Iran and Al Qaeda’s ‘Operations Chief’
1:46 PM, Aug 25, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
In a column for the Washington Post, David Ignatius discusses the cache of documents captured in Osama bin Laden’s safe house. Ignatius writes:
Ignatius goes on to report:
In July, the Wall Street Journal reported the same details concerning Atiyah, who was described as al Qaeda’s “operations chief.”
Here is one question journalists and intelligence professionals should be asking: What role, if any, does Iran play in Atiyah’s plotting?
In July, the U.S. Treasury Department designated six members of an al Qaeda network based inside Iran. (See here and here for additional reporting on the designation.) Some members of the network are based outside of Iran, but funnel recruits and cash through Iranian soil. The network operates “under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Iranian government.”
One member of this network is Atiyah. Treasury notes that Atiyah is al Qaeda's “overall commander in Pakistan's tribal areas and as of late 2010, the leader of al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan, Pakistan.” The Treasury Department adds: “Rahman was previously appointed by Osama bin Laden to serve as al Qaeda's emissary in Iran, a position which allowed him to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of Iranian officials.”
The Iran-based network is headed by another terrorist, Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil (aka Yasin al Suri). The Treasury Department’s designation notes that “Iranian authorities maintain a relationship with Khalil and have permitted him to operate within Iran's borders since 2005.” Khalil's activities include moving “money and recruits from across the Middle East into Iran, then on to Pakistan,” where they serve senior al Qaeda leaders. According to the Treasury Department, one of the senior al Qaeda leaders Khalil funnels money and recruits to in northern Pakistan is Atiyah.
So, here is what we know about Atiyah and Iran:
Atiyah was planning a terrorist attack against the U.S. that was potentially set to coincide with the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Atiyah worked with and for Osama bin Laden, who oversaw the plot. (We don’t know, however, if this plot ever got off the ground or was just in its initial planning stages.)
Atiyah was appointed al Qaeda’s emissary to Iran and had an explicit deal with the Iranians that allowed him to move in an out the mullahs’ country.
Atiyah is one of the beneficiaries of a deal between the Iranian government and Khalil, who funnels recruits and money from the Gulf States through Iran to Atiyah.
I’ll add one more dot: Atiyah was protected by the Iranian regime for several years after 9/11. He is one of the senior al Qaeda leaders who the Iranians refused to acknowledge holding in custody and was supposedly held under a loose form of “house arrest.”
All of which brings us back to the original question folks should be asking: What role, if any, does Iran play in Atiyah’s plotting?
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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