America Created ISIS, Top Iranian Official Claims

A senior aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has claimed that the U.S. was behind the creation of ISIS and other extremist groups in Syria.

Speaking to reporters in Tehran, Ali Akbar Velayati also warned that America's involvement in the country could prove bloody, the official state Fars news agency said.

"The Americans themselves have created the ISIL [ISIS] and the al-Nusra in Syria and now they have come onto the scene and occupied Eastern Euphrates," Velayati said.

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil walks with Ali Akbar Velayati (R), Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's top adviser on international affairs, after their meeting in Beirut on December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

This is not the first time an Iranian official has levelled the allegation at the U.S. In March, Khamenei himself claimed America had spawned the terror group to distract the world from the actions of Israel.

The conspiracy theory is popular in the Middle East. A 2016 poll showed that one third of Iraqis surveyed believed the U.S. supports terrorism in general or ISIS specifically.

The group originated from a merger of Sunni Muslim militant groups that had been formed to oppose the American occupation of Iraq. The merger included al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later broke away from the central leadership and morphed into ISIS.

Many of ISIS' eventual leaders met at Camp Bucca, an American military prison in the south of Iraq. Influential jihadi militants and former Ba'athists used their shared confinement to form alliances and create a blueprint for the group that would rampage across Iraq and Syria a decade later.

As the group overran Iraqi positions in 2014, ISIS fighters seized huge amounts of American-made weapons and vehicles. Images of ISIS troops attacking Syrian regime positions using Humvees and M-16 rifles seemed to lend weight to the otherwise unfounded suggestions the Pentagon was directly arming the group.

ISIS fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province on June 30, 2014. REUTERS

As the war in Syria progressed, the U.S. poured money and weapons into Syria to supply more "moderate" rebel groups. As these forces were absorbed or defeated by more extremist groups like ISIS and al-Nusra—a Syrian al-Qaeda offshoot—jihadis found themselves armed with even more American hardware.

President Donald Trump has done little to dispel the myth of direct American support for ISIS since he took office. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump claimed—without providing any evidence—that President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-founded the group and that ISIS "honors" the former president.

Velayati also warned that if U.S. troops remain in Syria, the country will become "another Vietnam." There are approximately 2,000 American soldiers currently in the country working as advisors to local Kurdish and Syrian militias. It is unclear how long they will remain stationed there for.

Iran is currently facing pressure to remove its own forces from Syria. Tehran has become one of President Bashar al-Assad's most important allies and has built a significant military presence. Iranian troops and positions have been targeted several times by Israeli airstrikes as the country attempts to roll back Tehran's growing influence.

There were reports on Thursday that Hezbollah—the Lebanese militia backed by Tehran—and Iran had begun drawing their forces back from the Israeli and Jordanian borders at the request of Russia, the most significant international backer of the Assad regime.