Al-Qaeda’s Second Sanctuary

Welcome to Iran

On January 16, 2009, the U.S. designated four Al-Qaeda terrorists for sanctions under Executive Order 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. Mustafa Hamid, Muhammad Rab’a al-sa Yid Al-Bahtiyti, Ali Saleh Husain and Saad Bin Laden were all sanctioned since they were enjoying Iranian hospitality and sanctuary in Iran. But these government sanctions have a limited impact since they target assets held by the individuals under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with them. What Al-Qaeda terrorists would have assets in the U.S.? None. Rather this mechanism was a shot across the bow of Iran for providing sanctuary to these four terrorists and a host of others. What other Al-Qaeda terrorists received sanctuary in Iran? These terrorists moved into Iran knowing that they would be out of reach from capture or being killed. Bin Laden and Zawahiri both moved some of their children to Iran after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

While government officials pat themselves on the back for the most recent deal with Iran one can’t overlook that Iran wouldn’t even give up Al-Qaeda terrorists in their country. Instead and still to this day they provide a safe haven for Al-Qaeda terrorists. Iran should have been sanctioned severely for providing sanctuary to our enemy years ago. Besides quietly requesting that Iran turn these individuals over, the U.S. government issued a statement. “It is important that Iran give a public accounting of how it is meeting its international obligations to constrain al Qaida,” said Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence

Our government should take a page from Plain English Champion, Professor Joseph Kimble. One of my favorite law school professors, Kimble calls for Plain English. Instead of calling out Iran for providing sanctuary in Plain English, the U.S. dances around the issue sending subtle signals. We should have demanded that Iran hand over Sayf al-Adel and the rest of the Al Qaeda leadership living under “house arrest.”

Mustafa Hamid served as the primary negotiator between Al-Qaeda and Iran. Hamid better known by his kunya, Abu Walid al-Masri was one of the first Arabs to go and fight against the Russians in Afghanistan. He later served as an instructor at a terrorist camp near Jalalabad that trained in the use of explosives. Hamid is also the father-in-law of senior al-Qaeda Commander Sayf al-Adel. While in Iran, Hamid was harbored by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which served as Hamid’s point of contact for communications between Al -Qaeda and Iran. During the mid-1990s, Hamid reportedly negotiated a secret relationship between Osama Bin Laden and Iran, allowing many Al-Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan. Hamid negotiated on behalf of Al-Qaeda in an attempt to relocate Al-Qaeda families to Iran. In 2002, Mustafa Hamid facilitated contacts between the IRGC and another senior Al-Qaeda military commander. In mid-2003, due to a change in Iran’s strategic posture, Mustafa Hamid and other Al-Qaeda related individuals were arrested in Iran. Hamid was jailed for the first fifty days alone in solitary confinement then moved into a cell with other Al Qaeda members. After one hundred and fifty days he was moved to house arrest and was able to maneuver with surveillance.

Muhammad Rab’a al-Sayid al-Bahtiyti was a senior member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and an Al-Qaeda member. Bahtiyti served as a trusted aide to his father- in-law,  Ayman al-­Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda. After the September 11th attacks, Bahtiyti moved Zawahiri’s daughters to Iran, where he was responsible for them. In January 2003, Bahtiyti arranged housing on behalf of other Al-Qaeda members. Bahtiyti was arrested by Iranian Intelligence in mid-2003.

Ali Saleh Husain was a senior Al-Qaeda logistics operative and friend of Osama Bin Laden’s. Husain coordinated with Bin Laden on the training of fighters in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan who traveled to Chechnya. In November 2001 and beyond, Husain coordinate the movements of Al-Qaeda members into Iran via his logistical network in Zahedan, Iran. He was arrested in mid-2003 by the Iranians.

Saad Bin Laden and dozens of Bin Laden family members made their way to Iran. Omar Bin Laden, the fourth oldest son stated that the “Iranian government has showed very good caring to my brothers and sisters. While held under “house arrest” they didn’t lack comforts having frequent shopping trips, trips to swimming pools, computers and video games.

On July 21, 2013, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) kidnapped Nour Ahmad Nikbakht, an Iranian Diplomat as he drove to work from his residence in the diplomatic quarter in Sanaa, Yemen. This kidnapping was to provide leverage on the Iranian government. Recently, Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri, Abu Khayr al Masri, Khalid al Aruri and Sari Shihab were exchanged for Nikbakht, the Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped in Yemen. This isn’t the first time Al-Qaeda has kidnapped an Iranian diplomat for leverage over Iran. In 2008, Al-Qaeda kidnapped Hesmatollah Atharzadeh-Nyaki, an Iranian diplomat in Hayatabad and used him to exchange for the release of Saad Bin Laden and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith.

Osama bin Laden once said that the “Iranians (are) not to be trusted.” What have we learned?

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