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.


Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions
Updated 23 March 2023

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions
  • Ambassador Riyad Mansour takes issue with Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich denying the existence of Palestinians as a people
  • Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan hits back, accusing the Palestinian leadership of regularly inciting terrorism and erasing Jewish history

UNITED NATIONS: The Palestinians and Israel clashed over the future intentions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right-wing government at a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday, with the Palestinian UN ambassador pointing to an Israeli minister’s statement “denying our existence to justify what is to come.”
Israel’s UN ambassador countered that the minister had apologized, and accused the Palestinian leadership of regularly inciting terrorism and erasing Jewish history.
The council’s always contentious monthly meeting on the Mideast was even more acrimonious in the face of comments and actions by Israel’s new coalition government, which has faced relentless protests over its plan to overhaul the judiciary and strong criticism of Tuesday’s repeal by lawmakers of a 2005 act that saw four Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank dismantled at the same time that Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told the Security Council the statement by firebrand Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich claiming there’s “no such thing” as a Palestinian people wasn’t part of “a theoretical exercise” but was made as Israel’s unlawful annexation of territory the Palestinians insist must be part of their independent state “is more than underway.”
While not all Israeli officials go as far as denying the existence of Palestinians, some deny Palestinian rights, humanity and connection to the land, Mansour said.
Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank, with the past three months “even worse,” he said. So far this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, and Palestinian attackers have killed 15 Israelis, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Nonetheless, with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the approach of the Jewish holiday Passover and Christianity’s Easter observance, Mansour said the Palestinians decided to be “unreasonably reasonable” and leave no stone unturned to prevent bloodshed.
The Palestinian envoy urged the Security Council and the international community to mobilize every effort “to stop annexation, violence against our people, and provocations.” Everyone has a duty to act now “with every means at our disposal, to prevent a fire that will devour everything it encounters,” he said.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan called his country “unquestionably the most vibrant liberal democracy in the Middle East” and accused the Palestinians of repeating lies, glorifying terrorists who spilled innocent Israeli blood and “regurgitating fabrications” that are not going to solve the decades-old conflict.
“To the Palestinian representative, I say: ‘Shame on you. Shame on you.’ It is so audacious that you dare condemn the words of Israeli minister who apologized and clarified what he meant, while your president and the rest of (the) Palestinian leadership regularly, regularly incite terrorism, never condemn the murders of Israeli civilians, praise Palestinian terrorists, and actively attempt to rewrite facts and the truth by erasing Jewish history,” he said.
Erdan accused the Palestinians of being “dead set on encouraging more violence” while Israel has taken significant steps to de-escalate the current tensions by sitting down with Palestinian officials in Jordan in February and on Sunday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
In a joint communique afterward, the two sides had pledged to take steps to lower tensions ahead of the sensitive holiday season — including a partial freeze on Israeli settlement activity and an agreement to work together to “curb and counter violence.”
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an independent state, with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Mideast war. Since then, more than 700,000 Israelis have moved into dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — which most of the world considers illegal and an obstacle to peace.
But Netanyahu’s government has put settlement expansion at the top of its agenda and has already advanced thousands of new settlement housing units and retroactively authorized nine wildcat outposts in the West Bank.
The repeal of the 2005 act on the four West Bank settlements came after Sunday’s agreement, and a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two Israelis in the West Bank underscored the difficulties in implementing the joint communique. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, criticized the repeal, summoning Israel’s US ambassador, and other countries were also critical.
Netanyahu appeared to back down Wednesday, saying his government has no intention of returning to the four abandoned settlements.
Ambassador Erdan echoed him, saying “the state of Israel has no intention of building any new communities there,” but he said the new law “rights a historic wrong” and will allow Israelis to enter areas that are “the birthplace of our heritage.”

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria
Updated 23 March 2023

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria
  • It is the largest pledge from any country since the disaster in February: Kuwait News Agency
  • Financial aid will support UN in providing food, education, shelter, healthcare to around 18m people

NEW YORK: Kuwait has pledged $90 million to support survivors of the earthquakes that struck Turkiye and Syria in February.

The pledge is the largest made by any country since the disaster, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Wednesday. 

It will assist UN organizations in providing food, education, shelter, healthcare and other necessities to approximately 18 million affected people. 

The UN has appealed for $398 million for an urgent response in Syria and $1 billion for Turkiye. 

So far, 79 percent of the target number for Syria has been met, while 19 percent of the target number for Turkiye has been met. 

Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, expressed concern that the amount of funding is nowhere near the target, but praised Kuwait’s pledge.


10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen

10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen
Updated 23 March 2023

10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen

10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen

JEDDAH: At least 10 Yemeni government soldiers were killed on Wednesday in a renewed Houthi militia offensive in the contested central province of Marib.

The new attack shattered a truce that had largely held since last April, and came amid renewed diplomatic efforts to end the eight-year war.

