“You now have the word’s largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the home base for Al Qaeda,” he said in a speech at the National Press Club. “They are partners in terrorism, partners in hate.”
Pompeo used the speech to confirm that Abu Muhammad al-Masri, described as Al Qaeda’s number-two leader, had been killed in Iran last year.
Al Qaeda’s previous base was in Afghanistan, where it plotted the 9/11 attacks and was eventually ousted after the U.S. invasion in 2001. Pompeo said the relationship with Iran had been in place for nearly three decades and had seen a “sea change” in 2015 with the signing of the Iran nuclear deal.
“Iran decided to allow Al Qaeda to establish a new operational headquarters, on the condition that Al Qaeda operatives inside abide by the regime’s rules governing Al Qaeda’s stay inside the country,” he said.
He alleged that terrorist operatives have been given logistical support in the form of passports and travel documents, have been allowed to fundraise and communicate, and that they have been able to put a new emphasis on plotting attacks
“They have new tools for terror,” he said
He described Iran as the “new Afghanistan” as a hub for Al Qaeda and warned that, in many ways, the situation in Iran is worse than when Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan.
“Al Qaeda today is operating underneath the hard shell of the Iranian regime’s protection,” he said. “America has far less visibility on Al Qaeda’s capabilities and activities now than we did on their activities when they were in Tora Bora or even the mountainous regions of Pakistan.”
He said such an arrangement provides a terror threat in the region and elsewhere and could threaten the Abraham Accords – peace agreements between Israel and nearby Arab countries – by allowing Al Qaeda to blackmail them.
He said it could allow Al Qaeda leaders to increase influence in places like Syria and Somalia, launch attacks on European countries such as France and Germany, and could see a situation where Al Qaeda carries out attacks on Iran’s orders.
“You don’t have to be a former CIA director to see the Iran-Al Qaeda axis as a massive force for evil all over the world,” he said.
As he called for more action, including for the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran, he announced sanctions on Al Qaeda leaders in Iran and a reward of $7 million for one – Muhammad Abbatay.
Iran immediately shot back against the speech, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accusing Pompeo of “pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies.”
“No one is fooled. All 9/11 terrorists came from @SecPompeo’s favorite ME destinations; NONE from Iran,” he said.
The Trump administration has taken a “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran that has seen the U.S. withdrawing from the 2015 Iran deal and reimposing sanctions.
Tensions have been ramped up in recent days amid the one-year anniversary of the U.S.’ killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The incoming Biden administration has indicated it will reengage with the Islamic regime and will seek to reenter the 2015 accord.