The Treasury Department announced today that two “key facilitators” for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have been added to the US government’s list of designated terrorists. In addition, a “front company” that purportedly acts as a charity has also been designated for allegedly supporting AQAP’s operations.
Treasury’s announcement points to the mix of tribal politics, Gulf fundraising, and local banking that has helped fuel AQAP’s war in Yemen for years.
The US has repeatedly sanctioned members of AQAP’s logistical support network. Today’s designations are part of a series released this year that document the complex web of relations underpinning AQAP’s operations.
One of the newly-designated men is Abdallah Faysal Sadiq al-Ahdal, who has worn multiple hats. Treasury says that al-Ahdal was “a senior tribal leader in Yemen’s Hadramawt Governorate” as of the mid-2016, has acted as a “manager for foreign AQAP fighters,” and also “served as an AQAP-affiliated Sharia judge,” as well as a leader in “AQAP’s religious police.” One of his many duties has been talent-spotting and “recruiting young men” for AQAP’s ranks.
Al-Ahdal’s financial support for AQAP has been tied to a banking network that was targeted by Treasury earlier this year. The US government describes him as “a member of a cell based in Ash Shihr, Hadramawt that provided money laundering and financial facilitation services for AQAP.” He allegedly used the Yemen-based Al-Omgy Exchange to transfer “money for AQAP’s foreign fighters under the cover of business transactions.”
Al-Omgy and Brothers Money Exchange was designated by Treasury in November after the US government concluded that it was acting as a key financial hub for AQAP. Al Omgy Exchange’s co-owners, Said Salih Abd-Rabbuh al-Omgy and Muhammad Salih Abd-Rabbuh al-Omgy, were also jointly sanctioned by the US and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the time.
In today’s announcement, Treasury says that Said al-Omgy is al-Ahdal’s father-in-law and that al-Ahdal has also “engaged in weapons smuggling with AQAP financial facilitator Muhammad al-Omgy.”
When the US and UAE moved against Al-Omgy and Brothers Money Exchange in early November, Muhammad al-Omgy protested in the press. He publicly proclaimed his innocence after Treasury described him as “an AQAP member.” In an interview with The New York Times, Muhammad al-Omgy said this wasn’t true, as he and others were forced to assist AQAP after the al Qaeda branch took over much of southern Yemen. “We had no other option but to comply with them,” al-Omgy told the Times. “They were the rulers of the city.”
Judging by today’s announcement, however, Treasury was unmoved by Muhammad al-Omgy’s protest.
Treasury accuses al-Ahdal of not only working with the al-Omgy family, but also providing “a variety of financial, leadership, and other facilitation support to AQAP” since 2009. At least some of the cash he has raised has come “from Gulf businessmen under the cover of charitable organizations.”
Since the 9/11 attacks, the US government has repeatedly uncovered charities that were really serving the jihadists’ nefarious purposes. And Al-Ahdal’s Rahmah Charitable Organization has now been added to the database of duplicitous firms, with Treasury describing it as an “AQAP front organization.”
Al-Ahdal appears to be an ideologue, as he “allowed AQAP to recruit at his mosque.” He “also radicalized and provided religious instruction to a group of AQAP members who had escaped from prison.” In addition, he has provided “shelter” for AQAP fighters looking to escape airstrikes launched by the Gulf coalition that invaded Yemen last year.
The second man designated by the US government today is Al-Hasan Ali Ali Abkar, an AQAP “commander” who has led jihadists in their war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Treasury says that Abkar has been working with two other specially designated global terrorists, Nayif al-Qaysi and Ghalib al-Zaydi, both of whom were sanctioned in May.
Abkar has “provided financial, material, and leadership support to AQAP” since at least 2014, according to the US government. He has been “extensively involved in AQAP facilitation efforts” and “worked with AQAP facilitator” al-Qaysi “to supply money, weapons, and ammunition to AQAP forces.” The two men have “assembled AQAP members” for operations and Abkar has served as the “main financier” for a “Marib-based” training camp. Abkar has also helped finance al-Zaydi, who is an AQAP military leader.
Treasury’s designations throughout 2016 have provided insights into how AQAP operates. And with each new announcement, the public learns just how deep AQAP’s network inside Yemen really is.