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FACTBOX - What is the relationship between al Qaeda and Iran?

REUTERS - Canadian police say they have foiled a plot they say was backed by "al Qaeda elements in Iran" to derail a passenger train.

Iran says it is opposed to the ideology of al Qaeda. Diplomats and officials say there is no evidence of active collaboration, though Iran in the past has allowed al Qaeda fighters to transit through its territory.

Here are some details:


Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Sunni militant group al Qaeda are natural enemies on either side of the Muslim sectarian divide.

The Syrian civil war has worsened relations between the two. Iran backs secular Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against fighters who include militants linked to al Qaeda.

In an audio message broadcast to supporters earlier this month, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri was particularly critical of Iran and the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah over their support for Assad.


Washington alleges that Iran agreed to collaborate with al Qaeda on training in the early 1990s, according to the official U.S. inquiry into the September 11, 2001 attacks. It said al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden showed interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983, which Washington blamed on Hezbollah.

At least eight of the September 11 hijackers transited through Iran on their way to or from Afghanistan, though the inquiry found no evidence that Tehran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for the September 11 attacks. The full report, with the Iran references on pages 61 and 241, can be found here: (here)


After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, some al Qaeda members and their families fled to Iran where they were put under house arrest. Most of those Iran was holding have since been released, although the full details remain unclear.

U.S. researcher Vahid Brown has said that broadly speaking those who supported the September 11 attacks fled to Pakistan while those who opposed them ended up in Iran.

For more details see his post on the Jihadica website:



Officials say Tehran turned a blind eye to al Qaeda members travelling through Iran on the way to and from Afghanistan/Pakistan, notably during the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Washington has said al Qaeda networks using Iran for transit operate under an agreement with Tehran; in return for refraining from operations and recruiting inside Iran, al Qaeda members and their families are allowed to travel freely. For details see:


A U.S. government source describing the Canada plot cited a network of al Qaeda fixers based in the Iranian city of Zahedan, close to the borders of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The source said they served as go-betweens and financial intermediaries for al Qaeda cells operating in Pakistan.


The region around Zahedan is hard to control, home to drug smugglers, illegal traders, insurgents and gun-runners.

Iran has been battling an insurgency there by Sunnis complaining of discrimination. The Jundollah group has claimed several attacks, but there is no sign it is linked to al Qaeda, though it is often confused with a Pakistan-based group of the same name. Iran has accused Washington of supporting Jundollah.

After decades of covert warfare in neighbouring Afghanistan, accusations are made frequently against various intelligence agencies of backing different insurgent groups in Iran/Pakistan/Afghanistan, which are then denied.

(Reporting by Myra MacDonald and David Cutler; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Updated Date: Apr 26, 2013 02:00 AM

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