“The Houthis launched an attack on hills overlooking Harib district, south of Marib, and made progress on that front, causing the displacement of dozens of families,” a Yemeni military source said. “At least 10 soldiers were killed, in addition to an unknown number of attackers.”

The fighting comes a month after at least four soldiers were killed in the same district, and dents new optimism after Saudi Arabia and Iran, who back opposing sides in the war, agreed to restore diplomatic ties.
“The Houthis are interested in sending a clear political message that ... the Riyadh-Tehran deal does not mean they will just surrender,” said Maged Al-Madhaji, an analyst at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies think tank. “The Houthis lean more toward the option of a military confrontation than current negotiations.”

An exchange of hundreds of prisoners was agreed this week and Hans Grundberg, the UN secretary general’s special envoy for Yemen, has said “intense diplomatic efforts” were underway to reach a peace deal.
An open letter on Wednesday from NGOs in Yemen including included Oxfam and Save the Children urgedthe warring sides to reach a truce and move toward an “inclusive Yemeni peace process.”


Five migrants drown, 28 missing off Tunisia

Five migrants drown, 28 missing off Tunisia
Updated 23 March 2023

Five migrants drown, 28 missing off Tunisia

Five migrants drown, 28 missing off Tunisia
  • Romdhane Ben Amor of the Tunisian Forum for social and economic rights said it had sunk “because it was overloaded” with 38 people
  • The boat had set off from the coastal region of Sfax in the direction of the Italian island of Lampedusa

TUNIS: Five migrants from sub-Saharan Africa drowned and another 28 were missing Wednesday after their boat capsized off Tunisia, a rights group said.
“Five migrants’ bodies were recovered and five other migrants were rescued, but 28 are still missing,” said Romdhane Ben Amor of the Tunisian Forum for social and economic rights (FTDES).
He said it had sunk “because it was overloaded” with 38 people, mostly from the Ivory Coast.
The boat had set off from the coastal region of Sfax in the direction of the Italian island of Lampedusa, a popular launchpad for people from people escaping war and persecution across Africa to try to reach safety in Europe.
The sinking is the latest such tragedy on the central Mediterranean, known as the world’s deadliest migration route.
It comes a month after President Kais Saied made an incendiary speech accusing migrants from sub-Saharan Africa of representing a “plot” against Tunisia and causing a wave of crime.
His comments sparked a wave of violence against black migrants, and landlords fearing fines evicted hundreds of people who are now camping in the streets of Tunis.
Migrants, many of whom fear they will face violence if they go home, have called on the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR to evacuate them.
Around 21,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are believed to be in the country of 12 million people.

Israel’s policies ‘threaten ties with Arab countries’

Israel’s policies ‘threaten ties with Arab countries’
Updated 22 March 2023

Israel’s policies ‘threaten ties with Arab countries’

Israel’s policies ‘threaten ties with Arab countries’

RAMALLAH: The Israeli government’s extremist policies are threatening diplomatic ties with Arab countries amid efforts to normalize relations, political analysts and observers warn.

On Wednesday, the Jordanian Parliament voted in support of a proposal to expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman in protest at comments by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Parliamentary Speaker Ahmed Al-Safadi called on the government to take effective measures over Smotrich’s use of a map that allegedly “includes the borders of the kingdom and the occupied Palestinian territories.”

A veteran Arab diplomat, who declined to be named, told Arab News that the extremist Israeli government will not be accepted, even by countries that have normalized relations with Israel, such as the UAE.

This is especially true “when Israeli ministers state there is nothing called the Palestinian people and that Jordan is part of Israel,” the diplomat added.

“If these Israeli government policies continue, those countries will have stronger reactions that may include the withdrawal of their ambassadors from Tel Aviv.”

On Wednesday, media reports suggested that the UAE is considering reducing its diplomatic representation in Israel over Smotrich’s claim that “there is no such thing as the Palestinian people.”
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs is believed to have told its ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Al-Khaja, to avoid meeting any Israeli official.
On Tuesday, Bahrain also condemned Smotrich’s statements.

The Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Bahrain rejects “incitement rhetoric and practices that contradict moral and human values, and undermine efforts and international peace.”

Israeli government policy also appears to have angered Israel’s closest ally, the US. In a rare move, the Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Michael Herzog, was summoned to the State Department on Tuesday following the passing of legislation that will allow resettlement in areas of the northern West Bank.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman held talks with Herzog, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said.

The two diplomats also “discussed the importance of all parties refraining from actions or rhetoric that could further inflame tensions leading into Ramadan, Passover and the Easter holidays,” Patel said.

Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben Menachem said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs Smotrich and Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir as partners in the government coalition and has to respond to their demands.

“They will continue to blackmail him,” Ben Menachem said.

“Arab countries and the US must understand the difficult situation of Netanyahu, who is facing political blackmail,” he added.