Treasury designates al Qaeda leader, madrassa

The US Treasury Department today designated an al Qaeda leader who has served the terrorist organization in various capacities since the 1990s. Treasury also designated a madrassa in Peshawar, Pakistan that is used to support al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Multiple roles for al Qaeda

The newly-designated terrorist, Umar Siddique Kathio Azmarai (Azmarai), is al Qaeda’s “leader in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, Pakistan, and has been a significant financial facilitator for the group, moving hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of its leadership and operations,” Treasury stated in its press release announcing the designations.

According to Treasury, “Azmarai has also acted as a courier for al Qaeda officials and has managed logistics for family members of senior al Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Laden.”

In 1999, Azmarai helped make “logistical arrangements for al Qaeda members and their families” in Karachi. That same year, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden selected Azmarai to look after the bin Laden family, and by mid-2000 Azmarai was “facilitating their travel, lodging, and medical needs.”

Azmarai “was responsible for bin Laden’s family members in Karachi” from late 2001 until early 2002. Later that year, he worked for Osama’s son, Saad bin Laden. Saad is known to have relocated to Iran sometime after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but the Treasury Department designation does not indicate whether Azmarai traveled to Iran while working for the junior bin Laden. The Iranians placed Saad bin Laden under house arrest in 2003, but he was freed several years later. Saad was killed in a drone strike in northern Pakistan in 2009.

In late 2002, Azmarai worked as a courier for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. By early 2003, he worked as a courier “between al Qaeda cells in Pakistan and the Persian Gulf.”

Treasury’s designation does not say what Azmarai did between 2003 and 2011. But in 2011 he “assisted al Qaeda’s administrative manager with managing the care of important al Qaeda members’ families, including facilitating their finances, housing, and medical care.” And as of early 2012, Azmarai was procuring “secure areas in Pakistan for al Qaeda to house militants and store vehicles.”

The Ganj Madrassa serves the syndicate

Treasury also added the Ganj Madrassa in Peshawar, Pakistan, to the designation list today, noting that the designation is a first such instance, which involved “a madrassa that is being abused by terrorist organizations,” and specifying that the designation does not target madrassas in general.

Treasury stated that the Ganj Madrassa is “controlled by designated al Qaeda facilitator Fazeel-A-Tul Shaykh Abu Mohammed Ameen Al-Peshawari,” also known as Sheikh Aminullah.

Aminullah was previously designated by both the US and the United Nations in 2009.

In 2011, the Taliban appointed Aminullah to head its Peshawar Regional Military Shura, which is responsible for operations in eastern and northern Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Taliban appoint al Qaeda-linked commander to lead Peshawar shura.]

In its 2009 designation, the UN reported that Aminullah used the Ganj Madrassa to provide “assistance including funding and recruits to the al Qaeda network as of early 2008.”

Aminullah “also provided funding, explosive suicide vests and other resources to the Taliban” and “began a campaign to support Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan,” according to the UN. By 2006, Aminullah “was providing monetary compensation to families of Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters killed in Afghanistan and was involved in Taliban recruiting activities.”

In its new designation, the Treasury Department builds upon the 2009 designations, saying that the Ganj Madrassa “serves as a terrorist training center where students, under the guise of religious studies, have been radicalized to conduct terrorist and insurgent activities.” The madrassa’s students include “bomb manufacturers and suicide bombers.”

Aminullah “frequently travels to the Gulf to obtain charity donations on the madrassa’s behalf,” according to Treasury. And he uses these donations to fund Taliban operations inside Afghanistan, as well as to support al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Treasury reports that Aminullah uses the Ganj Madrassa for training and harboring Taliban fighters “who have subsequently been dispatched to Afghanistan,” recruiting for Lashkar-e-Taiba, and hosting al Qaeda operatives.

In 2010, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that al Qaeda and other groups, including the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, operate as part of a “syndicate” in South Asia. “What we see is that the success of any one of these groups leads to new capabilities and a new reputation for all,” Gates said at the time. “A victory for one is a victory for all.”

Today’s designation of Aminullah’s madrassa further buttresses Gates’ point. Aminullah is an “al Qaeda facilitator,” according to the Treasury Department. But he has also served as the head of the Taliban’s Peshawar Regional Military Shura, and wooed new recruits for Lashkar-e-Taiba.

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

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