Report: Senior al Qaeda facilitator ‘back on the street’ in Iran

A senior al Qaeda operative based in Iran and known as Yasin al Suri (a.k.a. Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil) is “more active than ever” and facilitating al Qaeda’s global operations, Al Jazeera reports.

Al Suri’s role as al Qaeda’s point man inside Iran was first exposed by the US Treasury and State Departments in 2011. In December of that year, the US government began offering a $10 million reward for information leading to al Suri’s capture.

After the US government’s revelations, the Iranian government detained al Suri. This led al Qaeda to replace him with another seasoned terrorist, Muhsin al Fadhli, who took over as leader of the Iran-based network.

But now, according to US government officials who spoke with Al Jazeera, al Suri is back in the game and even facilitating al Qaeda’s operations inside Syria.

“As head al Qaeda facilitator in Iran, al Suri is responsible for overseeing al Qaeda efforts to transfer experienced operatives and leaders from Pakistan to Syria, organizing and maintaining routes by which new recruits can travel to Syria via Turkey and assisting in the movement of al Qaeda external operatives to the West,” an unnamed State Department official told Al Jazeera.

A US Treasury Department official confirmed the revelation, according to Al Jazeera. “He’s an al Qaeda operative, Al Nusrah is an al Qaeda affiliate, and we know he’s moving money and extremists into Syria for al Qaeda elements there, so I think you can draw that conclusion,” the Treasury official said.

Al Suri operates under an agreement that was struck between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda years ago. He first began working inside Iran in 2005.

It is not clear why the Iranian government would allow al Suri to act as a facilitator for al Qaeda’s operations inside Syria. Al Qaeda and Iran are on opposite sides of the Syrian war.

Iran is backing Bashar al Assad’s regime, a longtime ally of the mullahs, in the bloody sectarian conflict. Al Qaeda’s two official branches, including the Al Nusrah Front, as well as al Qaeda’s allies, are on the other side, battling Iranian operatives, Assad’s forces and proxies. The emir of Al Nusrah, Abu Muhammad al Julani, has verbally attacked Iran and Shiites in general. Other senior al Qaeda jihadists have called for attacks against Shiite-led governments in response to the Syrian conflict. And an al Qaeda-linked group has claimed responsibility for an attack against the Iranian embassy in Lebanon.

The Iranian regime, however, has mastered duplicity and may have unknown reasons for keeping tabs on al Qaeda’s operations. Al Qaeda has also been willing to work with Iran on multiple occasions since the early 1990s, despite the two sides’ fundamentally different theologies and sometime vehement disagreements.

Al Qaeda’s Iran-based network a “core pipeline”

The US government has repeatedly exposed al Qaeda’s Iran-based network in a series of terrorist designations and other official filings. And in May 2013, the State Department noted that this network was tied to al Qaeda’s operations inside Syria.

In July 2011, the US Treasury Department designated several members of the network, saying it was headed by al Suri and operates “under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Iranian government.”

Several months later, in December 2011, the State and Treasury Departments announced a $10 million reward for information concerning al Suri’s whereabouts. “Al Suri’s network has served as a financial conduit, collecting funds from donors throughout the Gulf and moving those funds via Iran to al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the Treasury Department’s Assistant Director of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Eytan Fisch, said at the time. “Al Suri’s network also serves as the core pipeline for al Qaeda to funnel operatives and facilitators from the Middle East to Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Fisch added.

In February 2012, the Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) as a terrorist sponsoring entity for, among other things, supporting al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq’s operations.

After Yasin al Suri was replaced, at least temporarily, as the head of al Qaeda’s network in Iran, the Treasury Department revealed that his replacement was a Kuwaiti named Muhsin al Fadhli. In an October 2012 terrorist designation, Treasury also said that al Fadhli’s deputy is Adel Radi Saker al Wahabi al Harbi, a Saudi who is on the kingdom’s most-wanted list.

In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2012, the State Department said: “Iran allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al Fadhli and Adel Radi Saqr al Wahabi al Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and to Syria.”

The Iran-based network moves al Qaeda “external operatives to the West”

The State Department official quoted by Al Jazeera says that al Suri’s network assists “in the movement of al Qaeda external operatives to the West.” The Long War Journal has documented two cases in recent years in which a terrorist plot in the West has been tied to al Suri’s Iran-based operations.

Some of the al Qaeda terrorists selected to take part in a 2010 plot against European cities used al Suri’s facilitation network to transit to and from northern Pakistan. The plot, which would have involved Mumbai-style attacks, was thwarted, and afterward leaders of the cell were harbored inside Iran for a time.

In April 2013, Canadian authorities arrested two terrorist suspects who were allegedly plotting to derail a train running from the US into Canada. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said that the pair received “support from al Qaeda elements located in Iran” in the form of “direction and guidance.” The al Qaeda operatives who supported the operation are reportedly based in the Iranian city of Zahedan, which is one of the main hubs for al Suri and his operatives.

Egyptian officials have alleged that still another plot, targeting the US Embassy in Cairo and other Western interests, involved al Qaeda’s Iran-based network. The putative May 2013 plot was tied to a terrorist known as Dawood al Assadi, which is one of the aliases used by Muhsin al Fadhli. Egyptian officials also said that members of the terrorist cell responsible for the plot were in contact with Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, a longtime subordinate to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, as well as with other members of Jamal’s network.

Al Qaeda’s Iran-based network continues to operate despite the war in Syria.

