More fake news from Washington

Even by Pompeo’s standards, the claim that Iran sponsors al-Qaida is a brazen lie

If anyone can be accused of fabricating ‘fake news’, the charge so favoured by outgoing US president Donald Trump, the list must surely be topped by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

Like his boss, Pompeo is a zealous champion of Israel. He has also been one of the administration’s chief proponents of attacking Iran and Syria. This week, just days before he and his president leave office, he presented us with another set of unbelievable assertions unsupported by any evidence.

Pompeo proclaimed that Iran has replaced Afghanistan as the ‘home base’ of al-Qaida and is providing it with safe havens and logistical support to plot attacks on US and Western targets. He claimed documents found in Osama Bin-Laden’s home in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after it was raided by US special forces showed that al-Qaida had maintained contacts with Iran for decades. These ties, he added, have been greatly strengthened since 2015 – when the Obama administration negotiated the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement – and al-Qaida’s leadership is now based in Tehran and has the active backing of its regime.

Even by the standards of Pompeo, a leading practitioner of deceit and distortion, these assertions lack credibility. This is the first time since Bin-Laden was assassinated in May 2011 that this ‘information’ has been revealed — and circulated globally by international news agencies.

I was one of very few journalists who actually met Bin-Laden. I interviewed him in a cave in the Tora Bora mountains and spent three days with him there. My book about his organisation, The Secret History of al-Qaida, was an international best-seller translated into 42 languages. I am in a position to say that these claims are untrue.

The Wahhabi al-Qaida and Shia Iran are poles apart in ideological and sectarian terms. There is no evidence of any Iranian ever joining the organisation or taking part in its operations – whether in Afghanistan, East Africa, or the ‘raid’ on the Twin Towers in New York. But nobody doubts that al-Qaida carried out many attacks against the Shia minority in Mazar-e-Sharif, or that its leader in Iraq, Abu-Misab al-Zarqawi, ordered a succession of car bombings in Shia areas of the country. There is a big difference between ‘having contacts’ with Iran and being supported by it.

Relatives of al-Qaida members — including sons, daughters and wives of Bin-Laden – did indeed flee to Iran after the October 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan. They were allowed in on humanitarian grounds and were mostly held in detention and barred from moving around. This was attested to me by one of Bin-Laden’s daughters who took refuge in the Saudi embassy in Kabul after escaping detention or house arrest and was repatriated to Saudi Arabia to be reunited with her family.

Nor is it true that Abdallah Ahmad Abdallah, aka Abu-Muhammad al-Masri, who was killed by a Mossad hit squad in Iran under US direction, was al-Qaida’s ‘No. 2’ leader. The US administration itself maintained that this position was held by Osama Bin-Laden’s son Hamza, who Trump boasted of having had killed. Why in any case would the organisation’s second-in-command be based in Iran when they would be safer and freer in other places such as Afghanistan or Yemen?

Pompeo’s false assertions, unsupported by any evidence, maybe the final shot from his armoury of lies aimed at providing pretexts for hostile action against Iran and its allies in the Trump administration’s last remaining days in office.

This is not said in defence of Iran, but of the truth — and to refute fabricated and misleading allegations that could yet be used to justify the killing of thousands of innocent people in the Middle East. Falsehoods like these will remain a major legacy of Trump and his administration, and of Pompeo in particular. We can only thank God that they will soon be gone.

More fake news from Washington

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