Indicators and warnings continue to grow concerning the resurgence of an "Axis of Jihad" comprised of Iran, Hizballah, and al-Qa'eda. This axis is not new: its three actors, both national and sub-national, have been working together in an operational terror alliance for over two decades. Still, so many seem unaware not just of this alliance, but of the ideological bonds that brought them together in Khartoum, Sudan, in the early 1990s and have kept them together to the current day. The bond is as old as Islam, and includes the commitment to jihad [war in the name of Islam] and Islamic Shariah law; the threat is to all free and democratic societies which stand in the way of global Islamic government and the forcible application of Islamic Shariah Law.
Foundation of the Axis of Jihad
This modern-day Axis of Jihad was formed in the Sudan under the aegis of the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Omar al-Bashir and his sometime political ally, National Congress Party chairman Hassan al-Turabi. Al-Qa'eda as such had not yet taken its current form, but after the end of the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviet Union, Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had found safe haven in the Sudan. Al-Bashir and Turabi are pan-Islamists, meaning they see the world in terms of the Dar al-Islam (House of Islam, where Shariah is enforced) versus the Dar al-Harb (everywhere that is not under Islamic Law). Such a worldview chooses to disregard the ancient intra-Islamic schism between Sunni and Shi'a and instead to unify the entire Islamic world in jihad against the "infidel."
So it was that al-Bashir and Turabi invited the Iranian regime leadership and its Hizballah terror proxies to Khartoum in late 1990 to meet with the future leadership of al-Qa'eda. Then-Iranian president (and once again a 2013 candidate for the office) Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, intelligence director Ali Fallahian, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Mohsen Reza'i and other top Iranian leadership figures accepted al-Bashir's invitation and traveled to Khartoum, along with Islamic jihadis from around the region.
There, and in subsequent meetings that took place in Khartoum throughout the early 1990s, the alliance was formed among Iran, Hizballah, and what soon would be known as al-Qa'eda. Usama bin Laden was especially interested in the explosives expertise coupled with a "martyrdom" mentality he had seen demonstrated by Hizballah with such deadly effect against Western targets. It was arranged that Imad Mughniyeh, Hizballah's top terror operative, would commit to training Usama bin Laden's growing cadre of terrorists in explosives techniques, especially those involving suicide truck bombings that could bring down large buildings. Training camps were set up in Sudan, Lebanon, and elsewhere where al-Qa'eda's would-be shahid recruits could learn this craft. The attacks at Khobar Towers, the U.S. East Africa Embassies in Dar Es-Salaam and Nairobi, against the USS Cole, and eventually the 9/11 attacks themselves were all the result of this terror alliance.
The Axis Resurgent
The Axis of Jihad did not end on 9/11, as subsequent attacks in Tunisia, Istanbul, Riyadh, Madrid and elsewhere that were attributed to the al-Qa'eda Shura Council operating out of Iran post-9/11 all testify. After 9/11, however, the Axis did not again succeed in attacking the American homeland; the fierce U.S. response to 9/11 aggressively put al-Qa'eda on the defensive as across the globe its leadership was pursued, arrested, sanctioned, and eliminated. As Iran stubbornly forged ahead during the period with its nuclear weapons program, its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Qods Force, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) leadership also was sanctioned repeatedly, even as Israel dogged its scientists and security operatives in the so-called "War in the Shadows.'
The Iran-Hizballah-al-Qa'eda alliance survived, nevertheless -- despite setbacks both external and internal -- only to emerge once again from the shadows in 2013. Iran had reactivated its Hizballah terror proxy even earlier to attempt avenge the February 2008 Mughniyeh assassination. Attacks and plots -- launched by Hizballah's rejuvenated Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO) terror operations unit either independently or in conjunction with the IRGC/Qods Force (and sometimes, criminal elements as well) -- seemed to multiply in places as far-flung as Baku, Tbilisi, New Delhi, Istanbul, and Nairobi. At first, even as the tempo of attacks markedly picked up, many of the plots were disrupted by the authorities -- until July 18, 2012, when a busload of Israeli tourists was blown up by a suicide bomber in Burgas, Bulgaria, with the loss of five Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver (in addition to the bomber). Dozens more were injured.
