Dubai: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)’s statement that the two men arrested for plotting a terrorist attack against a Canadian passenger train were supported by “Al Qaida elements in Iran” has been met with scepticism from experts and academics alike.
This is because linking Al Qaida to Iran is unusual. The terrorist group is known to be anti-Shiite at its core and Iran is more than aware of that. Al Qaida is a Sunni-Salafist organisation with a deep-seated and violent enmity towards Shiites.
But where it has suited both sides, it is argued there’ve been signs of “cooperation”. Post 9/11 and US invasion of Afghanistan, Iran allowed several top Al Qaida members to live under house arrest. According to Abdul Bari Atwan, editor in chief of Al Quds Al Arabi and an authority on Al Qaida having interviewed Osama Bin Laden, Iran has in the past turned a blind eye to the presence of Al Qaida in their territory — for example Abu Musab Al Zarqawi is known to have entered Iraq via Iran, with the knowledge of Iranian secret services. But the Canadian claim that their two suspects are linked to Al Qaida in Iran, “while it would dovetail nicely with Washington’s ambition to justify a strike on Tehran, is plainly ridiculous” he says.
There is no “branch” of Al Qaida in Iran argues Atwan and the sectarian divide has widened dramatically since 9/11. Iran would have nothing to gain from working with Al Qaida and Al Qaida wouldn’t liaise with a Shiite state. “The Iran connection is, at most, a connection with Sunni extremists in the Baluch areas”, he says.
In reaction to this Canadian claim, Seyyed Hossein Moussavian, a former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiators, says the accusation that these two Al Qaida plotters are linked to Iran is baseless. “Al Qaida has been fighting Iran since 1998 in Afghanistan and Iran has always been after Al Qaida in its soil and beyond”, he says adding: “Everybody in Washington and Ottawa knows well who is the real backer of Al Qaida in the Arab world.”
Dr Hooshang Amirahmadi, Iranian-American scholar and professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, is equally sceptical of the connection. He says the current Canadian government has been very anti-Islamic Republic since day one. “This is not to say that it is solely the Canadian government that is responsible for this position. Rather, both sides are at fault,” he says.
According to him, the Zahra Kazemi incident (the Iranian Canadian photographer who was killed in Iran) was a turning point in their relationship. He adds the current Canadian government has taken a similar position on Iran to that of Israel’s and has been very active on the Iranian nuclear issue. This latest incident he says is “one of the latest manifestations of that animosity towards the Islamic Republic.”
Amirahmadi doesn’t believe there is a link between Iran and the latest arrests. “Iran is not that stupid to use Al Qaida operators to damage Canadian infrastructure. They are not lunatics. They do think about their actions and I don’t believe the government could do this kind of stuff.”