A United Nations report mentioned that ISIS still has as many as 30,000 members distributed almost equally between Syria and Iraq and is supported by the al-Qaeda organization, which has become much stronger in some places due to increased Iranian support.
According to the Associated Press, the report which was prepared by UN experts on Monday, and presented to the UN Security Council, reveals that despite the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and most of Syria, it is likely that a “secret copy” of the extremists group will exist in both countries, with supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.
Experts said the global al-Qaeda network is much stronger than in some locations, including Somalia, Yemen, South Asia and the African Sahel area.
Experts said al-Qaeda leaders in Iran had become more capable and working with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, and they were highlighting his authority more effectively than before, particularly with regard to events in Syria.
Iran increases support for al-Qaeda
The report by UN experts on Iran’s increased support for al-Qaeda reinforces several documents and reports that Iran is working to bring together ISIS and its pockets in Syria to rehabilitate and build al-Qaeda by using its strategic and historical ties with the organization’s leaders.
A report published in the Sunday Times in January by both writers Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clarke said al-Qaeda today has rebuilt itself to the point where it can summon tens of thousands of elements with the help of Iran.
Tehran is working to annex al-Qaeda remnants, coordinating with al-Qaeda military leaders who have traveled to Damascus to assemble the ranks of ISIS fighters and establish a “new base” similar in to its Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah militias.
Appropriating credit for ISIS defeat
Since controlling the last strongholds of ISIS group in Syria and Iraq, Iran’s media machine has been trying to appropriate the defeat of the extremists group to Tehran, its allies and militias, and has tried to diminish the role of the US-led international coalition in defeating ISIS.
It also tried to falsify the facts by appropriate credit for the defeat of ISIS, where Iranian propaganda ignored the role of the Revolutionary Guards and its militias in the emergence of ISIS, as a result of suppressing the peaceful Syrian revolution and the release and feeding of extremist groups.
Iran lost more than 3,500 fighters according to semi-official statistics and tens of billions of dollars to save Assad in 2012 in battles against the Syrian opposition.
Al-Qaeda leaders in Iran
Adrian Levy and Kathy Scott-Clarke have confirmed that the commander of the elite Quds force, affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qassim Suleimani, has played the most prominent role in managing the relationship with al-Qaeda since he provided refuge for the family of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders after they fled Afghanistan in 2001 and built a residential complex at the heart of a Revolutionary Guard training camp in Tehran.
Iranian support and funding played an important role in reviving al-Qaeda, which had only 400 members when it carried out the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001. The organization was fragmented because of the US invasion of Afghanistan, but it recovered with the emergence of ISIS group in 2013.
Suleimani playing al-Qaeda card
According to the Sunday Times, Qassim Suleimani, who uses his relations with al-Qaeda in his maneuvers, is used to play on all sides of the conflict to keep Iran at the forefront by using all extremist groups cards.
According to the report, among the evidence, unpublished notes and interviews with senior members of al-Qaeda and the Osama bin Laden family show how Suleimani is mastering the relationship with the Sunni extremist organization, described by Iranian official circles as “a terrorist takfirist.”
He added that al-Qaeda’s military leaders had been stationed in Tehran until 2015, when Suleimani sent five of them to Damascus, including Mohammed al-Masri, with the task of contacting fighters and leaders of ISIS, to encourage them to split and unite al-Qaeda according to US intelligence reports.
The reports confirmed that al-Masri was “the most experienced and capable operational planner among non-detainees in the United States or in any allied country.”
The information adds that the coordination between al-Qaeda leaders and ISIS is through the military commander of ISIS Saif al-Adl, a former Egyptian army colonel who entered into a major row with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who wanted to unify al-Qaeda and ISIS to fight in Syria, but Saif al-Adl ordered his fighters to wait until ISIS is defeated.
An ideological meeting
Experts believe that Iran’s relationship as an extremist Shiite religious ruling regime with extremist Sunni organizations such as al-Qaeda and even Tehran’s political and military ties with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, is not seasonal, as some imagine.
The ideology of Khomeini’s regime is influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood scholar Sayyid Qutb, from whom pro-Tehran Shiite groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the rest of the militias in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen have adopted the concept of “jihad”, hence it is an ideological and historical as well as the confluence of political interests, which makes the relation between the Iranian regime and Sunni extremist groups a permanent relationship.
Bin Laden documents
The Abottabad documents obtained by US forces from the hideout of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following his killing in 2011 in Pakistan and published by the CIA last November revealed details of part of Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda.
Of the 470,000 documents obtained from Bin Laden’s cache, 19 were devoted to this large archive of al-Qaeda’s high profile ties with the Iranian government.
A senior member of al-Qaeda said in a letter that Iran was ready to provide all that al-Qaeda needed, including funds and weapons, and training camps for Hezbollah in Lebanon in return for the terrorist group attacking US interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, according to an investigation by Thomas Jocelyn and Bill Rajev of the Institute for the Defense of Democracies about the 19-page details of al-Qaeda's links to Iran, from the Abottabad documents.
According to the document, the Iranian intelligence services, in some cases, facilitated the issuance of visas for the elements of the al-Qaeda in charge of carrying out operations, and at the same time has housed other groups.
“Iran’s intelligence services agreed to provide al-Qaeda operatives with visas and facilities and to harbor other members of al-Qaeda,” said another document, which was negotiated with Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, an influential al-Qaeda member, before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Last year, a US court in New York fined Iran for co-operating with al-Qaeda in the September 11 attacks with $ 10.7 billion and other fines of $21 billion for the families of American victims of bombings in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Kuwait carried out by Iranian Revolutionary Guards cells.