It was the U.S.-Canada railway attack plot, though, announced, with arrests, by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in April 2013, that signaled the revival of the Axis. According to the RCMP, the plot, which would have derailed a NYC-Toronto passenger train over the Niagara River gorge, was directed by the Iran-based al-Qa'eda Shura, led by al-Qa'eda's Egyptian operations commander, Saif al-Adl. Alarmingly, even though the FBI was reportedly working closely with the RCMP on the U.S. side of the border, there were no arrests announced inside the U.S. and additional members of the plot network likely remained on the loose. The reluctance of U.S. intelligence and national security officials to acknowledge either the reality and critical threat of the Iran-al-Qa'eda alliance, or the fact that al-Qa'eda is not defeated but instead, since 2001, has metastasized on a global level, contributes to uncertainty about their ability to address Iran and al-Qa'eda's joint operations rather than treating them always as separate phenomena.
Indicators and Warnings
The new indicators and warnings come to us most urgently from Reza Kahlili, a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] officer and undercover CIA agent and operative, whose contacts inside Iran advised him of a major 2013 attack to come inside the U.S. that would target a major (but unidentified) hotel in a Mumbai-style assault. Earlier, in February 2010, as Kahlili reports, a key meeting occurred inside Iran to coordinate the terror operations of the Qods Force, Hizballah, and al-Qa'eda. In attendance at that meeting were Qassem Suleimani, Qods Force commander; Seif al-Adl, the Iran-based operations chief for al-Qa'eda; and Mustafa Badr al-Din, the Hizballah terror operations commander who took the place of his brother-in-law, Imad Mughniyeh, as head of the "Special Research Apparatus" comprised of several hundred crack Hizballah cadre whose mission is international terror operations.
The Ideology That Binds
The ideology that holds Sunni al-Qa'eda so closely affiliated (at least in terror operational matters) with Shi'ite Iran and Hizballah over the course of decades is, simply, Islam. It is the fervent belief that Allah, the deity of Islam, commands all of his faithful to a pathway of supremacism and conquest. Obedience to Qur'an, Sunnah, and Shariah law is the highest form of devotion for Muslims who respond to the call to jihad.
In this, the Axis of Jihad rightly must be expanded to include those Muslims who pursue "civilizational jihad," as the Muslim Brotherhood terms it, rather than only the immediately violent sort of jihad identified with al-Qa'eda. The Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, reminded the 2012 presidential election crowds of the essential oneness of the Islamic creed when he recited the Brotherhood's motto to their roars of approval:
Allah is our objective
The Prophet is our guide
The Qur'an is our law
Jihad is our way
And dying in the way of Allah our highest aspiration
The false split that some analysts establish between these varieties of jihad misses the key underlying truth: they aim for the same objectives, namely Islamic government [Caliphate] and universal subjugation to Shariah law. If anything, the flamboyant jihad attacks of al-Qa'eda, HAMAS, Hizballah, or the Taliban serve to condition a society to the feeling of terror, as Brigadier General S.K. Malik explained so clearly in "The Quranic Concept of War:"
Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end in itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent's heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved.
This "condition of terror" is meant so to demoralize a targeted people that acquiescing to the seemingly non-violent Shariah demands of a Muslim Brotherhood front group seems eminently preferable, even reasonable, by contrast. Of course, imposition of Shariah law, by stealth or by overwhelming violence in the wake of assault and terror, or gradually from within, is the whole point of the exercise.
Despite the still-ongoing military campaign against "al-Qa'eda and its affiliates," the U.S. and more generally Western failure to acknowledge and counter the underlying Islamic ideology as the animating force that drives both al-Qa'eda and the Muslim Brotherhood, combined with a baffling willingness to welcome Brotherhood affiliates and operatives into the top ranks of the U.S. government elicits both anger and contempt from the jihadist enemy. Two years into the seismic shift across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that brought the forces of Islamic jihad and Shariah law to power in country after country after country -- with astonishing and extensive assistance from the U.S. -- the Axis of Jihad apparently judges that the U.S. and its Western allies still need another nudge to ensure their complete retreat from "Muslim" lands.
That nudge, according to reporting from Kahlili and other independent, reliable and mutually-corroborating sources, has now been prepared under the joint command of the Iran-Hizballah-al-Qa'eda axis. The Iranian regime began to build the operational networks in the Western Hemisphere in earnest about 2005, the year that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in Iran. He initiated a diplomatic expansion across Latin America that saw an increase in Iranian Embassies from six to ten between 2005 and 2010. Each of those, and the Imam Ali Islamic Centers that serve as command and control centers for special units of the IRGC/Qods Force, provide cover positions for Iranian intelligence and security service operatives whose jobs include liaison with narcotrafficking, organized crime, and terror groups such as Hizballah.
