One of the more interesting aspects of the WikiLeaks document dump is the persistence of intelligence reports indicating collusion between al Qaeda, al Qaeda-affiliated parties, and Iran. By itself, this should not be surprising. The 9/11 Commission, Clinton-era federal prosecutors, and many others have found evidence of such cooperation. Still, it is widely assumed that such an alliance is impossible due to theological differences between Sunni al Qaeda and the Shiite mullahs.
The WikiLeaks documents demonstrate, once again, that the world does not abide by armchair assumptions. Our terrorist enemies are not mindless automatons. When it comes to confronting their common enemies, collusion is the order of the day.
A sequential sampling of the documents is set forth below. A word of caution is in order: We cannot verify many of these reports. In some cases we simply don’t know if they are true in their entirety or at all. We do not know much about the sources for these reports either, as the sourcing is often either hidden or ambiguous.
Still, the Guardian (UK) thought many of these accounts were worth reporting. Links to documents on the Guardian’s web site are provided throughout. Remember, these are just some of the documents linking Iran to al Qaeda and al Qaeda-affiliated organizations in the WikiLeaks collection.
At least two the intelligence reports point to collaboration on suicide attacks in Afghanistan.
A February 7, 2005 ISAF threat report contains this line: “Iran intel financing TB and HIG.” TB is a reference to the Taliban. HIG is the acronym for the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin terrorist organization, which is headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and is allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban. The report explains:
On 30 January 2005, Iranian Intelligence agencies brought ten million Afghanis (approximately 212,800 USD) from Bir Jahn (CAN), IR to an unknown location on the border of IR and Farah Province, AF. The money was transferred to a 1990’s model white Toyota Corolla station wagon. The money was hidden with various food stuffs. The Corolla was occupied by four members of the Hezb-E-Islami, Gulbuddin (HIG) terrorist organization. The money was transported to an unknown location.
This is not surprising. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar lived in Iran from 1996 until 2002, when he was reportedly asked to leave, and the HIG has long received support from Iran.
An ISAF report dated February 19, 2005 says that a group of Taliban commanders consisting of “eight main leaders, all of whom travel into [Afghanistan] to recruit soldiers” was expected to orchestrate attacks against U.S. forces in the Helmand and Uruzgan provinces. “This Joint Group currently resides in Iran,” the document notes. “The Iranian government has offered each member of the group 100,000 Rupees (1740 USD) for any [Afghan] soldier killed and 200,000 Rupees (3481 USD) for any [Government of Afghanistan] official.”
The report concludes: “These are determined fighters who could care less about the money.”
A September 18, 2005 threat report, based on an “unknown source,” names several Taliban members who met in Mashad, Iran “to discuss plans on conducting attacks against the AF Government.” One of the Taliban members reportedly lives in Mashad as a representative for a more senior Taliban leader. Mashad has long been a way station for al Qaeda and Taliban members traveling to and from Afghanistan.
The Guardian cites a December 2005 ISAF report indicating that North Korea, with Iran probably acting as intermediary, had agreed to sell arms to al Qaeda:
On 19 November 2005, Hezb-e-Islami party leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Dr Amin (NLN) [no last name], Osama bin Laden's financial adviser, both flew to North Korea, departing from an [sic] Iran. They returned to Helmand on approximately 3 December 2005. While in North Korea, the two confirmed a deal with the North Korean government for remote controlled rockets for use against American and coalition aircraft. The deal was closed for an undetermined amount of money. The shipment of said weapons is expected shortly after the new year. Upon return from North Korea, Dr Amin stayed in Helmand and Hekmatyar went to Konar, Nuristan province.
Again, we don’t know if this actually happened. It is, of course, sensational. It would be interesting to see if there is corroborating evidence in the U.S. intelligence community’s files elsewhere.
A June 3, 2006 threat report, based on an unidentified source, says that two Iranian agents have infiltrated Afghanistan under assumed identities. They were tasked with instigating “local AFG people into making propaganda against the AFG governmental authorities and [coalition force] members.” The same report explains:
Also they are helping HIG and TB members in carrying out terrorist attacks against the AFG governmental authorities and the [coalition force] members, especially against the American forces.
An October 20, 2006 threat report reads: “Separately, Iranians have reportedly provided support on the ground by organizing transports for injured people to TEHERAN, Iran.” The context of the report makes it clear that the “injured people” are Taliban members.
A document dated April 22, 2007 says the Afghan government wanted to keep a then recent discovery of Iranian arms quiet because of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s impending trip. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) wants to keep the issue of the Iranian-made weapons recently found in Kandahar under the radar screen in the lead up to the June visit of the Iranian President to Afghanistan.”
This is all too believable as Iranian arms are regularly discovered inside Afghanistan. American military officials have repeatedly said so. The WikiLeaks database contains dozens of references to Iranian arms found by ISAF.
According to one document, not reported on by the Guardian, two American investigators visited the counterterrorism unit within Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry on December 30, 2007. The Afghans had rolled up a four-man terrorist cell a few days earlier after “receiv[ing] information that two suicide bombers were tasked by Taliban/Al-Qaeda leaders to come to LashKarGah City to carry out suicide attacks on high level officials and Coalition forces in the area. “ The Ministry of Interior (MOI) “placed the individuals under observation for several months and located their cache.” The Americans were allowed to inspect the would-be suicide bombers’ explosive vests and, after running some tests, found “a 92% probability of a match against a suspected sample of Iranian C4.”
That is, the suicide vests were almost certainly packed with explosives of Iranian provenance.
A September 2008 threat report derived from HUMINT (human intelligence) notes that seven Arabs and four Iranians had been seen in a village in Herat, Afghanistan. The document reads:
The seven Arabs are tied with AL MANSOUR, one of the OSAMA BIN LADEN Deputies. The Arabs are only in charge to carry out suicide attacks against U.S. and Italian troops or, secondarily, whatever foreigners [sic] personnel. The four Iranians belong to “Intelligence” unit of SEPAH-E-PASDARAN and they are supporting [the group] in the anti-ISAF/GIRoA actions through intelligence and as well coordinating the [group’s] activities.
If this is true, then Iranian intelligence is cooperating with al Qaeda in executing suicide attacks. Interestingly, the September 2008 report is consistent with the December 30, 2007 account because American investigators found strong evidence that Iranian explosives were being used in al Qaeda/Taliban suicide belts.
Look again at the sequence of documents discussed above. Over a span of several years, there were numerous reports of collaboration between Iran and al Qaeda. There are more in the documents released thus far. And there are undoubtedly more in the WikiLeaks files yet to come.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.