US top diplomat Pompeo says al-Qaeda has new home base in Iran

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that al-Qaeda terrorist group established a home base in Iran, but did not provide concrete evidence.

"Al-Masri’s presence inside Iran points to the reason that we're here today... al-Qaeda has a new home base: it is... Iran," he said in remarks delivered at the National Press Club in Washington.

He added: "Today, we are drawing attention to the nature of the Iran-al-Qaeda relationship and are taking the actions necessary to crush al-Qaeda and its links to Iran. We urge all nations to do the same – for the good of our nations, and of the free world."

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The New York Times reported in November that al-Qaeda's Abu Muhammad al-Masri, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa, was gunned down by Israeli operatives in Iran. Iran denied the report, saying there were no al-Qaeda "terrorists" on its soil.

Pompeo said: "Tehran gives sanctuary to the terror group’s senior leaders as they plan attacks against America and our allies. Indeed, since 2015, Tehran has allowed al-Qaeda figures in the country to freely communicate with other al-Qaeda members and perform many functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan and Pakistan, including authorization for attacks, propaganda, and fundraising."

"The Iran-al-Qaeda axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations and to the American homeland itself, and we are taking action," he added.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Pompeo's accusations were "warmongering lies" and claimed that no September 11 "terrorists" came from Iran.

"(With) fictitious Iran 'declassifications' and AQ (al-Qaeda) claims, (Pompeo) is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies," Zarif tweeted.

Pompeo announced designating al-Qaeda leaders Muhammad Abbatay, also known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, and Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-Arif as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. He also announced a reward of up to $7 million for any information leading to the location and identification of "Iran-based key leader of al-Qaeda terrorist group" Abbatay - also known as al-Maghrebi.

Earlier accusations by the George W. Bush adminstration of Iranian links to al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States have been discredited. But reports have surfaced over the years of al-Qaeda operatives hiding out in Iran.

Shia Iran and al-Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim group, have long been sectarian foes.

On Twitter, Pompeo said US sanctions on Iran took over two million barrels of Iranian oil a day off the market. He added: "Thanks to our sanctions, Iran's proposed military budget is down 24 percent this year. We've targeted more than 1,500 individuals and entities, depriving the regime of $70 billion that would've been used to fund terrorism, ballistic missiles, and nuclear programs."

Pompeo stressed: "The US will never allow the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism (Iran) to freely buy and sell planes, tanks, missiles, and other kinds of conventional weapons."

The administration of outgoing President Donald Trump has further increased its pressure on the Iranian regime with more sanctions targeting several industries and officials in Tehran.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran, which have been increasing since 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, reached historic heights last January when the US killed Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

- With Reuters

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