Drawing on the State Department’s latest terrorism report, Thomas Joscelyn comments on the persistence of the two largest international jihadist groups, and sees little reason for complacency:
The U.S. has hunted down many senior al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) figures over the past two decades. And the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism highlights the top al-Qaeda personnel taken out in 2020. But the two most senior al-Qaeda and IS leaders on the planet—Ayman al-Zawahiri and Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal Rahman al-Mawla, respectively—have survived the American-led manhunt. They’ve also survived the bitter rivalry between their two organizations. This is no small accomplishment.
Does this matter? I think it does. It demonstrates that America’s high-value targeting campaign has missed some of its highest value targets.
One line in the report deserves additional emphasis. It reads: “Senior AQ leaders continued to reside in Iran and facilitate terrorist operations from there.”
As I’ve written on many occasions, the State and Treasury Departments have regularly exposed al-Qaeda’s network inside Iran since 2011. As Treasury first reported, the Iranian regime and al-Qaeda entered into a “secret deal” some years ago. Under the terms of their “agreement,” al-Qaeda is allowed to operate its “core facilitation pipeline” on Iranian soil. According to the State Department’s latest report, that remained the case throughout 2020.