Ahmad Alkhald’s identification papers. Image from Le Monde.
The State Department announced today that two Islamic State leaders have been added to the US government’s list of designated terrorists. One of them is an explosives specialist tied to plots in Europe, while the other has provided security for Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
Foggy Bottom says that Ahmad Alkhald is an Islamic State “bomb-maker” and is “responsible for the deaths of numerous civilians in Europe,” including Americans.
Alkhald’s role in the Nov. 2015 assault on Paris and the Mar. 2016 bombings in Brussels has been widely reported in the press. But State confirms that Alkhald played a key part in the plots, saying he was the “explosives chief” for the “terrorist cell” that carried out both operations.
Alkhald, who is from Aleppo, Syria, “traveled to Europe” in 2015 to help “plan the Paris attacks and manufacture the explosive belts used in that plot.”
The French press, including Le Monde and Le Parisien, previously reported that Alkhald snuck into Europe via the island of Leros, in Sept. 2015. The Greek island has been a popular gateway for migrants fleeing the ravages of the war in Syria. Other participants in the Paris and Brussels plots similarly entered Europe via Leros.
According to French media, Alkhald accompanied two other Islamic State operatives allegedly tied to the European plots, Sofiane Ayari and Osama Krayem, through Leros into the heart of Europe. The trio was reportedly brought to Germany by a fourth member of the terror network, Salah Abdeslam. Ayari, Krayem, and Abdeslam have all been arrested by European authorities.
Salah Abdeslam’s brother, Brahim, blew himself up as part of the Paris attacks. And forensics experts reportedly found Alkhald’s DNA on Brahim’s suicide belt, as well as another belt that was discarded by Salah, who is alive and imprisoned. Before the brothers and their accomplices carried out their mission, Alkhald absconded for the lands of the self-declared caliphate. But he remained operational.
“Following his return to Syria shortly before the attacks in Paris,” the State Department noted, “Alkhald continued to guide ISIS operatives in Europe on making the bombs used in the March 2016, Brussels attacks.” The Brussels plotters had some difficulty assembling their explosives and reached out to Alkhald, and possibly others, for assistance.
This is not the first the State Department has targeted a member of the Islamic State network that carried out the Paris and Brussels operations. In June, State sanctioned Oussama Ahmad Atar, describing him as a “leading coordinator” for both plots. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, State Department designates ‘coordinator’ of Islamic State attacks in Europe, 2 others.]
The second newly-sanctioned Islamic State operative is Abu Yahya al-Iraqi, a.k.a. Iyad Hamed Mahl al-Jumaily. State describes al-Iraqi as “a senior ISIS figure who reports to” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Iraqi “has reportedly played a key role in security for al-Baghdadi and oversees ISIS security in Iraq and Syria.”
“ISIS has killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians and forced residents to serve as human shields as it has continued to suffer territorial losses throughout 2016 and 2017,” Foggy Bottom reported in its designation announcement for al-Iraqi. “ISIS has demonstrated its continuing ability to conduct massive terrorist attacks with high civilian death tolls.”
The implication is that al-Iraqi is involved in these operations, though that is not explicitly stated in the government’s designation announcement.