Saleh al Qarawi, from the Saudi Interior Ministry’s list of 85 most-wanted terrorists.
The US State Department has added the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al Qaeda in Iraq affiliate that operates throughout the Middle East, to its lists of designated terror organizations.
Today, State added the Abdullah Azzam Brigades as both a Foreign Terrorist Organization, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group under Executive Order 13224.
Two of the terror group’s battalions are mentioned in the State Dept. designation. State said that the Yusuf al ‘Uyayri Battalion, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ unit on the Arabian Peninsula, claimed it executed the attack on the M Star, a Japanese oil tanker traveling off the coast of Oman from Qatar to Japan, in July 2010. The other branch, the Ziad al Jarrah Battalion, has carried out several rocket attacks from Lebanon against civilians in Israel.
The addition of the group to the terror list takes place seven months after the group’s leader and a top bomb maker were designated by the US as foreign terrorists. On Nov. 22, 2011, State added Suleiman Hamad Al Hablain, an explosives expert who is also wanted by the Saudis, to the list of specially designated global terrorists. And on Dec. 15, 2011, the US added Saleh al Qarawi, the terror group’s emir, to the same list.
Background on Abdullah Azzam Brigades
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which is named after al Qaeda’s co-founder and Osama bin Laden’s mentor, was formed by Saleh al Qarawi sometime after 2004 as an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, and was tasked with hitting targets in the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories) and throughout the Middle East.
Qarawi is a Saudi citizen and is on the list of 85 most-wanted terrorists that was issued by the Saudi Interior Ministry in 2009. He appears as number 34 on the Saudi list and is identified as Saleh Abdullah Saleh al Qaraawi.
Qarawi has been described as a “field commander” by Flashpoint Intel, which published a translation of an interview that was released in April 2010. According to Qarawi, he fought with former al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Fallujah (presumably in the two battles in 2004), and was ordered by Zarqawi to form the Abdullah Azam Brigades.
“Allah rewarded me to participate with my brothers in Fallujah, and I came to know the Sheikh Abu Musab al Zarqawi–may Allah have mercy on him–closely, and he assigned me to a job outside of Iraq,” he said.
In the same interview, Qarawi said that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades is tasked with striking not only in Lebanon, but also elsewhere.
“[The Abdullah Azzam Brigades] are not confined to Lebanon but there are targets that our fires will reach Allah‐willing in the near future…the Brigades are formed of a number of groups that are spread in numerous places…and the groups of ‘Ziad al‐Jarrah’ in Lebanon are only some of our groups, and we rushed to create these groups and announced them because of the urgency of the battle with the Jews and the priority of the initiative at the time and the place, but the rest of the groups are outside Lebanon.”
The Ziad al Jarrah Battalion, which operates primarily in Lebanon, is named after Ziad al Jarrah, a Lebanese citizen who was one of the masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US. He was the pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a field in Shanksville, Penn., after passengers attempted to retake the plane from the terrorist hijackers.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades releases propaganda on a routine basis. Over the past two years, the group has advocated for the overthrow of the Saudi government and called for an uprising in Lebanon, as well as voiced support for Syrian protesters. The terror group also released a statement immediately after the death of al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
“May Allah have mercy on Osama, the Sheikh of Jihad, the Imam of Piety, the example of asceticism and the model of patience, the pioneer of glory in this age, and the awakener of the Ummah from its slumber,” the terror group said in a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The group also said it had been formed “after incitation” by bin Laden.
“We in the Brigades of Abdullah Azzam bear witness that we only went out for jihad after incitation from Sheikh Osama bin Laden, by his words and his actions. He is the one enacted among the people of the time, the tradition to invade infidels in their homes, and created a front to fight the Jews and the Crusaders,” the statement said.
Most recently, in late December 2011, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades denied that it was involved in suicide attacks that occurred in Damascus, Syria.
Groups calling themselves the Abdullah Azzam Brigade have also claimed attacks in Egypt and Pakistan. It is unclear if the groups are linked.
Both the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Tawhid and Jihad claimed they had carried out the July 2005 bombings in Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt that killed 88 people and wounded 150 more. The bombings occurred at cafes and markets frequented by foreigners in the Red Sea resort town.
And a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigade claimed credit for the June 2009 suicide assault on the Pearl Continental Hotel in a high-security zone in Peshawar, Pakistan. A spokesman named Amir Muawiya claimed the attack and said the Taliban and al Qaeda shura directed that all future strikes would be claimed by this group. Amir Muawiya is a leader in the Commander Tariq Group, a Taliban faction based out of Darra Adam Khel in northwestern Pakistan. Muawiya is also known as one of several of al Qaeda’s “company” commanders in Pakistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.