It's not often foreign leaders are chastised by al Qaeda for going too far in their critique of the United States--but Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has somehow managed the trick. Ahmadinejad is already facing bruising attacks at home from conservative Iranian clerics and politicians on several fronts--and now al Qaeda representatives are assailing him for peddling conspiracy theories that deny the terrorist group's culpability for the Sept. 11 attacks.
According to the new issue of "Inspire" magazine--the English-language propaganda outlet put out by the group's Yemeni affiliate al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)--Ahmadinejad insulted the terrorist group by renewing past conspiratorial claims about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon during his speech before the United Nations last week.
"The mysterious September 11 incident" merits an investigation into possible "hidden elements involved" seeking a pretext for America's invasion of the Middle East, Ahmadinejad suggested in his Sept. 22 address to the world body--prompting an immediate walk-out by the United States and several European delegations.
And it seems that this was all a bit much for al Qaeda.
"The Iranian government has professed on the tongue of its president Ahmadinejad that it does not believe that al Qaeda was behind 9/11 but rather, the U.S. government," an article in Inspire's latest issue argued, according to ABC News' Lee Ferrin. "So we may ask the question: why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?"
For Iran, "al Qaeda was a competitor for the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised Muslims around the world," the rant continued. "Al Qaeda... succeeded in what Iran couldn't. Therefore it was necessary for the Iranians to discredit 9/11 and what better way to do so? Conspiracy theories."
Iran is committed only to carrying out "lip-service jihad" against the United States, it added.
(Whether the Inspire article author is aware that his rant echoes a skit by the satirical media outfit "the Onion" in 2008 is unclear.)
Ahmadinejad's 9/11 conspiracy theories were hardly anything new--nor was the American and European walkout that they provoked. Indeed, both have becoming staples of recent years' annual gathering of world leaders for the UN General Assembly opening session.
So too has Ahmadinejad's flurry of media interviews on his New York trips.
In such a meeting with journalists following his UN address, the Iranian leader was more restrained--if not more conciliatory--as he sought to draw equivalences between the West's economic troubles and those of Iran, the target of international sanctions over its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad also responded to questions about his own reported domestic political problems with Iran's hardline parliamentarians, suggesting that the divided political scene in Tehran is not all so different from the partisan rancor faced by the American president in Washington.
The Iranian leader went on to press other supposed analogies between Iran and the West. When several journalists in attendance asked him about the treatment of Iranian political prisoners, human rights abuses and political repression, Ahmadinejad countered that violence involving law enforcement kills 30 Americans every week, and spoke of the independence of Iran's judicial system. And when another reporter queried him about Iran's alleged military and financial support for Bashar al-Assad's crackdown in Syria, Ahmadinejad denied playing such a role, going on to argue that the successful Arab rebellions in Egypt and Tunisia overturned autocrats long allied with the United States. And so on.
Some of America's "jobless, hopeless youth see no alternative but to join the armed forces," Ahmadinejad said. "We are not happy" when American soldiers die in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Why do they need to die in Afghanistan? . . . Some wish to accuse others. Yet they are ignoring their own fundamental role."
Whether Ahmadinejad will get many further opportunities to portray such narratives on the world stage is not as assured as it once perhaps seemed. The UN gathering in New York this year was missing several autocrats who had become perennial fixtures--Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, and Tunisia's Ben Ali among them. And Ahmadinejad, currently in his second presidential term, is also a lame duck, as Iran is due to hold presidential elections in 2013.