US targets al Qaeda operatives with links to Iran, Pakistan

The US Treasury Department has added three al Qaeda operatives from the Gulf States to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist Individuals. The three operatives have provided logistical, financial, and material support to al Qaeda and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group throughout the Middle East. Two of these operatives have provided direct support for al Qaeda leaders based in Iran and two have operated in the tribal regions in Pakistan.

The US has designated Khalifa Muhammad Turki al Subaiy, a Qatari national; and Adil Muhammad Mahmud Abd al Khaliq and Abd al Rahman Muhammad Jaffar ‘Ali, Bahraini nationals, as Specially Designated Global Terrorist Individuals under Executive Order 13224. The designation allows the US to freeze their assets, prevent them from using financial institutions, and prosecute them for terrorist activities.

Subaiy is currently in custody in Qatar after being convicted in a Bahraini court for “financing terrorism, undergoing terrorist training, facilitating the travel of others abroad to receive terrorist training, and for membership in a terrorist organization.” He has funded senior al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan’s tribal areas as well as helped recruits reach al Qaeda’s terror camps inside Pakistan. Additionally, Subaiy has “served as a diplomatic and communications conduit between al Qaida and third parties in the Middle East.”

Khaliq is currently in custody in the United Arab Emirates and is accused of being an active member of both al Qaeda and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. He trained in al Qaeda camps in the Waziristan tribal area in Pakistan and has worked with senior al Qaeda leaders inside Iran.

‘Ali was convicted by the Bahraini High Criminal Court for funding al Qaeda’s operations, assisting recruits with transiting to training camps, and training with and being a member of a terrorist organization. He attended training camps in Pakistan and traveled to Iran to meet with al Qaeda leaders. Although `Ali was in custody after being convicted, he was released “with credit for time served.”

Operating in Iran

The designation of ‘Ali and Khaliq as Specially Designated Global Terrorist Individuals highlights the prominence of al Qaeda’s network inside Iran, and continuing Iranian support for al Qaeda’s operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Scores of senior and mid-level al Qaeda operatives are known to be based out of Iran. Senior al Qaeda leaders known to be inside Iran include Said bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s son and potential successor; Hamza bin Laden; Saif al-Adel, al Qaeda’s senior strategist who is said to be third in command of al Qaeda; Suleiman Abu Ghaith, the former spokesman for bin Laden; Abu Hafs, al Qaeda’s director of personnel; Sheikh Said al Masri, bin Laden’s chief financier; Mafouz Ould Walid; a senior aide to bin Laden and the leader of the Mauritanian Group for Preaching and Jihad; Thirwat Saleh Shihata; Ayman al Zawahiri’s deputy; and Abu Dahak, al Qaeda’s liaison to Chechen-based terrorists.

Saif al Adel is said to have “struck up a close personal relationship with several prominent [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps] commanders.” He personally ordered the bombing attack against US assets in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2003. Five Americans were killed in the attack. He has written numerous strategy documents from Iran, including a seven phase plan to conquer the world by 2020.

Iran claims the al Qaeda leaders are in custody and are prevented from carrying out terrorist activity, but no charged have been brought against the terrorists. Attempts to have the terrorists extradited to their home countries have been rebuffed.

Both ‘Ali and Khaliq have extensive ties to senior al Qaeda operatives based inside Iran. Ali, who is described as a “financier and facilitator who has provided significant funding to al Qaeda,” has moved money to an unnamed senior al Qaeda facilitator inside Iran.

Khaliq’s activities are better documented His activities show that al Qaeda operatives inside Iran are still active, with the active support of the Iranian regime. He was recruited by al Qaeda in 2004 to raise money and provide equipment for al Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. After receiving extensive training inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, he traveled to Iran at least five times to meet with senior al Qaeda facilitators.

“During this same timeframe, Abd al-Khaliq provided material support to al Qaeda and the LIFG [Libyan Islamic Fighting Group] by equipping them with electrical parts used in explosives, laptop computers, jackets, GPS devices, and other equipment,” The US Treasure Department stated. “Additionally, Abd al-Khaliq arranged the transportation of fighters, money, and material to LIFG camps in Pakistan.”

Iran supports the Taliban

Iran’s support for Sunni terror groups extends beyond al Qaeda operatives inside its borders. In October 2007, the US Treasury designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity. The Qods Force, the external arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, has been funding and arming the Taliban in an effort to derail the effort to secure Afghanistan.

“The Qods Force is the Iranian regime’s primary instrument for providing lethal support to the Taliban,” the US Treasury stated. “The Qods Force provides weapons and financial support to the Taliban to support anti-U.S. and anti-Coalition activity in Afghanistan. Since at least 2006, Iran has arranged frequent shipments of small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, plastic explosives, and probably man-portable defense systems [anti-aircraft weapons systems] to the Taliban… Through Qods Force material support to the Taliban, we believe Iran is seeking to inflict casualties on U.S. and NATO forces.”

Iran, al Qaeda and the 9-11 Commission report

The 9-11 Commission documented the cooperation between al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Iran prior to the attacks on the US in 2001. “The relationship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations,” the 9-11 Commission’s final report noted.

Contacts between Iran, Hezbollah and al Qaeda were established in Sudan in the early 1990s. “Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah,” the report stated. “Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan.”

Iran also played a supporting role in the 9-11 attacks by facilitating the movement of al Qaeda operatives in the Middle East. Many of al Qaeda’s 9-11 hijackers transited through Iran during their training. “Our knowledge of the international travels of the al Qaeda operatives selected for the 9-11 operation remains fragmentary,” the report said. “But we now have evidence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi “muscle” operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”

Iranian intelligence and Hezbollah tracked the movement of al Qaeda operatives involved in the 9-11 attacks. One of the operatives was on the same flight as “a senior Hezbollah operative,” who is believed to be Imad Mugniyah, the former leader of Hezbollah’s military arm who was killed in a bombing in Syria in February 2008. Other such encounters between al Qaeda operatives and Hezbollah and Iranian agents were documented.

The 9-11 Commission did not find evidence of Iran’s direct knowledge of the attack, but believes it provided support for al Qaeda operations. “After 9-11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda,” the report stated. “We believe this topic requires further investigation by the US government.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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