A senior al Qaeda in Iraq leader operating in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan has been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department.
Muthanna Harith Sulayman al Dhari, a senior leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency, has been designated as a terrorist under Executive Order 13224 “for providing financial, material, or technological support and financial or other services.” The designation allows the US to freeze his assets, prevent him from using financial institutions, and prosecute him for terrorist activities. Also today, Muthanna was designated as a terrorist by the UN Security Council’s al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee.
Muthanna provides logistical and financial support for al Qaeda in Iraq as well as for his faction of the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade, a Sunni insurgent group. Most of the members of the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade split with the insurgency and formed the backbone of the anti-al Qaeda Awakening movement in 2006 in Anbar province.
Today’s Treasury statement said that Muthanna “intended to reinvigorate the insurgency in Iraq by providing training to any insurgent organization fighting Coalition Forces” in August of 2008. He is known to have attended “training meetings” for al Qaeda in Iraq fighters at camps inside Syria.
At the meetings, Muthanna “explained AQI’s [al Qaeda in Iraq’s] future intentions to the trainees and stated that all available support from AQI would be offered across Iraq for operations against Coalition Forces,” according to the Treasury. Muthanna “also advised the trainees that he and two other individuals would soon be traveling to Baghdad to begin resupplying insurgent leaders with equipment.”
Muthanna provided an al Qaeda recruiter who operated in Anbar province and in Syria with $1 million, and promised to pay new recruits $10,000 each after they completed training at camps in Syria. Muthanna also directly financed an al Qaeda in Iraq cell and a 1920s terror cell that carried out attacks on Iraqi and US forces.
Son of a radical Islamist cleric
The Associated Press incorrectly identified the person sanctioned by the US and UN as the leader of the defunct Association of Muslim Scholars. The leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars is actually Muthanna’s father, Sheikh Harith Sulayman al Dhari, who also has deep ties to al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency.
Harith is believed to be involved with the Islamic Army in Iraq and was widely recognized as the religious leader of the Sunni insurgency. He founded the Association of Muslim Scholars shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and has supported various Sunni insurgent groups ever since.
Harith has openly voiced support for al Qaeda and Islamist terror groups. He stated that the Mujahideen Shura Council, al Qaeda in Iraq’s front group and the predecessor to the Islamic State of Iraq, is “part of the legitimate resistance.”
“These factions attack the occupation forces and do not target the civilians because it is a resistance that broke out immediately at the beginning of the occupation,” Harith said. “These factions do not receive support from any foreign party.” He also stated that a slew of suicide attacks against Arab embassies and the UN headquarters in Baghdad at the onset of the insurgency in the summer 2003 was “the work of the ‘occupation’ or groups they encouraged.”
The Iraqi government issued an arrest warrant for Harith on Nov. 16, 2006. He is thought to have fled to Syria, which hosts numerous al Qaeda, Baathist, and Sunni insurgent leaders.
Harith appeared to break with al Qaeda in 2007. In an interview with TIME, Harith criticized al Qaeda in Iraq’s suicide tactics and the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq. He also attempted to put space between the insurgency and al Qaeda. “Ayman al Zawahiri doesn’t represent Iraqis,” he stated.
Influential Sunni clerics denounced the Association of Muslim Scholars in November 2007. That same month, Iraqi security forces, backed by top Sunni clerics, shuttered the doors of the Umm al Quraa mosque, the headquarters of the Association of Muslim Scholars.
“The association has always justified killing and assassinations carried out by al Qaeda,” said Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al Samarrai, the leader of the Sunni Religious Endowments, or Waqf.
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