WASHINGTON — It's one of the enduring mysteries of the war on terrorism: What will become of the al-Qaida leaders and operatives who fled into Iran after 9/11 and have been detained there for years?
Their fate has long been a blindspot for U.S. intelligence. Recently, however, some al-Qaida figures have quietly made their way out of Iran, raising the prospect that the country is loosening its grip on the terror group so it can replenish its ranks, former and current U.S. intelligence officials say.
This movement could indicate that Iran is re-examining its murky relationship with al-Qaida at a time when the U.S. is stepping up drone attacks in Pakistan and weakening the group's leadership. Any influx of manpower could hand al-Qaida a boost in morale and expertise and threaten to disrupt stability in the region.
Details about al-Qaida's movements and U.S. efforts to monitor them were outlined to The Associated Press in more than a dozen interviews with current and former intelligence and counterterrorism officials, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
Iran's Shiite regime is generally hostile to the Sunni terrorist group, but they have an occasional relationship of convenience based on their shared enemy, the U.S. It's a relationship that intelligence officials don't fully understand.
U.S. intelligence officials have tried wiretapping and satellite imagery to watch the men.... >>>
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