The Al-Qaeda's link to Iran has become a talking point after the prosecutors in New York submitted documents suggesting the same. Several documents that were seized from the Abbottabad compound in which Laden was living before his death suggest close ties between the Al-Qaeda and Iran.
It may seem surprising to many that the Al-Qaeda which has been espousing largely the cause of the Sunni Muslims was or is friendly with the Shia dominated Iran. What are the ties that Iran and the Al-Qaeda share with each other? Several analysts that we spoke to suggest that it is a unique relationship that the two share and has been full of ups and downs.
Al-Qaeda has a different approach to Shias:
The ISIS which has been dominant in Iraq after overthrowing the Al-Qaeda has a very different approach to the Shias. They have sworn to eradicate the Shias and this has even led to the United States of America trying to play Iraq against the ISIS, much to the dismay of the Saudis.
The Al-Qaeda on the other hand was not very supportive of massacring the Shias like how the ISIS does. In the year 2004 Abu Musaab Zarqaqwi who today is the second in command had launched a total war against the Shias. At that time Zarqawi was part of the Al-Qaeda.
His "total war," against the Shias was not something that either Osama Bin Laden or Ayman Al-Zawahiri (current Al-Qaeda boss) were impressed with. The likes of Zarqawi felt the need to eradicate the Shias, but he did not get the support from the top leadership.
This led to several splinter groups within the Al-Qaeda in Iraq and several years later the world witnessed the rise of the ISIS which has made its entire agenda about eradicating the Shias.
The prisoner swap:
A deal that was struck by Iran and Al-Qaeda in 2008 marked the beginning of a very complex relationship between the two. Al-Qaeda was finding it extremely difficult to operate in Iran. They wanted to use the borders and Iran was not permitting the same.
This led to the Al-Qaeda abducting an Iranian diplomat in Pakistan which brought the Iran government to the talking table. The deal that was struck included the release of some Al-Qaeda members in Iran's custody. However an unseen agreement also included that the Al-Qaeda would be able to operate more freely in Iran.
The Al-Qaeda in Iran:
There have been several instances to show that Iran has been relatively kind on the Al-Qaeda once the prisoner swap took place in 2008. The fact that Sulaiman Abu Gaith, the son in law of Bin Laden spent more than ten years in Iran is testimony that he was given a safe place to hide in that country.
Sulaiman was recently sentenced to life by a New York court and during his trial it cropped up that he had spent over a decade in Iran.
The other incident was when Muhsin al-Fahidi an Al-Qaeda operative was killed in an air strike in Syria recently. Fahidi was very much on the watch list of the US. They were sure that he was under house arrest in Iran, but none knew that he had slipped into Syria.
This gave a clear indication that he had been let off by Iran to enter into Syria and fight alongside the Al-Qaeda. Fahidi was a financer for the Al-Qaeda in Iran and had been operating there since 2009 after he came down from Afghanistan. He had been organizing money and also fighters for the Al-Qaeda and after the authorities in Iran got wind of it they placed him under house arrest.
He however disappeared from Iran in 2013 and it is said that he had been in Syria for almost a year. He was targeted in an air strike in the month of September 2014. In most of the cases relating to Al-Qaeda operatives in Iran, it has been noticed that all of them had landed from Afghanistan. They found Iran to be safer from the US strikes in Afghanistan.
Is Iran playing with fire?
Any association with a terrorist outfit is dangerous in the long run. Pakistan is the best example of this. However Iran has its fair share of problems. The ISIS is coming down very heavily on the Shias and the manner in which they go about conquering places, Iran has every reason to worry.
Since a full fledged war is not a possibility for Iran, they appear to be relying on the Al-Qaeda which has a common enemy in the ISIS. What Iran would want the Al-Qaeda operatives to do is guard the boundaries from any form of ISIS assault.