Iranian-backed Shia terror leader freed by US threatens to attack
The leader of the Asaib al Haq, an Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia terror network that was responsible for kidnapping and murdering US soldiers, threatened to attack US interests in Iraq over a video that has angered Islamists and sparked protests in several Muslim nations. The leader, Qais al Qazali, was turned over to the Iraqi government in December 2009, and subsequently released from custody.
"The offense against the Messenger [Prophet Mohammed] will put all the American interests Iraq in danger. We will not forgive that," Qais told The Associated Press earlier today.
His group, the Asaib al Haq, or the League of the Righteous, also released an official statement which urged "all Muslims to denounce differences to unify and face our joint enemy who targets Islam," according to AP.
The alleged provocation for Qazali's threat is a 13-minute trailer for an obviously amateur film called "Innocence of Muslims." The trailer, a buffoonish hodgepodge that attempts to ridicule and discredit the prophet Mohammad, was posted on YouTube in June but failed to garner attention until it was translated into Arabic and reposted on YouTube a few days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the US embassy in Cairo and the US consulate in Benghazi. According to The New York Times, the trailer is linked to an anti-Islam campaigner in California and to inflammatory Florida pastor Terry Jones. Also linked to the film is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a convicted fraudster who claims to be a Coptic Christian, the Associated Press reports. The US is currently investigating how the film came to be produced.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the film "disgusting and reprehensible" but said the US remains committed to freedom of expression and that the film is no justification for attacks on US citizens or facilities. Protests against the film are continuing in Egypt, and demonstrations have also been held or planned in a number of other countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestinian Territories, Tunisia, and Yemen. Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi has asked the Egyptian Embassy in the US to take "all legal measures" against the makers of the film, according to Reuters.
Background on Qais Qazali
Qais Qazali was the commander of the League of the Righteous before US forces detained him and several other Shia terrorists in 2007. Qais had commanded a large Mahdi Army faction and served as a spokesman and senior aide to Muqtada al Sadr prior to splitting off and forming his own group. The terror group, which was part of the Mahdi Army until the spring of 2008, has received extensive financial and military support from Iran's Qods Force, the external division that backs Hezbollah and is tasked with supporting the Khomeinist Islamist revolution.
The League of the Righteous was behind numerous attacks on US and Iraqi forces and civilians, including the kidnapping and murder of US Army Staff Sergeant Ahmed Kousay Altaie. The Ahel al Beit Brigades claimed it kidnapped Altaie. But a US intelligence official who specialized in Iraqi Shia terror groups told The Long War Journal in 2010 that the Ahel al Beit Brigades is part of the League of the Righteous.
The League of the Righteous was directly implicated by General David Petraeus as being behind the January 2007 attack on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala. Five US soldiers were killed during the Karbala attack and subsequent kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.
The attack on the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center was a complex, sophisticated operation. The assault team, led by tactical commander Azhar al Dulaimi, was trained in a mock-up of the center that was built in Iran. The unit had excellent intelligence and received equipment that made them appear to be US soldiers. Some of the members of the assault team are said to have spoken English.
Azhar al Dulaimi was killed in a raid in Baghdad in May 2007.
The US military captured Laith and Qais and several other members of the network during a raid in Basrah in March 2007.
Also detained during the March 2007 raid was Ali Mussa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative who was tasked by Iran to organize the Special Groups and "rogue" Mahdi Army cells along the lines of Lebanese Hezbollah. Daqduq is a 24-year veteran of Hezbollah, and he commanded both a Hezbollah special operations unit and the security detail of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Despite the roles played by Qais and his brother Laith in killing US troops and working with Iran's Qods Force, the US military released the two brothers and hundreds of their followers to the Iraqi government between July and December of 2009.
The Shia terrorists were freed in exchange for a British hostage and the bodies of four other British citizens who had been executed by the League of the Righteous while in custody.
The US military officially denied that the release of Qais and Laith was part of a hostage exchange, and instead insisted it was part of "reconciliation." But US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal privately said that the brothers had indeed been freed as part of a hostage exchange.
The US also released Daqduq, in December 2011; White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said that Iraq assured the US that it would prosecute Daqduq. However, Daqduq's future is uncertain, and it appears he will be freed from custody without a trial.
The League of the Righteous returned to terror activities shortly after the hostage exchange. In January of 2010, less than a month after Qais was freed, the terror group kidnapped Issa T. Salomi, a US civilian contractor, in Baghdad. Salomi was freed in March in exchange for four members of Qais' terror group.
In January 2012, Qais told Reuters that his group was prepared to lay down its weapons and join the political process.
"This stage of the military conflict between the Iraqi armed resistance and the occupation forces is over, with a distinct, historic Iraqi victory and a distinct, historic U.S. failure," Qais said.
But James Jeffrey, the US Ambassador to Iraq, dismissed the claim and said that Qazali's faction was conducting attacks even while he was claiming to be prepared to reconcile.
"They have been conducting attacks up until last week, so we'll see," Jeffrey told Reuters on Jan. 5.