WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration accused Iran yesterday of entering into a "secret deal" with an al-Qaida offshoot that provides money and recruits for attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Treasury Department designated six members of the unit as terrorists subject to U.S. sanctions.
The U.S. intelligence community has disagreed in the past about the extent of direct links between the Iranian government and al-Qaida. Yesterday's allegations went further than what most analysts had previously said was a murky relationship with limited cooperation.
David S. Cohen, Treasury's point man for terrorism and financial intelligence, said Iran entered a "secret deal with al-Qaida allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory." He didn't provide any details of that, but said the sanctions seek to disrupt al-Qaida's work in Iraq and deny the terrorist group's leadership much-needed support.
"Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world today," Cohen said. "We are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran's unmatched support for terrorism."
Treasury said the exposure of the clandestine agreement would disrupt al-Qaida operations by shedding light on Iran's role as a "critical transit point" for money and extremists reaching Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Treasury said a branch headed by Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil was operating in Iran with the government's blessing, funneling funds collected from across the Arab world to al-Qaida's senior leaders in Pakistan. Khalil is said to have operated within Iran's borders for six years.
Also targeted by the sanctions is Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, appointed by Osama bin Laden as al-Qaida's envoy in Iran after serving as a commander in Pakistan's tribal areas. As an emissary, al-Rahman is allowed to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of government officials, the statement claimed.
The sanctions block any assets the individuals might have held in the United States, and bans Americans from doing any business with them.
No Iranian officials were cited for complicity in terrorism.