Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Iran has reportedly been instrumental in hiding terrorists and helping them to rebuild their networks, leading to the creation of the Islamic State. This information complicates the narrative pushed by the Obama administration that Tehran and Washington share mutual regional interests in defeating ISIS.

Iran provided shelter and protection to the founder and former commander of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the predecessor to the Islamic State (ISIS) terror organization, which rose to power due in large part to Tehran’s support, the Free Beacon reports, citing multiple intelligence reports and outside experts.

AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a notorious terrorists who was on the US wanted list for many years, was given protection by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGS). Iran provided him with resources to rebuild the infrastructure that enabled ISIS to take over much of western Iraq, according to these reports.

Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda founder al-Zarqawi has been well documented by US intelligence. It complicates the narrative pushed by Obama administration officials that Iran and the US share mutual regional interests in defeating ISIS, the Beacon points out.

State Department officials have argued in recent weeks that Iran and the US have a “shared interest” due to Tehran’s ethnic ties to the Shiite-led Iraqi government. Tehran, they say, is ideologically opposed to ISIS because it is a Sunni extremist group once affiliated with al-Qaeda.

However, Iran has a long and complicated history of partnering with al-Qaeda, particularly in Iraq, and helping to rebuild the terror infrastructure that would eventually allow ISIS to gain strength, the Beacon reports.

“Depictions of Iran as a source of stability are therefore erroneous and short-sighted, as are assertions that increased Iranian involvement in Iraq will serve American and Iraqi interests,” the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) warned in a recent press statement.

Terrorists Flee from US Troops to Iran

Iran’s support for AQI began in the months following the 9/11 terror attacks.

When the US began Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, took shelter in lawless areas of Pakistan. However, many other senior leaders, including al-Zarqawi, made their way to Iran, which provided the terrorists with protection.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

A US soldier at a press conference in Baghdad stands next to a photo purporting to show the body of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. (AP/Khalid Mohammed)

“Zarqawi initially operated under the protection of the IRGC and its elite Quds Brigade,” according to a report published by UANI. “According to intelligence officials, the time Zarqawi spent in Iran was crucial for rebuilding his network before relocating to Iraq.”

Prior to 9/11, al- Zarqawi ran jihadist training camps in Afghanistan. New recruits were often given passage via Iran on their way to Afghanistan.

Senior al Qaeda officials have spoken of relocating members of the terror group, including al Zarqawi, and their families to Iran following the 9/11 attacks, according to information provided by terrorism analyst Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

“There is evidence that Zarqawi operated from within Iran for a time as well,” Joscelyn explained to the Beacon via email. “Both German and Italian authorities discovered evidence that Zarqawi communicated with his followers from Iranian soil.”

During the time when US forces were first entering Afghanistan, al-Zarqawi hid in Iran and was given free rein to travel the country, according to leaked German intelligence reports later included in a 2007 report by the Claremont Institute.

“After the invasion of Afghanistan, al-Zarqawi spent crucial months inside Iran rebuilding his network under the protection of the IRGC, the Iranian regime’s most loyal servants,” according to the Claremont report. “Al-Zarqawi traveled under numerous aliases, but some of these were grafted onto real Iranian passports—a possible indication that the Iranians had procured the documents for him.”

Other top al-Qaeda leaders also took refuge in Iran, including senior security officials and bin Laden’s son.

Al-Zarqawi spent his time in Iran working to rebuild al-Qaeda’s operation in Iraq and went to head the organization there before it became ISIS.

With Iran’s IRGC providing logistical support, al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda officials rebuilt safe houses and their financial networks, enabling the group to reassemble the fractured terror network as the US fought in Afghanistan.

“While the Iranian regime eventually succumbed to US pressure, forcing Zarqawi to leave Iran and arresting many of his personnel, the damage had already been done,” UANI notes in its intelligence report. “Zarqawi’s network was already rebuilt, even though the Iranian authorities could have prevented such an outcome at any time.”

Ignoring Differences to Fight a Common Enemy

Though Iran is a Shiite-dominated nation and al-Qaeda is Sunni, these fractious ethnic divides did not stop them from working together to foment chaos in the region, according to the Claremont report, which cites German intelligence briefs. These sectarian differences are the cause of war in other parts of the Middle East.

“Al-Zarqawi is known for his rabid anti-Shiite beliefs. In jihadist circles, he was known as one of the most virulent Salafists, who believed that all Shiites were nothing more than heretical dogs,” Claremont reported. “Yet his hate did not stop him from accepting Iran’s help, nor did it stop the mullahs from offering it.”

Despite these ethnic divides, “the notion that Shiite Iran would help Sunni jihadists was not farfetched, even if it seemed to defy the conventional wisdom in Western capitals,” the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) noted in a recent intelligence brief.

Iran eventually permitted al-Zarqawi to reenter Iraq, where he was integral to al-Qaeda’s network there until killed by a US strike in 2006.

Iran’s support for AQI continued well after al-Zarqawi’s death.

Current ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who succeeded al-Zarqawi, has benefited from Iran’s support for the organization, which includes fundraising.

Iran was cited in June 2008 for facilitating the passage of grenade launchers and bomb-making material to Iraqi insurgents. Similar reports of Iran arming Iraqi insurgents and attempting to destabilize the government emerged in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

By: United with Israel Staff

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