A senior al Qaeda leader based in Syria who recruits and facilitates the entry of foreign fighters into Iraq has been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department.
Sa’ad Uwayyid ‘Ubayd Mu’jil al Shammari, an Iraqi member of al Qaeda who operates from inside Syria, has been designated as a terrorist under Executive Order 13224. The designation allows the US to freeze his assets, prevent him from using financial institutions, and prosecute him for terrorist activities.
“We will continue to aggressively implement the international obligation to target al Qaeda-linked terrorists, like Abu Khalaf, who threaten the safety of Coalition Forces and the stability of Iraq,” said Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said in a Treasury press release issued today.
Shammari, who is better known as Abu Khalaf, is known to recruit suicide bombers from North Africa and aids in setting up their travel arrangements into Syria and ultimately Iraq. “The facilitator recruited a few suicide bombers, who attempted to travel to Iraq,” the Treasury press release stated.
Khalaf also helps al Qaeda suicide bombers based in the Persian Gulf region travel to the Levant to conduct suicide attacks. The Levant consists of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea and includes Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. He is believed to operate in Tal Hamis in Syria and Tal Wardan and the ‘Awinat village in the Rabiah district in Iraq.
US targets Syrian al Qaeda network
Syria has long supported or looked the other way as al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents used the country as a transit point and safe haven for fighters entering western Iraq. More than 90 percent of the suicide bombers who have entered Iraq since the insurgency began in 2003 have entered Iraq via Syria.
Al Qaeda’s Syrian network is thought to have suffered a setback as the US implemented a counterinsurgency program in 2007 and a covert operation in Syria 2008 targeted and killed a senior member of al Qaeda facilitation network. An estimated 120 plus foreign fighters a month are thought to have entered Iraq from Syria at its peak in 2007. The number is now estimated in the single digits, but there is concern that the Syrian network is being rejuvenated, according to a report in The Washington Post.
The US sent a strong message to Syria in October 2008 when it launched the first recorded cross-border strike inside the country since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Nine terrorists were reported killed after US commandos dropped from helicopters conducted a raid in eastern Syria. The target was Abu Ghadiya, a senior al Qaeda leader who had been in charge of the Syrian facilitation network since 2005. Ghadiya and his staff were killed in the attack.