The US Treasury Department today designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) “for its support to terrorist groups as well as its central role in perpetrating human rights abuses against the citizens of Iran and its role in supporting the Syrian regime as it continues to commit human rights abuses against the people of Syria.”
Al Qaeda and its affiliate, al Qaeda in Iraq, are among the terrorist groups supported by the MOIS, which is Iran’s chief intelligence agency.
“Today we have designated the MOIS for abusing the basic human rights of Iranian citizens and exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian regime’s abhorrent crackdown on its own population,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen explained in a press release. “In addition, we are designating the MOIS for its support to terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq, Hezbollah and HAMAS, again exposing the extent of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism as a matter of Iranian state policy.”
The MOIS is assisting al Qaeda in a variety of ways. According to Treasury, the “MOIS has facilitated the movement of al Qaeda operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports.”
In addition, the MOIS has “provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)…and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.”
Previous designations tying Iran and al Qaeda
This is not the first time the Treasury Department has targeted the nexus between Iran and al Qaeda.
In July 2011, Treasury designated an al Qaeda leader known as Yasin al Suri along with five other terrorist operatives who use Iranian soil to move funds and recruits from Iran’s neighboring Gulf countries to South Asia and elsewhere. Al Suri’s network assists not only senior al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, but also al Qaeda in Iraq.
The Treasury Department said that al Suri’s network operates as part of a “secret deal” between al Qaeda and the Iranian government. In December 2011, US authorities announced a $10 million reward for information leading to al Suri’s capture.
Recent press reports indicate that the scrutiny placed on al Suri has led to his replacement as the head of al Qaeda’s Iran franchise. The terrorist who has reportedly replaced him is a notorious al Qaeda financier named Mohsen al Fadhli. In addition to working with al Qaeda in Iraq and its deceased leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, al Fadhli is wanted for his involvement in al Qaeda’s international terrorist plotting. Namely, al Fadhli helped finance the Oct. 6, 2002 attack on the French ship MV Limburg and has been tied to the Oct. 8, 2002 attack against US Marines stationed on Kuwait’s Faylaka Island. One Marine was killed during the Faylaka Island shootout.
Also included in the July 2011 designation was Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who commanded al Qaeda in northern Pakistan. Rahman was killed in a US drone strike in August 2011, the month after the Treasury Department’s designation. According to press reports, he had been planning terrorist attacks in the West at the behest of Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda master who was killed in May 2011. With respect to Rahman, the Treasury Department noted that he “was previously appointed by Osama bin Laden to serve as al Qaeda’s emissary in Iran, a position which allowed him to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of Iranian officials.” Rahman received safe haven inside Iran after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In September 2011, the US State Department designated a Hamas operative who is tied to both Iran and al Qaeda. The terrorist, Muhammad Hisham Muhammad Isma’il Abu Ghazala, fought for Ansar al Islam. Abu Ghazala “plays an integral role in Hamas,” the State Department said in a press release at the time. “He has links to Iran, the world’s leading State Sponsor of Terrorism, and al Qaeda.” Abu Ghazala is an improvised explosive device (IED) facilitator who has provided weapons to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations inside Iraq.
In January 2009, the Treasury Department designated four other al Qaeda members operating in Iran.
The January 2009 designation included Mustafa Hamid, the father-in-law of top al Qaeda operative Saif al Adel, and Saad bin Laden, one of Osama’s sons.
Hamid was described as “a senior al Qaeda associate who served as a primary interlocutor between al Qaeda and the Government of Iran.” During the 1990s, Hamid “reportedly negotiated a secret relationship between Osama Bin Laden and Iran, allowing many al Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan.” Hamid also “passed communications between Osama bin Laden and the Government of Iran.” In late 2001, Hamid negotiated with the Iranians to relocate al Qaeda families to Iranian soil. Saif al Adel, Hamid’s son-in-law, was among them. Al Adel has been wanted since late 1998 for his involvement in al Qaeda’s embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Saad bin Laden “facilitated the travel of Osama bin Laden’s family members from Afghanistan to Iran” beginning in late 2001. He also “made key decisions for al Qaeda and was part of a small group of al Qaeda members that was involved in managing the terrorist organization from Iran.”
Saad bin Laden relocated to northern Pakistan several years later and was reportedly killed in an airstrike. However, al Qaeda has never confirmed Saad’s putative death.
The other two al Qaeda members included in the January 2009 designation were Muhammad Rab’a al Sayid Al Bahtiyti and Ali Saleh Husain.
Al Bahtiyti is a longtime member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda, and was reportedly involved in al Qaeda’s 1995 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. Ayman al Zawahiri, who is now al Qaeda’s emir, tasked al Bahtiyti with moving members of Zawahiri’s family to Iran after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Husain had long worked with top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah and was involved in shuttling al Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan to Iran following the fall of the Taliban’s
All four of the al Qaeda members designated in January 2009 were placed under a loose form of “house arrest” by the Iranians in 2003, after al Qaeda’s Iran network was tied to multiple terrorist attacks abroad, including the May 12, 2003 bombings in Riyadh.
However, Iran has continued to allow al Qaeda to operate on Iranian soil.