Al-Qaeda-Iran tactical alliance laid bare by UN report on terror group’s ‘de-facto leader’ Saif Al-Adel

Special Al-Qaeda-Iran tactical alliance laid bare by UN report on terror group’s ‘de-facto leader’ Saif Al-Adel
This combo image shows an FBI photo of Saif Al-Adel, who is wanted in connection with the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya (top left), Al-Adel at an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2000 (above), and the terror suspect photographed in Tehran in 2012 (lower left). (Supplied, Getty Images)
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Updated 25 February 2023

Al-Qaeda-Iran tactical alliance laid bare by UN report on terror group’s ‘de-facto leader’ Saif Al-Adel

Al-Qaeda-Iran tactical alliance laid bare by UN report on terror group’s ‘de-facto leader’ Saif Al-Adel
  • Report says former colonel in Egyptian special forces had a direct role in numerous deadly plots
  • Regime rejects charge, claims the “misinformation” could “potentially hinder efforts to combat terrorism”

WASHINGTON: For two decades, the entire world was under threat from an insidious group, which at its peak claimed the lives of thousands through a series of bombings and attacks, including the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which to this day remains the deadliest terror attack in history.

Al-Qaeda, once among the top terror threats in the world, has largely faded from relevance in recent years, with the last attack for which it claimed responsibility being a 2019 shooting at a naval air station in Florida that killed three and injured eight.

With its founder and leader Osama bin Laden shot to death in a US raid in Pakistan in 2011, his successor Ayman Al-Zawahiri killed by a US drone strike in Afghanistan last year, and multiple other senior leaders hunted down and arrested or slain, it seemed there was nowhere left for the group to hide.

Combo image showing Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden (L) and his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, who were killed by US anti-terror operatives on May 2, 2011, and July 31, 2022. (AFP)

However, this presumption changed with a UN report published earlier this week. Prepared by the UN’s experts, it concluded that Saif Al-Adel, a former colonel in the Egyptian special forces and one of the last surviving lieutenants of bin Laden, is now the “de-facto leader” of the international terror group.

The report’s significance, however, was not limited to its identification of Al-Qaeda’s new leader. It revealed one of the reasons Al-Adel has managed to stay alive for so long: Shelter given to him by the Iranian government in Tehran.

Al-Adel was one of the terror group’s earliest members, having left Egypt for Afghanistan in 1988. There, he joined Maktab Al-Khidamat, an Al-Qaeda forerunner that was founded by bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri, among others. Having been an expert in explosives in the Egyptian military, Al-Adel trained members of the Taliban after the end of the Soviet-Afghan war.

There, he regularly conferred with bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a man called “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks” by the 9/11 Commission Report.

Al-Adel would eventually flee Afghanistan in late 2001 and set up shop in neighboring Iran following US military intervention in the former. Reports suggest that though he was officially under house arrest in Tehran, he was given relative freedom to travel to Pakistan and convene with high-ranking Al-Qaeda members since about 2010.

The UN report, based on member state intelligence, helps shed additional light on Al-Adel’s whereabouts. His presence in Iran, a country that technically claims it is adamantly opposed to Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, has helped the terror organization avoid total eradication.

“It is very significant that Saif Al-Adel — now the head of Al-Qaeda — lives and operates out of Tehran. The Iranian government has made a shrewd calculation that by hosting and enabling Al-Qaeda, it can both control the group and supercharge their efforts to attack Iran’s enemies,” former senior State Department official Gabriel Noronha told Arab News.


In 2021, then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Tehran has allowed Al-Qaeda to fundraise, to freely communicate with Al-Qaeda members around the world, and to perform many other functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan or Pakistan.”

Other US officials believe Iran’s relationship with Al-Qaeda is transactional in nature, helping the terror group when it suits the leadership’s purposes, and cracking down on it at other times.

Al-Adel had a direct role in a number of deadly bomb plots, including planning the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi that killed more than 200 people. US and Saudi intelligence maintain that Al-Adel, while based in Tehran, provided instructions for the 2003 terror attack against three separate residential compounds in the Saudi capital Riyadh that killed 39 people.

A view of the US Embassy in in Nairobi, Kenya, days after after car bomb attack that killed at least 280 Kenyans and 12 Americans on August 7, 1998. (AFP file)

Now believed to be the high commander of Al-Qaeda, Al-Adel is using the relative safety of his base of operations in Iran to keep the terror group viable at a time when it has lost sanctuaries in other parts of the world.

“The State Department disclosed in January 2021 that Iran had provided Al-Adel and Al-Qaeda with a base of operations and logistical support, such as providing passports, to help facilitate Al-Qaeda’s terror plots. If they are left on their own, they will absolutely start conducting more terror attacks around the world. For now, they are regrouping, building more resources, recruits and capabilities,” Noronha said.

