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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pence Links Iran’s Soleimani to 9/11 Attacks


Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani “[a]ssisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan” of some of the terrorists who executed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. To support his claim, a spokeswoman referred to a State Department document that said Iran, not Soleimani, permitted members of al Qaeda, including some of the 9/11 hijackers, to travel through Iran to Afghanistan, where some received training.

However, that doesn’t mean that Iran, or Soleimani, knowingly aided al Qaeda in carrying out the attacks, which may be the impression some got from Pence’s tweet.

Notably, the 9/11 Commission Report — which doesn’t mention Soleimani at all — said that investigators found no evidence that Iran was involved with, or had prior knowledge of, the terrorist organization’s plans to attack the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

Pence made his claim in a series of tweets on Jan. 3, in which he defended President Donald Trump’s decision to have Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, killed in a U.S. drone attack in Baghdad on Jan. 2. In a statement about his death, the Department of Defense said Soleimani and the Quds Force “were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members,” and “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

In his Twitter thread, Pence listed “some of” what he called Soleimani’s “worst atrocities,” and wrote that the now-deceased Iranian military leader “[a]ssisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.”

Actually, there were a total of 19 hijackers — not 12.

In a tweet later that day, a spokeswoman for Pence, Katie Waldman, clarified that the vice president meant to say that “12 of the 19” terrorists “transited through Afghanistan” and “10 of those 12 were assisted by Soleimani.” In an email, she told us that was highlighted in an April 2019 fact sheet on the State Department’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including the Quds Force, as a terrorist organization.

“The IRGC, with the support of the Iranian government, has engaged in terrorist activity since its inception 40 years ago,” the fact sheet stated. The document then said Iran “harbors terrorists within its own borders, thereby facilitating their activities.” It added: “In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department identified and sanctioned three senior [al Qaeda] operatives residing in Iran and noted that Iran had knowingly permitted these AQ members, including several of the 9/11 hijackers, to transit its territory on their way to Afghanistan for training and operational planning.”

The 9/11 Commission Report from 2004 also concluded that “there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” The report said that “8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001,” and that “several of the 9/11 hijackers” took “advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports,” a policy Iran instituted to improve relations with al Qaeda.

But neither the State Department document nor the 9/11 Commission Report mentioned Soleimani, or directly tied Iran’s passport policy to him.

Although, as a high-ranking Iranian official, it may be that Soleimani knew about the policy and supported it, as Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has argued.

Still, the 9/11 Commission said it “found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah,” an Iranian supported militant group, “was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.” Its report also said, “At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation.”

Those details would not have been apparent to anyone who read Pence’s tweet, which may have suggested a direct link between Soleimani and the 9/11 attacks.