The War in Bosnia and the Making of Iran’s Friendship with al-Qaeda

January 27, 2021 | Kyle Orton
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In his final days in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech outlining the ties between the Islamic Republic and Osama bin Laden’s notorious terrorist group. While conventional wisdom has long maintained that Sunni al-Qaeda would have no truck with Shiite Iran, the truth is that collaboration between the two is old news. By the time Israeli intelligence became aware of it in the mid-1990s, it had been going on for some time. Kyle Orton tells part of the story, which begins with the collapse of Yugoslavia, when Orthodox Serbs launch a bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing against their Bosnian Muslim neighbors:

Unmentioned in Pompeo’s speech was one of the crucibles that forged this relationship, and forged al-Qaeda into something more than a regional menace, namely the Bosnian war of 1992-5. Thousands of foreign Sunni jihadists came into Bosnia in this period, many of them either with pre-existing links to al-Qaeda or established links once they were in country, and this rag-tag army of mujahideen found itself benefiting from the role of the Iranian revolution in Bosnia. . . . Iranian veterans of this campaign recently boasted in public about it.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda was receiving extensive support and training from Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah:

The 9/11 Commission Report confirms [a] meeting between bin Laden and [the top Hizballah officer Imad] Mughniyeh in Sudan, probably in early 1992, and the transfer thereafter of al-Qaeda jihadists to the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon for training with Iran/Hizballah.

This relationship continued into the 2000s, when bin Laden, in an internal memo, mentioned that the Islamic Republic allowed his organization’s “core facilitation pipeline” to run through its territory. And just two months ago, a high-ranking al-Qaeda terrorist was assassinated in Tehran.

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