Treasury Department identifies another Iran-based facilitator for al Qaeda

In a series of designations released today, the US Treasury Department targets “a diverse set of entities and individuals located around the world for evading US sanctions against Iran, aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and supporting terrorism.”

One of the newly designated individuals is a part of al Qaeda’s Iran-based network.

Treasury identifies Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov (also known as Jafar al-Uzbeki and Jafar Muidinov) as an “Iran-based Islamic Jihad Union facilitator.” The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) is an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and both groups are closely allied with al Qaeda.

Sadikov “provides logistical support and funding to al Qaeda’s Iran-based network,” according to Treasury. He “serves as a key extremist smuggler based in Mashhad, Iran, near the country’s border with Afghanistan, and has provided visas and passports to numerous foreign fighters, including al Qaeda recruits, to facilitate their travel.” Sadikov has also “assisted extremists and operatives transiting Iran on their way into and out of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

IJU and IMU operatives have long operated inside Iran. In September 2010, for example, Coalition and Afghan forces captured an IMU facilitator who was supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force.

The Treasury Department identifies Sadikov as “an associate of designated al Qaeda facilitator Yasin al Suri.” He has “provided funding to al Suri.”

The Treasury and State Departments first exposed al Suri’s role as the head of al Qaeda’s Iran-based network in 2011. Afterwards, the Iranian regime reportedly detained al Suri. He was then replaced by Muhsin al Fadhli, another longtime al Qaeda operative. At some point, however, the Iranians allowed al Suri, whose real name is Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, to return to work.

Al Suri has “resumed leadership of al Qaeda’s Iran-based network after being temporarily detained there in late 2011,” Treasury reports. This confirms recent reporting on al Suri’s return to al Qaeda’s operations.

“As head al Qaeda facilitator in Iran,” Treasury explains further, “Yasin 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.”

Although none of these “external operatives” have been named by the US government, at least two international terrorist plots have been connected to al Qaeda’s Iran-based network. Both al Qaeda’s planned 2010 Mumbai-style attacks in Europe and a foiled plot to derail a train running from New York City to Toronto in 2013 were directly tied to al Qaeda operatives in Iran. [See LWJ article, Report: Senior al Qaeda facilitator ‘back on the street’ in Iran.]

“Al Qaeda’s network in Iran has facilitated the transfer of funds from Gulf-based donors to al Qaeda core and other affiliated elements, including the al Nusrah Front in Syria,” Treasury’s designation reads. “The Iran based al Qaeda network has also leveraged an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey.”

The most curious aspect of this relationship is that the Iranians allow al Qaeda operatives to support the Al Nusrah Front from Iranian soil. Iran and Al Nusrah are currently on opposite sides of the war in Syria, as Iran wants to preserve Bashar al Assad’s regime while Al Nusrah wants to destroy it.

Still, for unknown reasons, the Iranians are allowing al Suri and his operatives to support Al Nusrah. Treasury notes that al Suri’s Iran-based network “operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities.”

Treasury’s designation today is the latest to take aim at the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda. In July 2011, Treasury designated al Suri and other members of his network, saying that Iran had a “secret deal” with al Qaeda. In February 2012, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) was designated for, among other things, supporting al Qaeda. And in October 2012, an additional member of al Qaeda’s network in Iran was designated. The State Department has also exposed the relationship on multiple occasions.

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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  • Mark Pyruz says:

    Did I read this correctly?
    Iran (and by extension IRGC) is assisting al-Qaeda in tranfering fighters to the Syrian conflict, a theater where the IRGC is engaged in war against these very same fighters?

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    So, is al suri considered “core” al qaeda?

  • Chris Byrom says:

    Iran backing al Qaeda in Syria (in the guise of the al Nusra Front) makes perfect sense.
    Al Qaeda/al Nusra brings comparatively limited assets to bear in Syria against the Assad regime, limited enough that Iran’s counterbalance with IRGC support to Assad more than offsets the impact.
    However, the presence of al Qaeda among the anti-Assad forces greatly complicates any western decision to intervene in Syria against Assad.
    So, by facilitating a managable threat to its interests, Iran goes a long way to prevent a threat that would overwhelm Iranian interests.
    By no means is the presence of al Nusra the only complication to western intervention. However, the al Nusra problem is compelling for western policymakers for the following reason: western policymakers would need a plausible storyline that does not require (long-term?) western boots on the ground in a Syria intervention. For this to be plausible, the non-al Nusra fighters must demonstrate consistent dominance on the battlefield sufficient to ensure they could lock al Nusra out of a post-Assad Syria. It does not appear that this standard has been met.
    Western policymakers would not be thrilled with the prospect of having to insert western troops into a post-Assad Syria to obstruct an al Nusra/al Qaeda takeover of at least a substantial part of the country.
    And by the way, Iran would substantially boost their support to al Nusra if that group were fighting U.S. forces on the ground–that is a better option for Iran than having U.S. forces square off against IRGC forces, which would create the political opportunity to go after Iran itself. Likewise, Iran would provide increased support to Hezbollah for the same purpose. Iran builds proxy fighter relationships for a purpose, and to substantial effect.

  • Knighthawk says:

    Chris Byrom at February 7, 2014 12:48 PM

    That’s some pretty good chess huh. Well put.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    I think I’ve made this point before. Iran supporting Al Qaeda elements has nothing to do with Syria. It’s all about Afghanistan. Iran basically hates America and is a nuisance for them. They don’t want Americans to have troops in Afghanistan, which borders with Iran, because the Americans would easily infiltrate Iran across the border to do sabotage or anything countering Iranian interests.
    So to make hell for the Americans, Iran allows Al Qaeda to operate in their territory and give them access for them to join the Taliban. Iran doing this has helped America to decide that their armed forces are going to leave Afghanistan at the end of the year. It’s that simple. It’s all about self interests, even if the group Iran are supporting are anti-shia. As long they attack Americans in Afghanistan, then Iran will be happy, irrespective who they are. But one thing, when the Americans leave Afghanistan, Iran will go and attack Al Qaeda like a hammer in their territory. For Al Qaeda’s sake, they should be worried when the Americans leave Afghanistan, because their heads will roll.

  • TimberGhost says:

    Let’s hope there heads roll.


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