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January 31, 2006

Terrorism Expert: Al Qaeda Larger Threat than Nuclear Iran

Washington , DC – Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna argued against taking military action against Iran over the nuclear issue, given the recent move by the US, the UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council. Instead, he advocated diplomacy by stating that “the Iranian nuclear threat is secondary to the Al Qaeda threat” that would arise inside of Iran during an invasion. Gunaratna, Head of Terrorism Research of the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, gave his speech concerning Al Qaeda in Iraq and Iran at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Division of International Security Studies and Middle East Program. While the lecture almost entirely centered around the function and organization of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Gunaratna did explain the presence of Al Qaeda in Iran and its relevance to US-Iranian relations. The speaker also advocated “a policy of engagement towards Iran” during the current nuclear situation.

Despite claims by many within the United States that Iran is a strong supporter of terrorism, Gunaratna stated “I haven’t seen any Iranian sponsorship of Al Qaeda.”

Gunaratna, who has studied global terrorism for nearly twenty years and authored a book entitled, “Inside Al Qaeda,” said that there are currently “at least 100 Al Qaeda members located inside of Iran,” but the Iranian government has “clamped down” on their operations.

According to Gunaratna, Al Qaeda first became involved with Iran during the United States invasion of Afghanistan, when Iran initially “allowed safe passage for many Al Qaeda members.” The original Al Qaeda leadership in Iran attempted to “negotiate safe passage and safe haven” for Al Qaeda members; instead, “Iran decided to be tough on Al Qaeda leadership.”

Gunaratna explained that the Al Qaeda leaders located in Iran are “very capable, but are under detention” by Iranian security forces, and these Al Qaeda leaders are under close Iranian control. He then clarified by saying that Iran has not arrested the Al Qaeda leaders or placed them in prison, but the Revolutionary Guard has placed them under “house arrest.”

During the question and answer session, one member of the audience asked whether the United States should use the Iranian nuclear issue to negotiate a deal to gain possession of the Al Qaeda leaders under Iranian detention.

In response, Gunaratna argued that “Iran is going to acquire nuclear weapons, whether you like it or not.” He went on to say that “the United States should negotiate with Iran about the nuclear weapons because the threat from Al Qaeda is much greater than the Iranian nuclear threat,” and only the United States is in a position to offer enough incentives to solve the Iranian nuclear issue.

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