The Iran-Pakistan border. (snotch / flickr)

Virtually unnoticed, since late 2001, Iran has held some of al Qaeda's most senior leaders. Several of these operatives, such as Yasin al-Suri, an al Qaeda facilitator, have moved recruits and money from the Middle East to central al Qaeda in Pakistan. Others, such as Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian that served as head of al Qaeda's security committee, and Abu Muhammad al-Masri, one of the masterminds of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, have provided strategic and operational assistance to central al Qaeda. The Iranian government has held most of them under house arrest, limited their freedom of movement, and closely monitored their activities. Yet the organization's presence in Iran means that, contrary to optimistic assessments that have become the norm in Washington, al Qaeda's demise is not imminent. 

Perhaps more disturbing, Iran appears willing to expand its limited relationship with al Qaeda. Just

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  • SETH G. JONES is Senior Political Scientist at RAND and author of Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda Since 9/11. Between 2009 and 2011, he served at U.S. Special Operations Command, including as a Plans Officer and Senior Adviser to the Commanding General of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan.
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