Opportunistic Iran regime supports Al-Qaeda-linked terror group

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

UN experts have recently shared a report with the organization’s Security Council that describes in detail how the Iranian regime has been cooperating with and assisting an Al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group.

The as-yet-unpublished report, which has been seen by the Associated Press, sheds light on a sophisticated process through which the Iranian regime has been facilitating the path for the Al-Qaeda-linked militant group Al-Shabab to circumvent UN sanctions and make millions of dollars of profit every year. The process involves using false Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana certificates of origin to import sanctioned Somali charcoal, before repackaging it from typical blue-green bags into white bags labeled as “Product of Iran,” according to the report.

This development highlights the fact that Iran’s political establishment does not hesitate in assisting terror and militia groups by exploiting the legitimacy granted to it by the UN. In addition, the theocratic establishment has been taking advantage of the concept of sovereignty by permitting the Al-Qaeda-linked militant group to use its lands and ports as transit points. The Iranian regime has also been making its ships accessible as cover for such smuggling.

Mostly likely, the two major players that have been facilitating these illicit activities are Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite wing, the Quds Force, which carries out operations in foreign nations. The US has been considering officially designating the IRGC as a terror group. The Liberal Party of Canada has also been calling on its government to label the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Former Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae hit the nail on the head when he said: “The IRGC of Iran is a paramilitary organization involved in domestic repression, military operations and support for terrorist networks, and yet Canada has not yet listed the IRGC as a terrorist organization. That must change.”

This is not the first time that a UN report has revealed a link between Iran and militia groups. Earlier this year, a UN paper conclusively proved a connection between Iran’s short-range ballistic missiles and the Houthis.

With regards to Al-Shabab, the UN sanctions were aimed at choking off the flow of money to this Somali militant group. Nevertheless, Iran is most likely cognizant of the fact that a continuous flow of money is a necessity for terror and militia groups when it comes to pursuing terrorist activities. Last year, Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for carrying out one of the country’s largest and deadliest terrorist attacks; a truck bombing in Mogadishu, the capital , which killed at least 500 people.

Facilitating Al-Shabab’s illegal charcoal trade does not only provide the sole means for the group to commit terrorist activities; it also brings about severe environmental and economic repercussions as it disrupts the domestic market. As Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohammed Guled stated:  “We need cooperation to implement the UN Security Council (sanctions) and ensure the environmental, economic and human losses that happen because of the illegal charcoal trade are curbed.”

For the Iranian regime, as long as there are common ideological interests — such as promoting terrorism, chaos and instability — religious differences will not be considered a priority. That is why a trove of 470,000 documents previously released by the CIA revealed close ties between Al-Qaeda and the Iranian regime dating back many years

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Another important issue to highlight is the link between the Iranian regime and Sunni terror groups. Since Iran’s ruling theocracy has been widely linked to Shiite militias and terror groups, some policy analysts and scholars have been surprised that Tehran would cooperate with Sunni extremists such as Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. What should be surprising is that some still do not appear to grasp the nature of the long and close relationship between Iran and such fundamentalist groups.

For the Iranian regime, as long as there are common ideological interests — such as promoting terrorism, chaos and instability — religious differences will not be considered a priority. That is why a trove of 470,000 documents previously released by the CIA revealed close ties between Al-Qaeda and the Iranian regime dating back many years.

Tehran views militant and terror groups such as Al-Shabab through the prism of political opportunism. From the Iranian leaders’ perspective, extremists can form invaluable non-state terrorist groups that could accomplish Iran’s two main revolutionary principles: Anti-Americanism and undermining Saudi Arabia’s interests in the region.

In other words, the Sunni-Shiite division between Al-Qaeda-linked groups, such as Al-Shabab, and the Iranian regime was never an issue for Tehran as long as the terrorist groups could help it accomplish its revolutionary principles, destabilize the region, and achieve the mullahs’ regional ambitions.

Finally, the Iranian regime ought to be held liable for assisting Al-Shabab financially and helping the militant group skirt UN sanctions. By facilitating the flow of money to Al-Shabab, the Islamic Republic is contributing to those terrorist attacks carried out by the group, which have resulted in hundreds of innocent people losing their lives. The Iranian leaders engaged in such smuggling and illicit activities must be sanctioned.

If it were not for Iran’s ongoing assistance, Al-Shabab would be less likely to have the opportunity to continue expanding its power and commit some of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the world.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

This article was first published by arabnews.

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