U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that the Al Qaeda terror group’s number two leader died in Tehran in August. He added that the terror group replanted its roots in Iran, with the Iranian government giving the terrorist group sanctuary since at least 2015.
Pompeo began his speech by confirming the death of Al Qaeda’s second in command, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, in Tehran in August 2020. Pompeo’s remarks served as the first U.S. confirmation of Al-Masri’s death since reports of his death first circulated in November.
“Many of you here may recognize the name Muhammad al-Masri, also known as Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah,” Pompeo said in remarks to the National Press Club on Tuesday. “He was Al Qaeda’s worldwide number two and on the FBI’s most-wanted list for slaughtering members of our State Department family in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings of 1998. More than 200 people, including 12 Americans lost their lives in those attacks.
“The New York Times reported in November that Al-Masri was shot to death in the streets of Tehran. Today I can confirm for the first time his death on August 7 of last year.
Pompeo then went on to address Al-Masri’s last known location.
“The New York Times wrote ‘that he had been living in Iran was surprising, because Iran and Al Qaeda are bitter enemies,” Pompeo said. “They could not be more wrong. It wasn’t surprising at all, and more importantly, they are not enemies. Al-Masri’s presence in Iran points to the reason that we’re here today.”
Pompeo then announced Al Qaeda had established Iran as its new base of operations.
“As a result [of Al Qaeda moving to Iran], [Osama] Bin Laden’s wicked creation is poised to gain strength and capabilities,” Pompeo said. “We ignore this Iran-Al Qaeda nexus at our own peril.”
Pompeo said U.S. efforts to pursue Al Qaeda put the terrorist organization “on the ropes,” and that Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan was weakened. Pompeo said the pressure on Al Qaeda drove them to find a new safe haven in Iran.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran was the perfect choice,” Pompeo said. “Al Qaeda has in fact carried on a relationship to Iran for nearly three decades.”
Pompeo further stated that U.S. special forces troops who took part in the raid to kill Bin Laden recovered a letter signed by Bin Laden himself, in which he described Iran as “our main artery for funds, personnel and communication. There is no need to fight with Iran unless you are forced to.”
In an accompanying State Department statement, Pompeo further said the Iranian government “gives sanctuary to the terror group’s senior leaders as they plan attacks against America and our allies” and since 2015 has allowed Al Qaeda leadership inside Iran to freely communicate with its members, plan and authorize attacks, and organize fundraising and propaganda.
During his remarks, Pompeo said the change in Iran’s relationship with Al Qaeda came as it was negotiating with the U.S. on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
The warning about Iran’s links with Al Qaeda could serve to dissuade Joe Biden’s administration from returning the U.S. to the Iran deal, after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from it in 2018.
Pompeo said in 2016 the State Department identified and sanctioned three senior Al Qaeda operatives living in Iran and noted that Iran had knowingly permitted Al Qaeda members, including several of the 9/11 hijackers, to travel through Iran on their way to Afghanistan for training and operational planning.
Pompeo also announced the U.S. designations of Iran-based Al Qaeda leaders Muhammad Abbatay, aka Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-‘Arif, Isma’il Fu’ad Rasul Ahmed, Fuad Ahmad Nuri Ali al-Shakhan, and Niamat Hama Rahim Hama Sharif as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
Pompeo identified Al-Maghrebi and Al-Arif as Iran-based Al Qaeda leaders, while Ahmed, Al-Shakhan and Sharif are leaders of the Al Qaeda Kurdish Battalions (AQKB), an Al Qaeda-linked group that operates on the border between Iran and Iraq.
“Today, we are drawing attention to the nature of the Iran-Al Qaeda relationship and are taking the actions necessary to crush Al Qaeda and its links to Iran,” Pompeo said. “We urge all nations to do the same.”