On May 1, 2011, then-President Barack Obama announced to the world the death of Osama bin Laden during a US commando operation in Pakistan called Neptune Spear.

In 2012, Nelly Lahoud was teaching at West Point when the CIA declassified the first 17 documents captured during the raid. She was asked to lead the analysis of those documents for West Point's Combatting Terrorism Center.

In an interview with 60 minutes on CBS, Lahoud, senior fellow in New America's International Security program and expert on al-Qaeda (AQ) and the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS/ISIL), explained that in November of 2002, U.S. intelligence officials warned al Qaeda might be planning, "spectacular attacks" that could cause "mass casualties."

However, Lahoud also revealed that bin Laden wanted to replicate the 9/11 attacks in the US. “Bin Laden writes that rather than hijack a plane, operatives should charter one for their next attack on the US.” He adds if that's too difficult, they should target US railways.

During the 21-years period after 9/11, Iran maintained a relationship with al-Qaeda and its operatives, mainly driven by an anti-America agenda.

After two decades, the relationship between Iran and the terrorism network , which began in the early 1990s, is still being argued within the counterterrorism community and government officials, according to Asfandyar Mir, senior expert in the Asia Center at the United States Institute of Peace, and Colin P. Clarke, senior research fellow at The Soufan Center.

A poster from 2019 of Bin Laden's son Hamza

At the time, al-Qaeda and Iran made a deal that included al-Qaeda members training with Iranian intelligence operatives in Iran and Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

However, Tallha Abdulrazaq, an academic with expertise in Middle Eastern security affairs, explains that Iran has provided shelter to numerous Al Qaeda operatives over the years.

Bin Laden’s son Hamza is believed to be among those to have been harbored in Iran.

Even though mainly Shia Iran claims to be fighting extremism, Tehran has supplied both Sunni and Shia terrorist organizations with advanced weapons such as rockers and improvised explosive devices.

A picture of Bin Laden at a pro-US rally in India in 2001

After bin laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996, Iran provided al-Qaeda operatives logistical and travel support, as the US bipartisan report from the 9/11 Commission concluded.

“Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Ladin's return to Afghanistan,” the report said, adding that evidence suggested “8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi "muscle" operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”

By 2003, the relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda had grown turbulent, probably due to the terrorist network’s growing presence in Iran.

By 2010, during hard diplomacy and lots of assurances al-Qaeda secured the release of key members and their families in detention, while Iran achievedrelease of Heshmatollah Attarzadeh Niyaki, the commercial attache at Iran's consulate in Peshawar after his kidnap in Pakistan.

Tehran continued to allow al-Qaeda to transfer money via Iran, as well as to transit personnel and resources across conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Syria, according to the 2019 US State Department’s country terrorism report.

Iran’s geographic position neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan also critically helped al-Qaeda to move across key battlefields when under direct US pressure there.

While Iran’s assistance enabled al-Qaeda to continuously challenge the United States and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, the Sunni terrorist group in return refrained from committing attacks inside Iran or against Shia populations in other countries in the region.

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