US Treasury lists 3 senior al Qaeda leaders as terrorists

Today, the US Treasury Department targeted three senior al Qaeda leaders based in Pakistan by designating them as global terrorists. The al Qaeda leaders were identified as Younis al Mauritani, a senior member of the external operations council; Hassan Ghul, a key facilitator; and Abu Yahya al Libi, a top ideologue.

Mauritani is reported to have been arrested by Pakistan this week. Ghul was freed by Pakistan in 2007. And al Libi escaped from the US detention facility at Bagram in Afghanistan in 2005.

The Treasury designation allows the US to freeze the assets of the three leaders, prevent them from using financial institutions, and prosecute them for terrorist activities.


Younis al Mauritani. Photo from the Pakistani military.

Younis al Mauritani

Mauritani, whose real name is ‘Abd al Rahman Ould Muhammad al Husayn Ould Muhammad Salim, was born in Saudi Arabia but holds citizenship from Mauritania. Treasury described him as “a Pakistan-based senior al Qaeda leader who was in charge of al Qaeda’s external operations as of mid-2010.” US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that Mauritani is one of three senior leaders of the external operations council.

As a top leader of the external operations council, Mauritani developed a plan to “damage the economy of Europe.” Slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was aware of the plan and, “as of late 2010,” he “devoted most of al Qaeda’s funds to a plan developed by [Mauritani],” according to the Treasury press release. “As of mid-2010, [Mauritani] was in Pakistan to speak to individuals regarding their participation in al Qaeda operations in Europe.”

The European plot, which was to consist of Mumbai-like attacks in Germany, France, and Britain, was broken up after an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operative was captured in Afghanistan during the summer of 2010 and disclosed the details.

Mauritani joined the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) in 2001 and served as a link with al Qaeda’s central command. He played a role in the GSPC’s official merger with al Qaeda; al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was formed in January 2007.

“He had served as a communications link between the GSPC and al Qaeda and was sent by GSPC leaders to Pakistan to forge the 2007 merger with al Qaeda that formed AQIM,” Treasury stated.

Mauritani also was a weapons and explosives trainer for GSPC and later AQIM recruits. He was spotted in Mali “as of late 2009,” and also plotted attacks in Mauritania.

The Pakistani military announced Mauritani’s arrest on Monday; he was detained by members of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and the Frontier Corps in the city of Quetta. The Taliban retaliated today for his arrest by carrying out a double suicide attack at the home of the deputy inspector of the Baluchistan Frontier Corps in Quetta. The commander’s wife was among 24 people killed in the attack.

US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal they are concerned that Mauritani may not remain in custody. The Pakistanis are known to free top terrorist leaders from prison. Among them are Ghul, who was also designated today, and Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the spiritual leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. Rashid Rauf, another senior al Qaeda leader, also escaped from Pakistani custody under mysterious circumstances, in December 2007.

Hassan Ghul

Ghul, whose real name is Mustafa Hajji Muhammad Khan, “has acted as an al Qaeda facilitator, courier and operative since at least 2003,” Treasury stated. He “once served as a messenger between al Qaeda and former al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi.” He delivered a message from bin Laden to Zarqawi in 2003, but was captured in 2004 by Kurdish Peshmerga forces when he attempted to deliver Zarqawi’s response.

Ghul was transferred to US forces and interrogated and held at so-called CIA “black sites” for two years. During the interrogations, he disclosed the name of Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti, a key courier used by bin Laden. The identification of al Kuwaiti ultimately led to bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Ghul was transferred to Pakistani custody sometime in 2006, and was released after nearly a year in custody. “Former CIA officers who targeted Ghul” said they believed he was released because “he had ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group,” the al Qaeda-linked terror group that is supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate [see Threat Matrix reports AP: Key source on bin Laden’s courier freed by Pakistanis, and Why was key source on bin Laden’s courier freed?].

According to Treasury, Ghul returned to work for al Qaeda immediately after his release from Pakistani custody. Ghul helped al Qaeda “reestablish logistic support networks in Pakistan” in 2007. He also “recruited a facilitator who helped him move people and money between Gulf countries and Pakistan.” In addition, he has “facilitated activities for senior Pakistan-based al Qaeda operatives” by aiding with their travel and setting up meetings.

Abu Yahya al Libi

Abu Yahya al Libi.

Abu Yahya al Libi, a top leader in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, served as a military commander in Afghanistan until his capture by the US military during 2003. He rose to prominence in al Qaeda after he escaped from Bagram Prison in Afghanistan in the summer of 2005 along with senior al Qaeda operatives Abu Nasir al Qahtani, Abu Abdallah al Shami, and Omar Farouq. Al Libi is the only member of the notorious “Bagram Four” still active in al Qaeda. Two of his fellow escapees have been killed and another has been captured since the 2005 escape. Al Libi’s escape and subsequent mocking of the US in propaganda tapes have made him a star in al Qaeda.

Treasury reported that as of 2010, al Libi “commanded a group of al Qaeda fighters and provided financial assistance to al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.” He also served as “an instructor at an al Qaeda training camp.”

Al Libi has become one of al Qaeda’s most prolific propagandists. He has appeared in more al Qaeda propaganda tapes since 2006 than any other member of the terror group, including bin Laden and Zawahiri. He has weighed in on some of the most controversial and important issues on al Qaeda’s agenda. He was the first al Qaeda leader to urge the Pakistani people and the Army to turn against the regime of then-President Pervez Musharraf after the military stormed the radical Red Mosque in the heart of Islamabad.

Al Libi is also considered to be a combative leader. He has chastised Islamists who have denounced al Qaeda’s methods and ideology, urging clerics to come fight against Americans and NATO and to wage real jihad instead of criticizing al Qaeda.

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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