(New York, N.Y.) — On Sunday, President Joe Biden ordered an attack that killed Ayman al-Zawahiri – a co-founder of al-Qaeda, key plotter of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and successor to Osama bin Laden. Throughout the 1990s, Zawahiri was a frequent guest in Iran of Ali Fallahian, Iran's then-Minister of Intelligence, and Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s current Interior Minister. Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Vahidi reportedly provided "safe harbor for some al-Qaeda leaders who were trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora" following negotiations with Zawahiri.
Key members of al-Qaeda's operational structure came to reside in Iran at various points thereafter, including Saif al-Adel, now regarded as a potential successor to Zawahiri. Many other infamous al-Qaeda figures, including Hamza bin Laden, Saad bin Laden, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also spent time in Iran. From its Iranian safe haven, al-Qaeda planned terrorist operations that killed dozens of people – including Americans – and from Iran, al-Adel helped relay orders from Zawahiri to Tanzim Qaedat fi al-Jazeeratul Arab (the Al-Qaeda Organization on the Arabian Peninsula).
Nominally, Iran held these al-Qaeda operatives under "house arrest," but in reality, al-Qaeda was using Iran as a base of operations under the protection of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force – itself a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization since 2019. According to a European intelligence analyst, "The [Quds] Force's senior leaders have longstanding ties to al-Qaeda, and since the fall of Afghanistan, have provided some al-Qaeda leaders with travel documents and safe haven."
By providing al-Qaeda operatives such sanctuary, Iran has been in direct violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1390, which prohibits the harboring of al-Qaeda members.
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