Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged Tuesday that arch-enemy Iran has become a new "home base" for al-Qaeda, surpassing Afghanistan or Pakistan, an assertion mocked by Tehran and questioned by experts.
"Al-Qaeda has a new home base. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said in a speech at the National Press Club.
"I would say Iran is indeed the new Afghanistan –- as the key geographic hub for Al-Qaeda -- but it's actually worse.
"Unlike in Afghanistan, when al-Qaeda was hiding in the mountains, al-Qaeda today is operating under the hard shell of the Iranian regime's protection."
Pompeo urged more international pressure, calling the alleged alliance a "massive force for evil all over the world."
But he announced sanctions on several individuals and a $7 million reward for information on an al-Qaeda member he said was believed to be in Iran identified both as Muhammad Abbatay or Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi.
Iran, a Shia clerical state, is ideologically opposed both to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, extreme Sunni movements that are predominantly Arab, and has fought on fronts abroad against both.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Pompeo "is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies."
"No one is fooled," Zarif wrote.