A Moroccan al Qaeda operative who was based in Germany and helped “foreign fighters” enter Afghanistan was captured during a raid in the southeastern Afghan province of Zabul earlier this month. The operative is now providing intelligence on al Qaeda’s movements into Afghanistan.
Coalition and Afghan forces captured the unnamed “Germany-based Moroccan al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitator” during a May 8 raid in the district of Qalat that resulted in the deaths of 10 people and the capture of several more, the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. Several foreign fighters were among those killed during the raid. Security forces “found passports and identification cards from France, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia amongst ten insurgents killed during the operation,” ISAF said.
In its initial report on the May 8 raid, ISAF said that a Saudi and a Moroccan were killed during the fighting and their passports were recovered. A US intelligence official later told The Long War Journal that Saudis, Turks, Moroccans, and Pakistanis were involved in the fighting. Afghan defense officials said that one Frenchman and one Moroccan were captured and five terrorists, including two Pakistanis, were killed.
The Moroccan al Qaeda facilitator currently in ISAF custody is providing intelligence on al Qaeda’s network that funnels terrorists into Afghanistan.
“After his capture the facilitator provided details about his personal travel from Germany,” the ISAF press release stated. “He also observed foreigners from many countries converging in Pakistan to conduct attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan.”
“Additional information provided by the facilitator on the mechanics of getting foreign fighters to Afghanistan will serve to support targeting the network of facilitators who bring global terrorism to bear on coalition forces and civilians in Afghanistan,” ISAF continued.
The Moroccan passed through Iran before reaching Afghanistan, ISAF stated. While there, unnamed persons attempted to recruit him to become a suicide bomber.
“During a delay in his travels in Iran, the facilitator stated he was approached to become a suicide bomber,” ISAF stated. “However, he declined because of his goal to take part in the Global Jihad.”
Iran is a known hub for al Qaeda and a transit point for its operatives passing through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the wider Middle East. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force has established the Ansar Corps to facilitate, arm, and train al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda’s purported interim commander, Saif al Adel, is closely linked to Qods Force and lived in Iran for years under protective custody. [For more information on Iran’s support of al Qaeda and the Taliban, see LWJ reports, Return to Jihad; Analysis: Al Qaeda’s interim emir and Iran; Iranian Qods Force commanders linked to Taliban: US Treasury; and Taliban leader, police link Iran to attacks in Afghanistan.]
Three Moroccans who have lived in Germany are known to have operated in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in Afghanistan. The most prominent, Bekkay Harrach, was killed during an assault on a US military base in Bagram, presumably the March 20, 2010 attack. Harrach was a top al Qaeda leader who served on al Qaeda’s external operations council.
The other two, Yassin and Mounir Chouka, are brothers who are members of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Both men are German citizens. Yassin is better known as Abu Ibrahim al Almani; Mounir goes by the name Abu Adam. Earlier this year, Yassin released a statement that detailed his path to Afghanistan via Yemen.
Zabul a known transit point and staging ground for al Qaeda
Zabul province is a known haven for al Qaeda in the Afghan southeast. Al Qaeda’s presence in Zabul has been detected in the districts of Shah Joy, Shamulzai, and Qalat; or three of Zabul’s 11 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The province is an ideal staging and transit point for al Qaeda and allied groups operating from Pakistan. Zabul shares a border with Pakistan, and also borders the Afghan provinces of Uruzgan, Kandahar, Ghazni, and Paktika.
Coalition and Afghan forces have targeted several al Qaeda cells in Zabul since October 2008. In July 2010, security forces killed Malauwi Shahbuddin, a Taliban commander and “foreign-fighter facilitator,” during a raid in Shah Joy. In October 2010, Mullah Abdullah Kakar, another Taliban commander and “foreign-fighter facilitator,” was killed in an airstrike, also in Shah Joy. ISAF uses the term “foreign fighters” to describe members of al Qaeda and allied terror groups operating in Afghanistan.
Most recently, on May 19, 2011, ISAF targeted a Taliban commander associated with the Moroccan al Qaeda facilitator’s cell in Qalat. “The leader directs a group of fighters augmented by al Qaeda associated foreign fighters assembled in Quetta, Pakistan,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release on the raid.
Recent clashes with al Qaeda fighters in the east contradict claims that al Qaeda has only 50 to 100 operatives in Afghanistan. These claims have been made by top US intelligence and military leaders, including most recently by General David Petraeus, the commander of ISAF.
On May 3, Afghan troops killed and wounded more than 25 al Qaeda fighters in the Barg-e-Matal district in Nuristan. And on April 14, an ISAF airstrike in Kunar killed several al Qaeda leaders and fighters, including Waqas, a Pakistani commander, and Abu Hafs al Najdi, a Saudi emir.