In 2020, a close associate of Al-Adel, Abu Muhammad Al-Masri, was reportedly eliminated by Israeli agents in Tehran. Al-Adel, however, remains at large.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Al-Adel’s tactical prowess and expertise helped to propel Al-Qaeda into the international spotlight as one of the world’s most dangerous terror entities, and his presence in Iran would not be possible without authorization at the highest levels.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, have used the presence of Al-Qaeda in the region — as well as that of Daesh, a splinter group from Al-Qaeda’s Iraq and Syria branch — as justification for the expansion of Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

However, experts say that this is a clear exercise in hypocrisy by Iran. Iranian officials have often carried out paramilitary campaigns and efforts to dominate governance in Iraq and Syria under the guise of fighting Al-Qaeda and Daesh.

Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fly the flag during a military drill. (AFP)

“The Iranians constantly accuse the US, absurdly, of having created Daesh to attack them and of continuing to support Daesh, Fred Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told Arab News. “This even though the Iranians themselves have benefited from the extensive US counterterrorism operations without which Daesh would still have a large and powerful territorial caliphate.

“The hypocrisy of the Islamic Republic really stands out, as it becomes more and more clear that Tehran has been harboring a very senior Al-Qaeda leader for many years.”

According to Western intelligence officials, another way in which Iran was able to play both sides in attempting to portray the IRGC and its proxies as fighting terror, while in reality enabling the expansion and activities of Al-Qaeda, was through Tehran’s facilitation of the transit of a number of key high-profile Al-Qaeda operatives from South Asia into Syria.

Fighters of the Al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of the Al-Qaeda group in Syria, parade at the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, on July 28, 2014. (AFP)

A 2012 press release from the Department of the Treasury stated that the then-leader of Al-Qaeda’s Iran network, Muhsin Al-Fadlhi, ran “a core pipeline” of funding and fighters that were sent to Syria. David S. Cohen, the US undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the time, confirmed what he called “Iran’s ongoing complicity in this network’s operation.”

Al-Fadhli himself was killed in a US airstrike in Syria’s Idlib governorate in 2015. The recent UN report has re-ignited the public conversation on just how deeply embedded Iran’s relationship with Al-Qaeda could have been for years.

A report by nonprofit group United Against a Nuclear Iran stated: “An intercepted letter reportedly sent to the IRGC in 2008 by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s current leader, revealed an even deeper relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda than previously thought.”



Iran’s motive seems to be broader in scope. For a time, Al-Qaeda posed a serious threat to Arab Gulf States, the Levant and North Africa, and was able to establish various “franchises” in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran wants to weaken and divide Sunni governments. What better way to do that than by empowering the most radical Sunni factions so they can undermine governments from within?” Noronha said.

In comments to the Voice of America’s news website, Edmund Fitton-Brown, a former senior UN counterterrorism official who is now an adviser to the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project, said: “The presence of Al-Qaeda in Iran is a sort of a chip that the Iranians have. They’re not entirely sure how or when they might play it but . . . it was something that they considered to have potential value.”



Unsurprisingly, Iran continues to deny its relationship with Al-Qaeda. Rejecting the UN report, the country’s permanent mission to the UN in New York said on Feb. 13: “It is worth noting that the address for the so-called newly appointed Al-Qaeda leader is incorrect.” Dismissing the findings as “misinformation,” the Iranians said they could “potentially hinder efforts to combat terrorism.”

Of course, publicly revealing the extent of support provided by Iran’s extraterritorial unconventional warfare and military intelligence arm, Quds Force, to a group that has killed thousands of Sunni and Shiite Muslims throughout the world, would be politically embarrassing, exposing a cynical streak in the regime’s driving ideology.

The UN report is a reminder that at a time when Al-Qaeda is facing irrelevance with its top leadership dwindling, a sanctuary in Tehran has thrown it a welcoming lifeline.


Iraq wants to overcome dispute with Kuwait over maritime waterway, PM says

Iraq wants to overcome dispute with Kuwait over maritime waterway, PM says
Updated 4 min 14 sec ago

Iraq wants to overcome dispute with Kuwait over maritime waterway, PM says

Iraq wants to overcome dispute with Kuwait over maritime waterway, PM says
  • Kuwait’s prime minister has described the Iraqi court ruling on the waterway as containing “historical fallacies,” calling on Iraq to take “concrete, decisive and urgent measures” to address it

