Treasury Department designates 2 ‘al Qaeda leaders’ in Syria

The US Treasury Department today added two “al Qaeda leaders” in Syria to the list of specially designated global terrorists.

One of the two, Abd Al Rahman Muhammad Zafir Al Dubaysi Al Juhni, is a Saudi who sat on al Qaeda’s central Shura (advisory) council and served as the group’s chief of security “responsible for counterintelligence” before relocating from Pakistan to Syria.

The other is an Iraqi named ‘Abd Al Rahman Mustafa Al Qaduli, who joined al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) when it was headed by the now deceased Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

Al Qaduli served as Zarqawi’s deputy and assistant, as well as AQI’s emir of Mosul in the Iraqi province of Ninewa. He was also previously “AQI’s representative to al Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan,” traveling to Pakistan in February 2006 “on behalf of Zarqawi to conduct an interview, which was then to be provided to al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan.” The Treasury Department did not provide any additional details about the interview.

Treasury says that Al Qaduli was imprisoned in an unnamed country until early 2012, when he was released and “traveled to Syria to work in a Syria-based” Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) network. He is now a “senior” official in the ISIS.

The ISIS was formerly disowned by al Qaeda’s general command in February. The Treasury Department describes Al Qaduli as an al Qaeda leader. But if Al Qaduli remains loyal to the emir of ISIS, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, then he is likely no longer a true al Qaeda leader, but instead part of the terror network’s most infamous rogue faction. Treasury says that Al Qaduli “is designated for acting for or on behalf of” ISIS.

Al Juhni part of al Qaeda contingent that relocated to Syria

The Treasury Department’s designation of Al Juhni confirms previous reporting about al Qaeda’s activities in Syria.

“As of mid-2013,” Treasury explains, Al Juhni “had traveled to Syria accompanied by several individuals to participate in the fighting there and was working with counterparts in Pakistan to acquire heavy weaponry and trainers to support al Qaeda efforts in Syria.”

Al Juhni is “part of a group of senior al Qaeda members in Syria formed to conduct external operations against Western targets and to mediate tensions between” the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and the ISIS, which grew out of AQI.

Various previous reports indicated that al Qaeda sent a contingent to Syria to oversee the group’s efforts in the rebellion against Bashar al Assad’s forces. For instance, Sanafi al Nasr, who heads al Qaeda’s “Victory Committee,” has said on his Twitter feed that al Qaeda’s senior leaders had dispatched operatives to Syria who were told to embed themselves within the Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham. Al Nasr himself is one of the senior al Qaeda officials who relocated to Syria.

Ahrar al Sham is an important part of the Islamic Front, which is a coalition of several rebel groups in Syria. A co-founder of Ahrar al Sham was an al Qaeda leader known as Abu Khalid al Suri, who also served as Ayman al Zawahiri’s chief representative in Syria until he was killed in a suicide attack in late February. The attack was presumably launched by ISIS.

After relocating to Syria, Al Juhni continued to do the bidding of al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan. Al Juhni “maintained” his “affiliation with al Qaeda leadership in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan,” Treasury says.

Al Juhni’s career, as summarized by the Treasury Department, is evidence that al Qaeda maintains a substantial bureaucracy beyond the operational planners who garner most of the attention. In addition to his roles on al Qaeda’s shura council and as its chief of security for counterintelligence, Al Juhni previously performed “various administrative duties for al Qaeda, including arranging the payment of funds, passing messages and arranging meetings for senior al Qaeda figures.”

Al Juhni “provided logistical support to al Qaeda in Afghanistan” between 2006 and 2009, was responsible for its “communications courier network in Waziristan in late 2008,” and was “in charge of al Qaeda administrative affairs for several areas in North and South Waziristan” by mid-2009.

In early 2011, Al Juhni was added to the Saudi Arabian government’s list of most-wanted criminals. His al Qaeda roles were recognized by the Saudis at the time. According to Treasury, the Saudis also noted that Al Juhni considered the kingdom “a legitimate field for battle.”

The war in Syria has caused the threat from al Qaeda to further evolve. Whereas Al Juhni was once an administrator in South Asia, according to Treasury, today he is part of a group that is targeting the West from Syria.

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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1 Comment

  • B says:

    Just some random thoughts here: how does a known al-Qaeda Shura council member simply “relocate” from Pakistan to Syria? Assuming the point of origin was in the Pakistani tribal belts, the route would either go through the entirety of Pakistan into Iran or go across Afghanistan to Iran, which may be harder. But then the issue arises that, although Iran has been complicit with Qaeda in the past, it would be against their own interest to allow al-Qaeda to develop a safe haven in Syria. Assuming for ease that Iran did let him through, once he hits Iraq he has to then evade ISIS. I don’t have much faith that the government of Iraq would be controlling its own borders securely. This still seems like quite the perilous journey for a wanted terrorist. My only other thoughts would be using a forged passport to get (somehow) to Qatar or another destination in the Arabian Peninsula, and then going through Turkey or Lebanon to Syria.
    Still, it raises an interesting thought. AQC is terribly removed from the epicenter of global jihadism, which is now clearly in the Levant. Nusrah has thousands of men in its ranks, tanks, and heavy weapons, something AQC can only dream of today, with at most a couple hundred men controlling only a sliver of territory (if any? With Pak Taliban and IMU perhaps? Side Q: Does AQC control anything? Or are they relegated to making basement videos?) in one of the worlds most remote and tribal areas. It would be in their long term interest to attempt a relocation, lets just hope the journey is difficult enough to the point where it won’t happen.
    Interested to hear others thoughts..


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