Iran’s Involvement in Somalia, with al Qaeda

Iran seeks uranium in exchange for training, weapons. Somali Islamists fought with Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel. Saif al-Adel is plotting against the West with the help of the IRGC.


Saif al-Adel

Further details emerge on the United Nations report on foreign involvement in Somalia. The UN report shatters the myth that Sunnis and Shiite terrorists and nations would not cooperate due to ideological differences in religion and an intense hatred between the sects. Reuters notes that Somali Islamists fought in Lebanon against the Israelis over the summer in exchange for training, weapons and the potential transfer of nuclear material to Iran. Syria also provided training to Somali Islamists. As we noted, Iran has supplied the Islamic Courts with anti-aircraft weapons as well as anti-tank missiles.

But the report said about 720 Somali Islamist fighters with combat experience — selected by Afghanistan-trained hardline Islamist commander Adan Hashi Farah “Ayro” — went to Lebanon to fight Israel along Hezbollah in mid-July. The fighters were paid $2,000 and as much as $30,000, to be given to their families, if they were killed, the report says.

At least 100 Somali fighters returned, along with five Hezbollah members, while an unknown number stayed in Lebanon for advanced military training, it states. “In exchange for the contribution of the Somali military force, Hezbollah arranged for additional support to be given … by the governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian Arab Republic, which was subsequently provided,” it says.

That included shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, grenade launchers, machine guns, ammunition, medicine, uniforms and other supplies. Additionally, Syria hosted about 200 Islamist fighters for training in guerrilla warfare, the report says.

The report also gives a hint that Iran, locked in a battle with the West over its nuclear ambitions, may have sought help in finding uranium in the hometown of Somali Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. “At the time of the writing of the present report, there were two Iranians in Dusa Mareb engaged in matters linked to uranium in exchange for arms,” it says, but gives no more information.

Syria denied any involvement, while Iran denied sending weapons before July but did not respond to a letter querying it about involvement after that point.

Iranian support of Sunni terrorist groups is hardly a new development. The 9-11 Commission Report clearly lays out the case for cooperation between al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Iran [portions excerpted below]. As the report notes, “The relationship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations.” Contacts between Iran, Hezbollah and al Qaeda were established in Sudan in the early 1990s. “Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah,” accordin g the the 9-11 Commission report. Many of al Qaeda’s 9-11 hijackers transited through Iran. “After 9/11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda.”

Iran currently shelters Said bin Laden, Osama’s son and successor; Saif al-Adel, al Qaeda’s senior strategist who is said to be third in command of al Qaeda, as well as about 100 senior and mid-level al Qaeda commanders (up to 500 al Qaeda total are said to have fled to Iran after Operation Enduring Freedom). The Telegraph reports “Iran is training the next al Qaeda leaders,” and al-Adel has “struck up a close personal relationship with several prominent [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps] commanders.”

“For the past five years he has been living in a Revolutionary Guards guest house in Teheran together with Saad and Mohammed bin Laden, two of the al-Qa’eda leader’s sons,” reports the Telegraph. American intelligence sources confirm this report. Al-Adel ordered bombings against US assets in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2003, using a telephone. Five Americans were killed in the attack. He has written numerous strategy documents from Iran, including a seven phase plan to conquer the world by 2020.

Iran has been supplying weapons and training to both Shia and Sunni terrorists alike. Iranian made shape projectile anti-tank mines have been used by Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda alike in Anbar province.

Iran in the 9-11 Commission Report:

Page 50-51

Bin Ladin seemed willing to include in the confederation terrorists from almost every corner of the Muslim world. His vision mirrored that of Sudan’s Islamist leader, Turabi, who convened a series of meetings under the label Popular Arab and Islamic Conference around the time of Bin Ladin’s arrival in that country. Delegations of violent Islamist extremists came from all the groups represented in Bin Ladin’s Islamic Army Shura. Representatives also came from organizations such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

Turabi sought to persuade Shiites and Sunnis to put aside their divisions and join against the common enemy. In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support-even if only training-for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Ladin reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983. The relationship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations. As will be described in chapter 7, al Qaeda contacts with Iran continued in ensuing years.

Page 240

Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to al Qaeda As we mentioned in chapter 2, while in Sudan, senior managers in al Qaeda maintained contacts with Iran and the Iranian-supported worldwide terrorist organization Hezbollah, which is based mainly in southern Lebanon and Beirut. Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah. Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Ladin’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because Bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia. Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan.For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda.

Our knowledge of the international travels of the al Qaeda operatives selected for the 9/11 operation remains fragmentary. But we now have evidence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi “muscle” operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.

In October 2000, a senior operative of Hezbollah visited Saudi Arabia to coordinate activities there. He also planned to assist individuals in Saudi Arabia in traveling to Iran during November. A top Hezbollah commander and Saudi Hezbollah contacts were involved.

Also in October 2000, two future muscle hijackers, Mohand al Shehri and Hamza al Ghamdi, flew from Iran to Kuwait. In November, Ahmed al Ghamdi apparently flew to Beirut, traveling-perhaps by coincidence-on the same flight as a senior Hezbollah operative. Also in November,Salem al Hazmi apparently flew from Saudi Arabia to Beirut. In mid-November, we believe, three of the future muscle hijackers,Wail al Shehri, Waleed al Shehri, and Ahmed al Nami, all of whom had obtained their U.S. visas in late October, traveled in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative was on the same flight that took the future hijackers to Iran. Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran were expecting the arrival of a group during the same time period. The travel of this group was important enough to merit the attention of senior figures in Hezbollah. Later in November, two future muscle hijackers,Satam al Suqami and Majed Moqed,flew into Iran from Bahrain. In February 2001, Khalid al Mihdhar may have taken a flight from Syria to Iran, and then traveled further within Iran to a point near the Afghan border. KSM and Binalshibh have confirmed that several of the 9/11 hijackers (at least eight, according to Binalshibh) transited Iran on their way to or from Afghanistan, taking advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports. They deny any other reason for the hijackers’ travel to Iran. They also deny any relationship between the hijackers and Hezbollah.

In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers. There also is circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives were closely tracking the travel of some of these future muscle hijackers into Iran in November 2000. However,we cannot rule out the possibility of a remarkable coincidence -that is, that Hezbollah was actually focusing on some other group of individuals traveling from Saudi Arabia during this same time frame, rather than the future hijackers. We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack. At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation. After 9/11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda. A senior Hezbollah official disclaimed any Hezbollah involvement in 9/11. We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • mark says:

    Combine this cooperation with al Qaeda, which has gone on a long while, and the developments today with the uranium found in Iran and their president saying that their nuke program is complete, this problem is ready to boil over unless Iran turns over some of the al Qaeda members it’s harboring and allows inspectors an answer about the uranium.
    Anything short of that is going to lead to a confrontation.

  • Michael says:

    I got a hint of it prior to Iraq. But when Sadr met with Syria and Iranian Presidents, plus Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas all in Damascus, this has been a no brainer.
    They’ve been working together for a long time.
    Why our Tokyo Rose Media does not report this, I do not know.

  • Sectarian cooperation

    In the debates over Iraq, we often hear the canard that Sunni and Shia Muslims are irrevocable enemies who would never cooperate with each other. Yet the evidence that they have and still do is pretty solid, as Iraq freelance…


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