Iraqi Security Forces backed by US advisors conducted a major bust in northern Iraq. Ten members of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Islam, including the group’s deputy leader and the chief fiancier, were captured during a raid in Mosul.
Mosul’s SWAT and the Iraqi Army teamed up to capture Fakri Hadi Gari, who the US military said is the deputy commander of Ansar al Islam. Gari, who is also known as Abu ‘Abbas and Mullah Halgurd, is thought to be the “operational director” for the group’s terror activities. Gari has also served as a recruiter, financier, and a facilitator of Ansar al Islam recruits “across the borders of Iraq.”
During the raid, Ansar al Islam’s emir, or leader, of the financial unit was also captured, along with eight other operatives.
The northern city of Mosul remains a focal point of Sunni terror groups. Nine terror groups, including Ansar al Islam and al Qaeda in Iraq, remain active in Mosul. The city’s proximity to Syria, a major conduit for foreign fighters entering Iraq, and the historic ethnic divisions between Arabs and Kurds keep Mosul a contested city.
Background on Ansar al Islam and its links to al Qaeda and Iran
Ansar al Islam is a radical terrorist group comprised of Kurds and Arabs. It has aligned itself with al Qaeda and receives support from Iran. The group operates in northern Iraq. On March 22, 2004, Ansar al Islam was officially designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US Department of State.
The terror group was founded by Mullah Krekar in December 2001. Krekar united the various Kurdish Islamist groups under the banner of Ansar al Islam and then seized a series of villages in northeastern Iraq along the border with Iran. Ansar al Islam then imposed a Taliban-like style of government in these villages.
Ansar al Islam established a series of camps and a crude chemical weapons factory in the town of Halabja. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, is thought to have run a camp with the approval of Ansar al Islam. These camps were later destroyed during the US invasion in April 2003. US and Kurdish forces killed an estimated 250 members of Ansar al Islam during the assaults.
The group survived the US onslaught and was taken over by Abu Abdallah al Shafi in late 2003. Shafi swore fealty to Osama bin Laden. Leadership conflicts between Ansar al Islam and Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq prevented the merger of the two groups, but Shafi’s group remained an al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. Ansar al Islam leaders and fighters are known to have trained in al Qaeda camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mullah Krekar, who was taught Islamic law under Osama bin Laden’s late mentor Abdullah Azzam in Pakistan, entered Norway during the summer of 2002 after being deported from Iran. From Norway, Krekar has been funneling money to fund terrorist activities in Iraq. Krekar contnues to be the spiritual leader of Ansar al Islam. Krekar has traveled to Iraq several times since 2005, according to the US Treasury Department. “During one of his longer stays in northern Iraq, Krekar appears to have recruited and trained combatants,” the agency said.
The US Treasury Department identified Krekar as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on Dec. 7, 2006. But Norway has been unable to deport Krekar to the US because his case has been tied up in Norwegian courts. Although Krekar has been in and out of prison in Norway, the courts have said there is not sufficient evidence to hold him.
Ansar al Islam has been behind major terror attacks against the two secular Kurdish political parties. As the insurgency grew, Ansar al Islam conducted bombing and suicide attacks against Iraqi civilians as well as US and Iraqi forces.
Since the US invasion of Iraqi in 2003, Ansar al Islam has received direct support from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Captured members of the group have said that the Iranians have been supplying safe houses in Iranian Kordestan and providing fighters with weapons, cash, and medical treatment.
Kurdish officials have accused Iran of controlling Ansar al Islam’s actions in Iraq.
“From time to time Iran uses them [Ansar al Islam fighters] as a pressure card to make trouble for us,” claimed Salam Omer Ibrahim, the mayor of the Iraqi border city of Said Sadiq in October 2007. “They’re saying, ‘If you help our opposition, we have ways to respond’.”