Osama bin Laden’s son coordinated communications between al Qaeda’s second-in-command and Iran’s Qods Force, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Sa’ad bin Laden facilitated communications between Ayman al Zawahiri and Qods Force, the notorious special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, in September 2008 after the deadly attack on the US embassy in Yemen.
Sa’ad entered Pakistan’s northwest to meet with Zawahiri in Pakistan sometime in early September, according to Mike McConnell, the outgoing Director of National Intelligence. Sa’ad’s whereabouts is currently unknown, but he is still thought to be with al Qaeda’s senior leadership inside Pakistan. Sa’ad, his brother Hamza, and other senior al Qaeda leaders are known to routinely travel back and forth between Iran and Pakistan.
Zawahiri spoke directly to Qods Force commander Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal, confirming the account in The Wall Street Journal. “Zawahiri was concerned that the al Qaeda-manned militia fighting on the side of the government against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels might threaten Iran’s interests in Yemen,” the official said. Yemen swells the ranks of the militia by inviting Arabs to willing to fight in the north.
The Yemeni government has battled the Shia Houthi in the Sana’a region since 2003, and has integrated hundreds of al Qaeda fighters into a militia that operates in the north. In December 2008, Hamza Ali Saleh al Dhayani, a senior al Qaeda leader in Yemen, admitted in an interview that the Yemeni government is cynical when dealing with al Qaeda.
“I am ready to prove the reality that some attacks were planned in co-ordination and agreement of the [Yemeni] Political Security [Organization] and its agents to gain foreign support and to confirm to America that they (the Yemeni state) launch war against terrorism,” Dhayani said in an interview with the Mareb Press.
Tensions between the Saleh government and al Qaeda increased after an al Qaeda assault team conducted a coordinated attack on the US embassy in Sana’a. “Saleh feared his government would be the next target, but Zawahiri wanted al Qaeda prisoners released from Yemeni jails and committed al Qaeda foot soldiers to fight the Houthi rebels. Zawahiri does not want to sour relations” between al Qaeda and Iran, “so he took great care by reaching out to the Iranians.”
On Jan. 16, the US treasury designated Sa’ad bin Laden and three members of al Qaeda’s shura majlis, or executive council, as terrorists under Executive Order 13224. Sa’ad and the three other men are known to be senior al Qaeda planners, commanders, and financiers.
Treasury identified Mustafa Hamid as a senior most al Qaeda leader who is “al Qaeda’s emir of Iranian operations” as well as “al Qaeda’s ambassador to Iran.” The US agency provided details of Hamid’s nearly two decades operating from Iran and coordinating Iran and al Qaeda.
For more on the recent Treasury sanctions on Sa’ad bin Laden, Mustafa Hamid, and others, see: US sanctions senior al Qaeda members operating in Iran and US targets al Qaeda operatives with links to Iran, Pakistan.
Correction: The Wall Street Journal reported Sa’ad bin Laden coordinated the communications between Ayman al Zawahiri and Iran’s Qods Force, not DNI Mike McConnell, as originally reported.