Center for Strategic Communication


A screen shot of the header of Chiheb Esseghaier’s Linkedin page, which includes an image of al Qaeda’s banner. The image has since been removed. Source: Linkedin/The Long War Journal.

Canadian police officials have linked the plotting of two Muslim men to destroy a Toronto passenger train to al Qaeda’s network inside Iran. The two suspects, neither of whom are Canadian citizens, were taken into custody yesterday and are facing terrorism charges. One of the suspects had placed an image of al Qaeda’s banner in a social media site. The image has since been removed.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said yesterday that the two suspects, identified as Chiheb Esseghaier, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, of Toronto, received “support from al Qaeda elements located in Iran” in the form of “direction and guidance.” Their plot called for the destruction of a train bound from the US to Canada, in an effort to sow terror and harm the economies of both countries.

Esseghaier, a doctoral student at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, has a bachelors degree in Industrial Biology and a masters degree in Industrial Biotechnology, according to his Linkedin page. He lists Nanotechnology as one of his “Skills & Expertise.” He attended college in Tunis and is thought to be a Tunisian.

Before the image was taken down sometime last night, Esseghaier’s Linkedin page displayed in image of al Qaeda’s black flag. This flag was first used by al Qaeda in Iraq but has been adopted by other al Qaeda affiliates.

Iran denies links to al Qaeda, but links are well established

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s Foreign Minister, said the claims of the Canadian police linking the plotters to al Qaeda in Iran were “ridiculous.”

“If the news that you are announcing is true, this is the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in my 64 year [sic],” Salehi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

He also described al Qaeda in Iran as “a new fake issue and a really ridiculous word.”

Iran’s ties to al Qaeda are well documented, however. In recent years, the US government has added several Iran-based al Qaeda leaders and operatives to its list of specially designated global terrorists, and even noted a “secret deal” between the Iranian government and al Qaeda.

In January 2009, the Treasury Department designated senior al Qaeda members operating in Iran. The January 2009 designation included Mustafa Hamid, the father-in-law of top al Qaeda operative Saif al Adel; Saad bin Laden, one of Osama’s sons, who was later killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan; Muhammad Rab’a al Sayid Al Bahtiyti; and Ali Saleh Husain.

Treasury described Hamid as “a senior al Qaeda associate who served as a primary interlocutor between al Qaeda and the Government of Iran.” During the 1990s, Hamid “reportedly negotiated a secret relationship between Osama Bin Laden and Iran, allowing many al Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan.” Hamid also “passed communications between Osama bin Laden and the Government of Iran.” In late 2001, Hamid negotiated with the Iranians to relocate al Qaeda families to Iranian soil. Saif al Adel, Hamid’s son-in-law, was among them. Al Adel has been wanted since late 1998 for his involvement in al Qaeda’s embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

According to the 2009 designation, Saad bin Laden “facilitated the travel of Osama bin Laden’s family members from Afghanistan to Iran” beginning in late 2001. He also “made key decisions for al Qaeda and was part of a small group of al Qaeda members that was involved in managing the terrorist organization from Iran.”

In July 2011, the Treasury Dept. designated an al Qaeda leader known as Yasin al Suri along with five other terrorists who operate from Iranian soil to move funds and recruits from Iran’s neighboring Gulf countries to South Asia and elsewhere. Al Suri’s network assists not only senior al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, but also al Qaeda in Iraq.

The Treasury Dept. said that al Suri’s network operates as part of a “secret deal” between al Qaeda and the Iranian government. In December 2011, US authorities announced a $10 million reward for information leading to al Suri’s capture.

Also included in the July 2011 designation was Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who commanded al Qaeda in northern Pakistan. Rahman was killed one month later, in a US drone strike in August 2011. The Treasury Dept. noted that he “was previously appointed by Osama bin Laden to serve as al Qaeda’s emissary in Iran, a position which allowed him to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of Iranian officials.” Rahman had received safe haven inside Iran after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In February 2012, the Treasury Dept. designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) “for its support to terrorist groups.” Al Qaeda and its affiliate, al Qaeda in Iraq, are among the terrorist groups supported by the MOIS, which is Iran’s chief intelligence agency.

“Today we have designated the MOIS for abusing the basic human rights of Iranian citizens and exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian regime’s abhorrent crackdown on its own population,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen explained in a press release. “In addition, we are designating the MOIS for its support to terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq, Hizballah and HAMAS, again exposing the extent of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism as a matter of Iranian state policy.”

The MOIS is assisting al Qaeda in a variety of ways. According to Treasury, the “MOIS has facilitated the movement of al Qaeda operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports.”

In addition, the MOIS has “provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)…and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.”

Iran also supports the Taliban

Treasury has also noted Iran’s support for the Taliban, as in August 2010 it added two top Iranian Qods Force commanders to its list of specially designated global terrorists, for directly providing support for the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

General Hossein Musavi is the commander of Qods Force’s Ansar Corps, “whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan,” the Treasury stated. “As Ansar Corps Commander, Musavi has provided financial and material support to the Taliban.” Colonel Hasan Mortezavi is described as a senior Qods Force officer who “provides financial and material support to the Taliban.”

Qods Forces’ Ansar Corps is the command that is assigned to direct operations in Afghanistan. The Ansar Corps is based in Mashad in northeastern Iran. Al Qaeda is known to facilitate travel for its operatives moving into Afghanistan from Mashad, and also uses the eastern cities of Tayyebat and Zahedan to move its operatives into Afghanistan [see LWJ report, Return to Jihad].

Iran’s support for the Taliban can be seen in Coalition and Afghan military operations against the Afghan terror group. Coalition and Afghan forces targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids in western Afghanistan between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal. ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in early February 2011; LWJ‘s queries to ISAF on this subject have gone unanswered [see LWJ report, Taliban suicide assault team kills 36 Afghans in western city].