Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Tuesday that al Qaeda's number-two leader was killed last year in Iran, which Pompeo said has become the terror group's primary base of operations in recent years.
"Al Qaeda has a new home base: the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said during a small gathering at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
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Al Qaeda leader Abu Muhammad al-Masri, who was on the FBI's most wanted list, was eliminated in the streets of Tehran in August of last year, Pompeo said, confirming media reports at the time. This is the first time the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged al-Masri's death.
The United States is now offering up to $7 million for information leading to the identification of al Qaeda leader Abd Al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, who Pompeo said is currently hiding in Iran. Al-Maghrebi is the head of al Qaeda's media arm and oversees the group's activities worldwide.
Pompeo's announcement is certain to rile the foreign-policy world and raise questions about President-elect Joe Biden's promise to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which provided Tehran with billions in cash that were spent bolstering the country's terror operations. With just days left in office, Pompeo vowed to "crush the Iran-al Qaeda axis."
While Iran and al Qaeda have widely been seen as rivals due to their religious differences, Pompeo said their relationship changed in 2015, when the Obama administration inked the nuclear agreement.
"Iran decided to allow al Qaeda to establish a new operational headquarters, on the condition that al Qaeda operatives inside abide by the regime's rules," Pompeo said, disclosing intelligence that he claimed has been previously unreleased. "Since 2015, Iran has also given al Qaeda leaders greater freedom of movement inside Iran."
Al Qaeda's senior leadership is now taking refuge in Iran, which has provided the terror group with logistical support, such as travel documents, ID cards, and passports. "Al Qaeda has centralized its leadership inside Tehran," Pompeo said, adding that "Iran is the new Afghanistan."
Al Qaeda is now virtually nonexistent in Afghanistan, its longtime base of operations and the country from which it planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Its operations are now based in Iran, according to information provided by Pompeo and the State Department.
Iran helps al Qaeda fundraise, communicate with jihadist forces, and direct terror operations—functions that used to take place in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was hiding prior to his assassination by U.S. forces.
With Tehran's help, al Qaeda has become revitalized and poses an immediate threat to America and its forces abroad, Pompeo said.
"They have time and money. They have a range of Iranian support. They have new tools for terror," he said. "The worst state sponsor of terrorism in the world, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is now al Qaeda's home base."
Pompeo also disclosed that the United States has "far less visibility" on al Qaeda and its capabilities because of the lack of U.S. intelligence sources in Iran. This leaves the United States with few options to combat the terror group as it plans its next attacks.
The United States announced in tandem with Pompeo's remarks that it is sanctioning Iran-based al Qaeda leaders Muhammad Abbatay and Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-Arif. It also designated three al Qaeda leaders operating in the border areas between Iran and Iraq.