Iran appears to have eased restrictions on senior al-Qaeda militants who have been under house arrest, offering to let them leave the country, US officials say. The approximately five men were detained nine years ago, and are members of al-Qaeda's management council—one is a former adviser to Osama bin Laden; another is an explosives expert. The officials also say Iran may be providing al-Qaeda with material support, including money, transportation, and organizational assistance. The news is, unsurprisingly, stoking concerns in Washington over what some fear are growing links between Iran and al-Qaeda, the Wall Street Journal reports.
But some insiders caution against jumping to conclusions. "There is not significant information to suggest a working relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda," says one official; another adds that Iran wouldn't likely plan "major terrorist attacks against the West from Iranian soil." And the Journal points out that the two have many serious differences: For one, Iran is Shiite Muslim, while al-Qaeda is Sunni. Still, with al-Qaeda reeling from US attacks, an alliance with Iran is "one of their best hopes of reviving themselves," says an expert. And a former National Security Council aide sees an opportunity for Iran: not to literally partner with al-Qaeda, but to enable al-Qaeda to make trouble for the US.