Jan. 12 (UPI) -- In the final days of the Trump administration, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said without providing concrete evidence that the terrorist organization al-Qaida has established its new operational headquarters in Iran.
The United States' top diplomat told reporters in Washington, D.C., that the Sunni terrorist organization has relocated its home base to Shiite Iran amid U.S. and ally forces waging war against terrorism in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attack in the United States.
"You now have the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the home base for al-Qaida," he said. "They are partners in terrorism, partners in hate. This axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations and to the American homeland itself."
He said Iran has become "the new Afghanistan" to function as a key hub for the terrorist organization but is worse as it can now hide under the protection of a nation-state.
"America has far less visibility on al-Qaida's capabilities and their activities than we did on their activities when they were in Tora Bora on even in the regions of Pakistan," he said.
Iran rejected the accusations with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calling then "warmongering lies."
Pompeo confirmed during the press conference that Abu Muhammad al-Masri, al-Qaida's second-in-command, and the father to Maryam, the widow of one of Osama bin Laden's sons, was killed by Israeli agents on Aug. 7, which was originally reported on by The New York Times.
He said Iran has since 2015 given al-Qaida leaders freedom of movement within its borders and its Ministry of Intelligence and Security have provided them with refuge and support, such as issuing then travel documents, identification cards and passports.
In return, al-Qaida operatives must abide by the Tehran regime's rules.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have exponentially soured under the Trump administration, which has applied a maximum pressure campaign against Iran since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a multi-nation accord in 2018 that aimed to prevent the Middle Eastern country from gaining a nuclear weapon.
Sanctions have been at the heart of this pressure campaign, and Pompeo on Tuesday announced the State Department named two Iran-based al-Qaida leaders -- Muhammad Abbatay and Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-Arif -- as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
He also announced sanctions against three leaders of the al-Qaida-linked group that operates on the Iran-Iraq border.
A $7 million reward was also announced for Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi.
According to the State Department's Rewards for Justice website, al-Maghrebi is an Iran-based al-Qaida leader.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, reiterated in a statement that the allegations it was harboring al-Qaida were false.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran, which itself has been a victim of the U.S. state terrorism and the groups it supported, as a brilliant and defensible track record in fighting al-Qaida and [Islamic State] terrorism, and believes this page of the show staged by the radical camp in the U.S. will not contribute to their thirst for, and addiction to, sanctions or acts to trigger tensions," he said.