’s meddling in Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, few are familiar with Tehran’s indirect support for al-Qaeda, which, though well-documented, is rarely mentioned.

In a March 31 video released by al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab Foundation, Hamza bin Laden, son of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and heir apparent to al-Qaeda’s leadership, resurfaced with a message for would-be jihadists around the world.

Re-emerging as one of the leaders of al-Qaeda, bin Laden said in the message that the best way to contain Iranian threats to the region is to overthrow the Saudi monarchy. He uses anti-Shia sentiment to rally support including inside Saudi Arabia, for the jihadists’ aims.

The message, which first seems to signal antipathy towards Iran, is a covert attempt to assist Tehran at a sensitive time.

Ironically, bin Laden is saying that greater instability and terror in the Arab region will contain Iran. This is nothing but a ludicrous attempt to mask al-Qaeda’s unholy alliance with Tehran, which has an expansionist agenda it aims to embolden and empower.

The timing of bin Laden’s message is relevant. By issuing his remarks during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz’s visit to the United States, bin Laden made a desperate attempt to thwart the blooming alliance between Washington and Riyadh.

This again highlights Iran and al-Qaeda’s shared goals: stirring instability, dividing nations and threatening alliances that counter their aims.

This love affair between Iran and al-Qaeda is nothing new. In a March interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” Crown Prince Mohammed noted that “many al-Qaeda operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States.”

“This includes the son of Osama bin Laden, the new leader of al-Qaeda. He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran,” the crown prince said.

Bin Laden’s son, Hamza, lived in Iran for years after the 9/11 attacks, even marrying there, the Long War Journal stated. After being released from Iran in 2010, Hamza bin Laden moved to northern Pakistan, where he received ideological training with the help of the Taliban.

Hamza bin Laden’s whereabouts are unknown but it is possible he has continued to return to Iran over the years.

The murky relations between Iran and al-Qaeda were acknowledged by Osama bin Laden, who, in a 2007 document, referred to Iran as al-Qaeda’s “main artery for funds, personnel and communication.”

There are geographical, political and historical reasons for the unlikely alliance between the Sunni terror organisation and the expansionist Shia entity.

In terms of geography, Iran shares a border with Baluchistan, Pakistan, near where many al-Qaeda fighters and bin Laden family members previously hid.

It is believed that a “reformed al-Qaeda,” which aims to present itself as more restrained, is looking to Hezbollah and Iran’s al-Quds Force as models to replicate.

While many dismissed any connection between Iran and al-Qaeda as exaggerated, evidence revealed by the administration of former US President Barack Obama proved otherwise.

In a July 2017 report, the US State Department said: “Since at least 2009, Iran has allowed (al-Qaeda) facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through the country, enabling (al-Qaeda) to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”

In addition, the US Treasury Department in 2011 designated six al-Qaeda members working for Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a prominent Iran-based al-Qaeda facilitator, as terrorists. The network was “operating under an agreement between the terrorist group and the Iranian regime,” the Treasury Department said.

Then in July 2016, it sanctioned three senior al-Qaeda leaders “located in Iran.” One of them was Faisal Jassim Mohammed al-Amri al-Khalidi (aka Abu Hamza), who served as al-Qaeda’s military commission chief, meaning he was one of the most important figures in the group’s international network.

The Iran-al-Qaeda connection is strategic for both Tehran and the jihadists. They each see the United States and Saudi Arabia as enemies trying to clip their wings and undermine their agendas.

This means that strengthening the military, economic and diplomatic power of the anti-Iran alliance must go hand in hand with global efforts to combat terrorism in the Arab region and beyond. Efforts to ensure stability and preserve global security have a greater chance of success when the threats are dealt with firmly and together.