And now, according to Al Jazeera’s sources in the US government, the head of that network is operational once again.

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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  • gaz says:

    Why would the Iranians let al suri loose when hezballah are fighting sunni backed rebels in Syria against hezballah

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    I believe Iran in not arresting Al Qaeda terrorists, has more to do with Afghanistan. You see Iran does not want American troops in Afghanistan and because of Iran helping the Taliban via Al Qaeda, the Americans have been forced to make a decision to leave Afghanistan this year. Let me tell you, once the Americans leave Afghanistan (of course there will be a few Americans there to help embassy staff), the Iranians will go straight for the kill at Al Qaeda and I wouldn’t surprised at the end of the year or next year Al Qaeda joins with the Sunni Baluchi islamist terrorists to carry out big suicide attacks in Iran.

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    Is al suri “core” al qaeda?

  • blert says:

    I’m very glad to see this connection spelled out here at the LWJ.
    The twisted mental gymnastics of the mullahs are hard for the Western mind to comprehend.
    One must conclude that Tehran views AQ as a strategic asset, whereas the campaign in Syria is deemed well run.
    1) At one level, the AQ funding chute draws Sunni fanatics, far and wide, all the better to radicalize them — and ultimately aim them at Riyadh. A handful of Sunni assassins wandering around the Saudi sands are going to be surely more effective than flamingly alien Shi’ites. Iran wants expendable assets that can mix in the enemy camp.
    2) At another level, a few drips of fanatical Sunni reinforcements provide the perfect goad for dialing up Shi’te purity in combat. The entire campaign equates to a live-fire exercise in the eyes of the mullahs. At the end of the day, they’re left with AQ being more dependent than ever — indirectly — while the Hez matures into a serious field army. In medical terms: AQ functions as a trigger to build up systemic immunities; like a polio vaccine.
    3) At an even deeper level, maintaining ‘hand’ over the AQ lines of communications is essential for state security. All threats to un-seat the mullahs coming from the Sunni camp are sure to be exposed as AQ keeps its ear to the sand. By its reputation, AQ will be drawn into any such antic scheme. The players will give the game away by mere contact and exposure — seeings how AQ is monitored 24/7 by Tehran.
    4) At a more mundane level, the IRGC is running this gambit, and some of the brightest, most perverted, Persian minds have their own careers at stake. Keeping AQ on the down low and slow boil is entirely in their provincial interests. These players have much bigger fish to fry than Assad. At the end of the day, they have every hope of using AQ as a propaganda shield for deep strikes against the West — to include atomics. It just won’t do for AQ to fold up.
    Like the Persian strike at Benghazi — it’s critical that AQ be available — with an orgy of evidence — to support the zany notion that the Sunnis attacked the Americans — when the only faction to benefit remains the mullahs.
    Even to this day, it does not strike the MSM that it was “Barzini all along.”
    Like children, the MSM suffers the obvious interpretations for Persian devious tactics. The media operates from the insane notion that the opfor has no guile at all. Whereas, the record shows that Arabs and Persians are almost endlessly clever on that front.
    Who can overlook the experts claiming that last year’s nerve agent attack in Syria figures to be physically impossible from Assad’s positions? The entire gambit was a manipulation-deception operation, long in the planning, that almost got the USAF to do what the fanatics couldn’t do.
    Who can overlook the flip-flops in Iraqi alignments? You need a playbill to keep up.
    Who can follow the Russian-Iranian-Turkish-Syrian cross flow?
    There is so much push-pull going on that even the CIA and SVR must be stumped. There are more side deals than a Hollywood pot boiler.
    Who can separate private action from state policy? Like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, we’re facing a surfeit of policy organs that apparently can go off the leash at any time… or so we’re expected to believe. (Both Nazi and Soviet histories are filled with intelligence agents who were working private ‘side deals.’ For the dope on the Soviet corruption read: “The Soviet Mafia.”)
    The take-away is that the mullahs are willing to work with (pass on the monies to) AQ and have done so, lo these many years. The AQ connection goes all the way to the top: Ayatollah Khamenei. It requires his sanction.
    Ultimately, Iran will never let AQ run out of money. It’s their strategic, deniable, asset. If it didn’t exist, it would be created.
    ( In Soviet strategic theory, AQ would be deemed an “ice breaker”, a destructive villain that can be followed after by the “Soviet good-guys” — in the role of liberator. This idea of AQ doing the dirty while the mullahs come in to sweep up the assets… is irresistible to Tehran. And, as we have seen, getting the other fellows to do their dirty work has been the style going back decades. It works.)

  • Kimball says:

    A lot going on, Edogan in Iran, highest Saudi dignitaries shutteling to poor Pakistan and Saudi’s
    both telling US that they will go there own way and
    the Saudi King proclaiming new laws that effectively
    strangles the Saudi fighters influx in foreign conflicts.
    TTP in Pakistan are fantastic in negotiations with Pak.
    goverment – ” total Sharia laws in Pak and Afgh or
    total war, endlessly!”
    It will be tuff for US-Nato to stay the distance to the real endgame.We’ll see what the new president in Afgh brings along.
    Hope is of course the new generation in Afgh. fed up with power politics.
    TTP goes on blaiming India for everything + US and infidels in general. Maybe, anyway, there are a very secret international agenda spanning across faith and cultures to stabilise and get rid of most terrorists for good. Makes economic sense for sure.


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