Iraq is keen to overcome a dispute with Kuwait on maritime navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway between the two countries, Iraq’s prime minister said on Tuesday.
In comments carried by Iraq’s state news agency, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani said the country wants a solution that does not conflict with its constitution or with international law.
Iraq respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait and is committed to all its bilateral agreements with countries and to the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, a statement from the prime minister’s media office said on Tuesday after Al-Sudani’s meeting with the state’s administration coalition.
“Such crises are resolved through understanding and reliance on rationality, away from the language of emotion and convulsive populist statements that only produce more crises and tension,” Al-Sudani was quoted as telling his cabinet.
Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court ruled this month that a bilateral agreement regulating navigation in the waterway was unconstitutional. The court said the law ratifying the accord should have been approved by two-thirds of parliament.
The countries’ shared land border was demarcated by the United Nations in 1993 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but it did not cover the length of their maritime boundaries. This was left for the two oil producers to resolve.
A maritime border agreement between the two nations was reached in 2012 and ratified by each of their legislative bodies in 2013.
Kuwait’s prime minister has described the Iraqi court ruling on the waterway as containing “historical fallacies,” calling on Iraq to take “concrete, decisive and urgent measures” to address it.

At least 100 killed in fire at Iraq wedding celebration

At least 100 killed in fire at Iraq wedding celebration
Updated 12 sec ago

At least 100 killed in fire at Iraq wedding celebration

At least 100 killed in fire at Iraq wedding celebration

At least 100 people were killed and 150 people were injured in a fire at a wedding celebration in the district of Hamdaniya in Iraq’s Nineveh province, Iraqi state media said early on Wednesday.

-More to follow.

Morocco calls for resumption of Western Sahara talks

Morocco calls for resumption of Western Sahara talks
Updated 27 September 2023

Morocco calls for resumption of Western Sahara talks

Morocco calls for resumption of Western Sahara talks
  • Permanent representative to UN calls for solution to ‘fabricated regional conflict’
  • ‘Climate change continues to represent the biggest challenge to humanity in the globe’

NEW YORK: Morocco’s permanent representative to the UN on Tuesday called for a resumption of negotiations over the situation in Western Sahara.

Speaking on the final day of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Omar Hilale said Morocco is resolute in finding a solution to the “fabricated regional conflict” as an aid to promoting peace and stability in the region and Africa more widely. 

“Morocco continues to support the efforts of the UN to relaunch roundtables with the same format and the same participants, especially Algeria, the main party to this conflict, in line with its Security Council resolution 2654,” he added.

“We reaffirm, the solution can only be politically realistic and practical, based on consensus. The initiative for autonomy as part of the toolkit of Morocco’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty remains the solution to this regional conflict. There’s no alternative.”

The Western Sahara conflict dates back to 1975, after the withdrawal of colonial occupier Spain, sparking a 15-year war between the Algeria-backed Polisario Front and Morocco for control over the territory.

A 1991 ceasefire deal brought fighting to an end, with Morocco in control of 80 percent of the resource-rich desert region and the Polisario Front clinging to hopes of a UN-supervised referendum on independence provided for in the deal.

Alongside calling for further work on bringing an end to the near half-century conflict, Hilale provided an update on efforts being undertaken by Moroccan authorities to respond to the devastating earthquake that struck at the start of the month.

“We’ve faced the repercussions of this earthquake, which led to the death of 3,000 people and injured 5,700 others, alongside grave material losses, but we face these repercussions with determination, seriousness and solidarity,” he said.

“We established an inter-ministerial committee to develop an urgent program for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of affected areas, and located about $12 billion for this program from our budget for the next five years.

“This shows climate change continues to represent the biggest challenge to humanity in the globe. This is why today, more than ever, there’s a need to promote prevention, resilience, and international cooperation as part of the international community’s priorities.”

25 dead in fierce new fighting in Deir Ezzor

25 dead in fierce new fighting in Deir Ezzor
Updated 27 September 2023

25 dead in fierce new fighting in Deir Ezzor

25 dead in fierce new fighting in Deir Ezzor
  • Forces loyal to Assad regime clash with Kurdish-led troops in eastern Syria

JEDDAH: At least 25 people have died in two days of fierce clashes between fighters loyal to the Assad regime and Kurdish-led forces in the Dheiban area of Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said they had “driven out the regime gunmen who had infiltrated the area” after gun battles erupted on Monday.
At least 90 people were killed in the same area this month in 10 days of fighting between the SDF and armed Arab tribesmen.
Britain-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the latest clashes erupted when pro-regime fighters crossed the Euphrates river, which separates their positions in southwestern Deir Ezzor from the SDF in the northeast. It said 21 of the dead were regime loyalists and three were SDF fighters. A woman was also killed.
The SDF said the loyalist fighters had crossed the Euphrates “under cover of an indiscriminate bombardment”of its positions. The SDF responded by bombarding the right bank of the river, which is controlled by regimetroops with support from Iran-backed militias.
The Kurds form a majority in the core areas of SDF control in northeastern and northern Syria. But in several areas that they captured in their campaign against Daesh, Arabs form the majority.
According to the Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria, some of the Arab fighters who fled to government-held territory after the previous clashes took part in this week’s assault.
The SDF was Washington’s main Syrian ally in its fightback against Daesh, which culminated in the militants’defeat in their last Syrian foothold on the left bank of the Euphrates in 2019.

