The relationship between Iran and al-Qaida has become strained over the past year, in part due to the Syrian civil war, The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing US officials and terrorism experts.
Iran has publicly backed and provided financial and military support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while al-Qaida-affiliated groups are among the chief armed opposition to Damascus.
The Post quoted US officials and experts as describing a distrustful relationship between the Sunni terror group and the Shi'ite leadership of Iran.
According to the report, the terrorist group has long been given sanctuary in Iran, however three prominent al-Qaida figures have left the country in the last year.
Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, was detained by US authorities in Jordan after having been expelled from Iran. He is currently on trial in New York for conspiring to kill Americans.
The Islamic Republic and Iran still cooperate, however, with Iranian territory serving al-Qaida operatives moving to and from South Asia, The Post quoted David S. Cohen, the US Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence as saying.
Following the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, Iran allowed several prominent al-Qaida figures refuge in the country, but the case of Abu Ghaith appears to show a change in policy, according to the report.
While it was not clear whether the other two al-Qaida figures who left Iran in the past year did so by choice or coercion, Abu Ghaith was expelled in a way that would ensure his capture, according to US officials. Abu Ghaith was not allowed to return to his native Kuwait via Pakistan, but was forced to travel through Turkey and Jordan, where he was detained by US intelligence officials.
“What we’re seeing is a slightly more confrontational al-Qaida policy, suggesting that Iran is becoming more uncomfortable in hosting these guys,” The Post quoted Dan Byman, a counterterrorism expert at the Brookings Institution, as saying.