United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was photographed last week shaking hands with ‘Abd al Wahhab al Humayqani, a man the United States accuses of being Al Qaeda’s emir for the Yemeni province of Al Bayda. Standing next to them was Ban’s special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Sheikh Ahmed.
Humayqani was in Geneva for peace talks in his capacity as a member of the Yemeni government in exile’s delegation. The government in exile of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has been operating since the start of the coalition air campaign out of the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Ban’s embarrassing photo opportunity with Humayqani highlights some of the shortcomings of the international community’s efforts to combat terror finance, since the US accuses him of funding Al Qaeda as well as reportedly helping it orchestrate car bombings.
Washington now says that it raised concerns with the United Nations over Humayqani’s attendance at the UN-brokered peace talks and that it also criticized Hadi’s government for including him in the first place. However, the State Department spokesperson only responded to the news on Wednesday, playing down concerns from the press about Humayqani’s attendance, even though the Yemeni’s name appeared on the delegation list as early as June 10, and Reuters flagged it soon thereafter.
His travel to Switzerland is particularly ironic given that Swiss authorities recently garnered world headlines for honoring an American request to arrest and prepare for extradition several top officials from the international soccer federation FIFA. This action was taken despite the fact that terror finance is a much more serious threat to America’s national security than mere corruption.
The US Treasury Department asserted that as of 2012, Humayqani was “an important figure within AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula]” and, along with others, “in March 2012 reportedly orchestrated an AQAP attack” in Al Baydah against a Yemeni government military base. The attack reportedly employed numerous car bombs and killed seven individuals. [See LWJ report, Latest Treasury designation targets al Qaeda’s fundraising network.]
The Yemeni national also allegedly played a major ideological and recruiting role for the terrorist movement. The US government declared that he recruited individuals in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa “on behalf of AQAP in support of AQAP efforts in southern Yemen” and that he has “issued religious guidance in support of AQAP operations.”
In December 2013, Treasury designated Humayqani as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” imposing sanctions that blocked him from doing business with any US persons and froze any assets he may have held in dollars. According to the Treasury Department’s announcement, “Humayqani reportedly assisted AQAP in gaining a foothold and safe haven in Al Baydah Governorate, Yemen and as of mid-2011 served as the acting AQAP amir there.”
The announcement further stated that he “used his status in the charitable community to fundraise and has provided some of that funding to AQAP.” Humayqani also “facilitated financial transfers from AQAP supporters in Saudi Arabia to Yemen in support of AQAP operations” and that a Qatari national named ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Nu’aymi sent funds to a charity in Yemen that was headed by Humayqani, who in turn “channeled funding to AQAP.”
Nu’aymi, for his part, was sanctioned on charges of terror finance by the US on the same day as Humayqani, and by the United Nations on similar charges in September 2014. Humayqani was also active for many years in organizations run by Nu’aymi: as a board member of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign and as a founding member of the rights group Alkarama.
News reports in English and Arabic on Humayqani’s participation in the UN-brokered Geneva talks have identified him as secretary general of a Salafist Yemeni political party, al-Rashad. And yet according to the Christian Science Monitor, the US government has implied that al-Rashad “is little more than a front, created with AQAP leaders to increase the group’s numbers and broaden its support”.
Humayqani has regularly denied the US allegations against him. He told the AFP news service, “I categorically deny these accusations and challenge the United States to prove them.” He similarly has told the Christian Science Monitor and Arabic outlets that he did not provide funding to Al Qaeda and that he opposed the group on ideological grounds.
Humayqani’s emergence as a member in the Yemeni government’s delegation to Geneva reflects poorly not just on President Hadi’s administration in exile, but also on his Saudi and Qatari patrons. In 2013, the Treasury Department noted that Humayqani “has frequently traveled throughout the Arabian Peninsula while conducting business for AQAP.” Responding to questions from the Christian Science Monitor in 2014, a US official briefed on the topic insisted “this is largely about his financial activities, particularly his financial transfers coming from [backers in] Saudi Arabia.” On Thursday, Ban Ki-Moon’s spokesperson characterized Humayqani as a “member of the Riyadh delegation.”
His reemergence is also an embarrassment for Doha, where Humayqani once worked as a mufti at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments as a “onetime adviser to Qatar on charitable giving.” Additionally, The New York Times reports that “an arm of the Qatari government made a donation to help build a $1.2 million mosque in Yemen” for Humayqani and that Qatari officials attended its opening. According to the Yemeni news site Marib Press, funding for the 2010 mosque opening came from Qatar’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments and was supervised by the Qatar-based Eid bin Mohammed Al Thani Charitable Association. The Qatari ministry sent its Director of Islamic Affairs to attend the ceremony alongside Humayqani and Abdulmajid al-Zindani, a onetime spiritual mentor to Osama bin Laden who is under terror finance sanctions from both the US and United Nations.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Humayqani was hosted as a guest last week on Qatar’s Al Jazeera Arabic to comment on the foundering UN-brokered talks in Geneva. Strange bedfellows in the Gulf is nothing new, but Humayqani’s Geneva junket highlights either Washington’s reluctance or impotence when allies decline to take action against individuals on its list of alleged terror financiers.
David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.