Al Qaeda and Iran: Enemies with Benefits

On April 22, Canadian authorities arrested two men who allegedly planned to derail a U.S.-bound passenger train. Officials said al Qaeda elements in Iran gave “direction and guidance” to Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35. But police have not found evidence of Iranian state sponsorship. And Tehran has denied any connection to the plot.

Iran and al Qaeda have had a complex and rocky relationship for two decades. The Shiite theocracy and the Sunni terrorist organization are not natural allies. Al Qaeda’s hardline Salafi/Wahhabi interpretation of Islam believes that Shiites are heretics. In 2009, a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula proclaimed that Shiites, particularly Iranians, posed more of a danger to Sunnis than Jews or Christians. Iran has likewise been hostile toward al Qaeda and its former Taliban hosts in Afghanistan.

This article was originally published in The Iran Primer.