Sudan’s displaced millions struggle to survive as economy seizes up

Sudan’s displaced millions struggle to survive as economy seizes up
Updated 26 September 2023

Sudan’s displaced millions struggle to survive as economy seizes up

Sudan’s displaced millions struggle to survive as economy seizes up
  • More than 5.25 million of Sudan’s 49 million people have been uprooted since the fighting erupted

PORT SUDAN: About two months after heavy clashes around his home in Sudan’s capital drove Sherif Abdelmoneim to flee, soaring rent and food costs forced the 36-year-old and his family of six to return to a city where fighting still rages.

Most of those who fled Khartoum after war between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces broke out in mid-April have not returned. They face malnutrition, floods and scorpions as they depend for survival on handouts and meager aid relief, the generosity of host communities stretched increasingly thin.

More than 5.25 million of Sudan’s 49 million people have been uprooted since the fighting erupted, according to UN figures. Over 1 million of those have crossed into neighboring countries, but more than 4.1 million have stayed in Sudan, where they have come under increasing financial pressure.

“The states (outside Khartoum) are safe but the prices are expensive and rents are high, and we cannot continue with that,” Abdelmoneim said by phone from Omdurman, a city adjoining Khartoum where he has rented a house in an area where he can still hear artillery fire but is no longer in the midst of clashes.

The conflict has brought Sudan’s stagnant economy to its knees, blocking much trade and transport, hampering farming, halting many salary payments, and causing vast damage to infrastructure.

The country now has to draw on what meager resources are left to support an internally displaced population which, when those made homeless by previous conflict are included, reaches nearly 7.1 million, more than any other in the world.

Aid workers expect that more of those who had paid rent or lodged for free when they fled the capital will end up in collective shelters as their funds dry up.

“We are hospitable but people are handling more than they can,” said Omar Othman, a government official in Kassala, where he said rents had risen sharply. “If the war continues, these people came with small savings so they will need shelter.”

Host communities in areas little affected by fighting have been reeling from the knock-on effects of the war.

In Rabak, about 275km (170 miles) south of Khartoum, many young people had been trying to make a living in factories or as day laborers in the capital before the war broke out.

“For the locals the labor market is paralyzed. Khartoum is the engine for the rest of the country,” said resident Fadeel Omer.

Displaced people in the city unable to afford rent were lodged in shelters with crumbling walls and scorpions, and several malnourished children had been dying daily in the city hospital, he said. Large groups had headed back to Khartoum.

In Merowe, 340km north of Khartoum, salaried workers and farmers have seen their income dry up, and local volunteers are struggling to provide basic meals to the displaced, some of whom were sleeping on sofas or tables, said lawyer and local volunteer Izdihar Jumaa.

Damage to infrastructure in the three regions worst affected by the war – Khartoum, Darfur and Kordofan – could be $60 billion, or 10 percent of its total value, said Ibrahim Al-Badawi, Sudan’s former finance minister and an economics researcher. He estimated that the gross domestic product could plunge 20 percent this year.

“If the war stops, Sudan would need emergency economic support of $5-10 billion to revive the economy,” he told Reuters in an interview in Dubai.

“The continuation of the war will lead to the destruction of the Sudanese economy and the state.”

Since the start of the war, prices for many products soared. The currency has fallen as low as 900 Sudanese pounds to the dollar on the black market in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, a hub for government officials and aid workers, from about 560 pounds in April.

A continuing lifeline for many is remittances sent by Sudanese living abroad, said Omar Khalil, who fled to Port Sudan from Omdurman in June with his wife and three children.

“They are the ones bearing this burden on their shoulders,” he said. “This cannot last forever.” Khalil and his wife, both former art teachers, now make ice cream at home to sell to supermarkets.

International aid efforts for Sudan are severely underfunded, with less than 25 percent of the $2.6 billion required for this year received by mid-August, according to the United Nations. Aid workers say relief operations have also been hindered by government red tape and the breakdown of services and logistics based in the capital.

Authorities are nervous about relief operations by local volunteers and want the displaced to be housed in camps, but there are no funds to run them on the scale that would be needed, said Will Carter of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Across Sudan, some displaced people who had been renting were being evicted, though most were still lodging with extended families or strangers, he said. “We’re going to have an impasse – people squatting will be destitute within these cities,” he added.