US adds Islamic State leader, external operations planners to global terrorist list

The US State Department added a senior Islamic State leader and two external operations planners to its list of specially designated global terrorists today. The US government has identified the Islamic State’s external operations network, which is assigned to conduct attacks against the West and its interests abroad, as a significant threat and has targeted its leadership in Iraq and Syria.

The US government identified the three Islamic State commanders as Abdullah Ahmed al Meshedani, Abdelilah Himich, and Basil Hassan.

Meshedani, who is also known as Abu Qassim, is a “leader who manages arriving foreign terrorist fighters, handles guesthouses for them, and transports suicide bombers on behalf of ISIL,” or the Islamic State, according to the designation. State also noted that Meshedani is an “an advisor who reports to” Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State.

Himich, who is also known as Abu Sulayman al Faransi, is a “senior foreign terrorist fighter and external operations figure” who is thought to have planned both the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France in November 2015 and Brussels, Belgium in March 2016. One hundred and thirty people were killed and more than 360 were wounded in the Paris attacks, which included suicide bombers and a suicide assault team. Thirty two civilians were killed and more than 300 were wounded in bombings at the airport and train station in Brussels.

Additionally, Himich formed the Tariq Ibn Ziyad Battalion, “a European foreign terrorist fighter cell that has provided operatives for ISIL attacks in Iraq, Syria, and abroad; at one time the battalion numbered as many as 300 members,” according to State. Himich, a Moroccan national, is thought to have served in Afghanistan with the French Foreign Legion before joining the Islamic State in Syria in 2014, according to Frontline.

Hassan is described as “an external operations plotter” who “was accused of shooting Lars Hedegaard, a 70-year old Danish author and journalist” in 2013. Hedegaard, a vocal critic of Islam, was shot at his home in Copenhagen, Denmark, but survived. Hassan presumably fled Denmark undetected and wound up in Turkey, where he was arrested by Turkish police in 2014. According to State, he was freed as part of a prisoner exchange with the Islamic State and went to Syria.

Targeting the Islamic State’s external operations network has become “our highest priority,” US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in October. The US military has killed three senior members of the external operations network in the past year.

In March, the US announced that it killed Abd al Rahman Mustafa al Qaduli (also known as Hajji Iman, Abu Ali al Anbari and Abu Ala al Afri). A veteran of jihad who joined al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1998, Qaduli was a top Islamic State leader who also was involved in external operations.

The following month, the US killed Abu Isa Al Amriki, who acted as a “recruiter and external attack planner” and who plotted attacks in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Amriki communicated with Aaron Travis Daniels, an American citizen who was arrested on Nov. 7, 2016 as he was attempting to join the Islamic State in Libya.

On Aug. 30, 2016, the US military killed Abu Muhammad al Adnani, in an airstrike in Aleppo. Adnani served as the Islamic State’s overall commander of the external operations network as well as the group’s top spokesman, recruiter, a military commander, and a senior advisor to Baghdadi.

The US killed Abd al-Basit al-Iraqi, who served as the emir of the Islamic State’s “Middle East external networks,” on Nov. 12, 2016, according to the US military. His network targeted Americans, Turks, and Europeans.

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

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