Al Qaeda said that it is planning to assassinate Iran’s top military general, underscoring tensions in the rocky relationship between Tehran and the global terror network.
Al Qaeda claimed in a recent statement to have sent two of its terrorist forces into Iran with the goal of killing Qassem Soleimani, the general of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
"We will not assassinate the commander of Iran’s Quds Force by gunshots, but we intend to kill him by a suicide attack," al Qaeda was reported to have said in a late December statement reported on in the Iranian state-run media.
It remains unclear who in al Qaeda issued the reported statement.
The threat was issued just days before Lebanese security forces arrested an al Qaeda-linked Saudi national in connection with the deadly November bombing of Iran’s embassy in Beirut.
The Iran embassy bombing, which killed 23, is believed to have been orchestrated and executed by an al Qaeda-backed group.
While Iran and al Qaeda have been known to work together on various terror operations targeting the West, their ties have disintegrated in recent months as Tehran looks to flex its regional muscle, according to experts.
Iranian military insiders quickly dismissed al Qaeda’s threats via the country’s state-run Fars News Agency.
"Military analysts believe that such threats and warnings are all nonsense and merely serve psychological operation purposes since the Iranian military commanders are protected by heavy security measures and cannot be reached easily, while the al Qaeda lacks sophisticated skills, ability and the needed organization in Iran," Fars reported.
These Iranian sources went on to blame "the West" for pitting al Qaeda against Iran.
"The analyst say [sic] that the source of such threats may be the western states which support the al Qaeda in different regional states, specially in Syria, and are angry at their failure in these countries," Fars wrote.
Iran and al Qaeda have been allies of convenience in their war against the West despite sectarian differences.
The 9-11 Commission that investigated the Twin Towers terror attack found evidence that Iran and al Qaeda had worked together on multiple operations and fronts.
"While the two sides—on opposite sides of the sectarian divide—have been willing to cooperate against the United States, with the U.S. in retreat, both from Afghanistan and also in Syria, they have now turned once again to jockeying for position against each other," said Michael Rubin, a terrorist analyst and former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq.
"So, on one hand, we can be glad that our two enemies want to kill each other. But on the other hand, the fact that they are planning once again to do so is a barometer of our own flagging stature," Rubin said.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy's (FDD) Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization, noted that the "tension" between al Qaeda and Iran "is undeniable."
"This is a relationship that's always been fraught with tension," said Gartenstein-Ross.
Al Qaeda’s terror war against Iran erupted in full force in November, when two suicide bombers struck Tehran’s embassy in Beirut.
Lebanese security forces on Wednesday arrested Majid al-Majid, a Saudi national tied to al Qaeda, in connection with the attack.
Al-Majid is reported to be the leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the al Qaeda-aligned group that claimed responsibility for the embassy bombing.
Iran is reportedly hoping to help interrogate al-Majid during his custody.
"Iran officially asked Lebanon to participate in the investigation with Majid al-Majid given that he is the one responsible for the Iranian Embassy bombings," Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Ruknabadi was quoted as telling a Lebanese television station on Wednesday.
Majid’s nationality has also sparked tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has long opposed Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear arms and has sought to prevent it from becoming a powerbroker in the Middle East.