The US Treasury Department announced today that sanctions have been imposed on eight jihadists who work for the Islamic State’s branch in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), or both. The designations are likely part of a stepped-up campaign against the Islamic State’s presence in Yemen, as the US military claims to have killed “dozens” of the group’s members in airstrikes earlier this month.
Five of the men designated as terrorists work for the Islamic State’s Yemeni network. They include the “overall head” of the so-called caliphate’s Yemeni arm, as well as the group’s “finance leader.” Two others have allegedly served both AQAP and the Islamic State, while the eighth was designated solely as an AQAP figure.
AQAP has fervently rejected Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s caliphate. But Treasury’s announcement reveals at least some overlap between the rival networks.
Several nations belonging to the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), which was established in May, have agreed to impose the sanctions as well.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a co-chair of the TFTC, took part in the action, as did other TFTC member nations.
Notably, Qatar is among the participating countries. The Saudis and others throughout the Gulf have clashed with Qatar over its foreign policy, as well as the permissive environment jihadi fundraisers allegedly enjoy within its borders. Of course, jihadis have traditionally raised funds in several Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia.
In addition to Qatar, the other TFTC member nations which joined the acton are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
The “actions” announced today “are the first taken by the TFTC since its announcement during President Trump’s visit to the region in May,” Treasury notes.
Perhaps the most prominent figure designated today is Abu Sulayman al-Adani, the “overall head” of the Islamic State in Yemen as of March. Treasury says that Baghdadi nominated al-Adani to serve as the group’s emir in 2013, months before Baghdadi announced that the Islamic State had set up “provinces” in Yemen and several other countries. Al-Adani has also served as a “military commander.”
The Islamic State’s “finance leader,” Nashwan al-Wali al-Yafi’i, joins al-Adani on the designation list. He has been the “chief financial officer for” the Islamic State in the Yafi’i District of the southern Lahij Governorate.
Another newly-designated Islamic State leader is Khalid al-Marfadi. His “many functions” have included overseeing the “movements” of fighters, recruiting, and running a “training camp” in Lahij. Al-Marfadi has also been been “involved” in an “assassination cell targeting Yemeni security forces” and managed the production of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) in Lahij City. As of 2015, he had only “approximately 50-60” fighters under his command in Lahij, but it is not clear how many men answer to him today.
Treasury describes al-Marfadi as an especially influential commander who is “responsible for, or had advance knowledge of, the majority of [Islamic State] attacks in Yemen.” Al-Marfadi is so senior within the organization’s ranks that al-Yafi’i, who oversees the jihadis’ finances, reports to him.
The Islamic State has set itself up in opposition to al Qaeda and AQAP, which is one of the more influential regional branches of Ayman al Zawahiri’s international organization. But the animosity between the two sides hasn’t prevented al-Marfadi from seeking to cooperate with AQAP, according to Treasury. As “of early 2016, al-Marfadi sought to negotiate an agreement regarding [Islamic State] and AQAP joint operations in Yemen.” Treasury doesn’t say whether a deal was struck, but others sanctioned by the US and its partner nations have allegedly worked for both groups at times.
Adil Abduh Fari Uthman al-Dhubhani is described as a “prominent military instructor with AQAP” with a large number of fighters under his supervision. Al-Dhubhani has “reportedly commanded an armed AQAP-associated group made up of approximately 2,000 fighters.” And he has “used his connections to conduct fundraising for AQAP throughout Taiz Governorate and overseas.”
Treasury says that al-Dhubhani led these AQAP forces as of “early 2017,” but months earlier he also purportedly backed the Islamic State in Taiz.
“As of early June 2016,” al-Dhubhani “served with” the Islamic State in Taiz Governorate, where his “deputies, along with a large number of other [Islamic State] fighters, fought under the Sunni resistance.” Al-Dhubhani also paid “various Sunni militants…to secure continued support for [Islamic State] activities in Taiz in late October 2016.”
Another sanctioned jihadist, Sayf Abdulrab Salem al-Hayash, is an “AQAP weapons dealer who financed AQAP operations.” He has allegedly trafficked arms since the mid-1990s and “traded contraband and drugs” as well. Al-Hayash has “coordinated and financed shipments of weapons for AQAP leadership” and “traveled between Yemeni Governorates to meet with senior AQAP leaders whose money he handled.”
The Islamic State has also benefitted from al-Hayashi’s weapons expertise, according to Treasury, as he “facilitated a weapons deal” for Baghdadi’s loyalists in 2015.
Al-Hayashi’s illicit business enterprise stretches throughout Yemen and includes a supermarket. Al Khayr Supermarket, which is owned by al-Hayashi and has at least several locations, was designated as well.
Radwan Muhammad Husayn Ali Qanan is a “key” leader in Aden Governorate and a “regional [Islamic State] field commander in southern Yemen.” His responsibilities have included “assassination operations” and he has “intended to target and kidnap foreigners.” Treasury adds that Qanan was the Islamic State’s military emir in Yemen “at the beginning of the 2015 Saudi-led campaign.”
Khalid Sa’id Ghabish al-Ubaydi has “transported and secured shipments of smuggled weapons to” the Islamic State’s “secret locations and storage depots” in Yemen. Treasury says that Ghabish was “one of the most senior…members” of the group “in al Ghaydah, al-Mahrah Governorate” and was a leader in Hadramawt Governorate as well. Like other designated terrorists on today’s list, Ghabish has served the Islamic State since its inception, or close to it. In 2014, the US government says, he “recruited youths” for the caliphate-building project.
The final jihadist added to the designation list is Bilal Ali Muhammad al-Wafi, a “key member of AQAP in Taiz Governorate” who “was involved in the 2012 bombing of a Yemeni military parade rehearsal in al-Sabin Square, Sanaa Governorate.” More than 80 people died in the attack.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.