The Tri-Border region of South America, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay met, served as an early hub of terror operations from the 1980s onward for the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires and Hizballah, which jointly directed the 1992 and 1994 terror attacks against the Israeli Embassy and Jewish Cultural Center, respectively, from this lawless area. Since 2005, Iran's operational base in Venezuela has become the nexus for its operations across the Western Hemisphere, including South, Central, and North America. Diplomatic relationships with Venezuela and other Latin American regimes hostile to the U.S., such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua also provide Iran with a means of evading international isolation and sanctions, obtaining a ready source of fraudulent travel documents, and laundering money.
Hizballah's operations in the Western Hemisphere, including inside the U.S. and Canada, are noted with special concern by U.S. officials: former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff remarked that Hizballah made al-Qa'eda "look like a minor league team," while former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage has called Hizballah the "A team" and al-Qa'eda the "B team." Masters of clandestine intelligence tradecraft, as well as among the most highly trained and ideologically-committed special operations forces anywhere, Hizballah (which is trained by the Iranians) expends considerable effort establishing cell networks across the Americas. These cells are assigned to pre-attack casing and surveillance; fundraising via a variety of scams like cigarette smuggling as well as narcotrafficking; and operational planning for terror attacks. Former U.S. Ambassador Roger Noriega testifies regularly for Congress to detail Hizballah's collaboration with narcotraffickers and guerrilla groups (such as the FARC -- Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) whose drug-running and terror training activities are becoming ever more complex, dangerous, and threatening to U.S. national security, as well as that of friends and allies throughout the hemisphere.
Venezuela's Margarita Island, better known as a prime tourist destination, has become a safe haven for terrorists and drug smugglers, as well as Hizballah's banking and finance hub in the Western Hemisphere. According to Noriega, Hizballah runs countless businesses and safe houses on the island. Even closer to home, Hizballah has forged operational relationships with Mexican drug cartels such as Los Zetas. The links are opportunistic, rather than ideological, on both sides; Hizballah increasingly uses narcotics trafficking to fill funding gaps left by cutbacks in Iranian largesse, while the cartels benefit from Hizballah's explosives, tunneling, and weapons expertise. Al-Qa'eda, too, has boasted about the ease of moving non-conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction into the U.S. via the Mexican drug tunnels. Kahlili's reporting names al-Qa'eda operative Adnan Shukrijumah, who has been spotted and tracked over the years by U.S. and allied security agencies from Canada to the U.S., and south into Latin America, among the list of operational commanders awaiting attack orders from Iranian Qods Force commander Qassem Suleimani, the overall Iran-Hizballah-al-Qa'eda coalition commander.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress in 2011 that senior Iranian officials "are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States…" Apparently either unaware or forgetful of the close Iranian and Hizballah coordination with al-Qa'eda in the 9/11 attacks, Clapper nevertheless conveyed the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that a shift in Iranian strategic thinking may presage new Iranian-sponsored terror attacks against the homeland. Iranian officials, too, have indicated the regime's willingness once again to aim its asymmetric warfare campaign at American streets: in May 2011, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmed Vahidi openly threatened a "tough and crushing response" to any U.S. attack against Iran.
Vahidi's warning points to what may constitute possible triggers for an Iranian "green light" to its network of al-Qa'eda, Hizballah, and Qods Force operatives already in place in American communities. In addition to finally exacting revenge for the killing of Usama bin Laden and Imad Mughniyeh, such triggers could include a combined Israeli/U.S., or simply Israeli, military strike against Iranian nuclear weapons facilities; a direct threat to the survivability of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria from either Israel or Syrian rebels perceived to be backed by the U.S.; or, as Kahlili describes it, an Iranian imperative to shake America's sense of safety and security in the homeland in order to compel and hasten both a U.S. retreat from influence and military power projection in the Muslim world.
Reportedly, more than 2,000 targets "including public places, government buildings and military installations" already have been selected and cased. Separate but parallel reporting indicates that the "go" order may already have been transmitted from Tehran to the al-Qa'eda and Hizballah cells inside the U.S., placing them essentially on autopilot status. Of course, all of Kahlili's published warnings have been passed in full detail to U.S. security agencies, but the threat from this Axis of Jihad remains critical and poses a serious threat to America's homeland security.
Effective measures from America's national security leadership are urgently needed. Those measures must begin with an honest acknowledgement of the precepts and objectives of the enemy threat —that is, as they are derived from the doctrine, law, and scriptures of Islam—and should include a comprehensive strategic counterjihad plan as complete as the Axis of Jihad's plan.