The Treasury Department announced today that six more men have been added to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists. Four of the six — Abdul Samad Sani, Abdul Qadeer Basir Abdul Baseer, Hafiz Mohammed Popalzai and Maulawi Inayatullah – were “designated for acting on behalf of the Taliban.” The other two — Gula Khan Hamidi and Faqir Muhammad -– were “sanctioned for acting on behalf of the Haqqani Network.”
Although Treasury refers to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network as if they are separate entities, they are in fact one and the same. The Haqqanis’ operation is an integral part of the Taliban’s coalition, with Siraj Haqqani, overall head of the network, also serving as the Taliban’s deputy leader.
The evidence cited to justify the sanctions indicates that the Taliban operates a wide-reaching international network, extending from Afghanistan and Pakistan into Iran, Turkey, Syria, the Gulf States and elsewhere.
Yet, the designations also highlight, once again, the importance of Pakistan as a safe haven for the Taliban’s senior leadership. Five of the six men — including three senior Taliban finance officials and the “deputy leader” of the group’s military commission — have been based in Pakistan, according to Treasury’s identifying information.
The sixth, Gula Khan Hamidi (a Haqqani Network facilitator), is located in Afghanistan and Istanbul, Turkey, but his operations reach into the heart of Pakistan as well. The Haqqanis are not merely a local enterprise, but a global one, as Treasury provides new information about Hamidi’s pipeline from South Asia to Syria, and beyond.
Ties to al Qaeda and Iran-based individuals are mentioned in the sanctions as well.
Three senior money men for the Taliban
Three of the newly-sanctioned Taliban leaders have played key roles in financing the insurgents. Their sources of funds are diverse: mining interests, “smuggling operations,” narcotics trafficking, fundraising (in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as in the Gulf States), hostage ransoms, “precious stone sales, tithing, and almsgiving.”
Abdul Samad Sani, located in Quetta, is described variously as “a member of the Taliban Senior Shura,” the “Taliban’s Deputy Finance Commissioner,” and the “Governor for the Afghan Central Bank during the Taliban regime.” His job responsibilities have covered everything from fundraising to weapons procurement. In 2014, Sani “traveled to the Gulf to obtain funding and supplies.” The following year, 2015, he “was personally involved in appointing special representatives to serve as Taliban fundraisers abroad.”
The US government has implicated Sani in an attack on the Afghan National Police, as he “sent weapons” to the Taliban squad responsible for the assault, which left one policeman dead and two others wounded.
Abdul Qadeer Basir Abdul Baseer, based in Peshawar, has served the Taliban inside Pakistan throughout his career. Prior to the overthrow of the Taliban’s government in late 2001, Baseer “was the General Consul of the Taliban in Islamabad” and “also served as the Taliban regime’s Military Attaché at the Taliban Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.”
In more recent years, Baseer has been the “financial advisor to the Taliban’s Peshawar Military Council,” and the “head of the Taliban’s Peshawar Financial Commission,” as well as “a member of the Taliban Finance Commission.”
Several details in Baseer’s dossier underscore the overlap between the Taliban’s operations inside Afghanistan and Pakistan.
First, Treasury says that the “Finance Commission of the Taliban Peshawar Shura,” which Baseer has led, is “responsible for the Taliban’s military and political activities in northern and eastern Afghanistan.” In other words, Taliban leaders headquartered in Peshawar direct the group’s guerrilla operations in “northern and eastern Afghanistan.”
Second, Baseer has “disbursed funds directly to Taliban shadow governors and was responsible for approving large expenses.” This is a reference to the Taliban’s parallel governance efforts in Afghanistan. His financing role extends to the organization’s military operations, too. “In the fall of 2017,” Treasury says, “Baseer provided Taliban commanders with tens of thousands of dollars for previous attacks conducted in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.” He also “hosted a meeting of the Taliban Senior Shura to plan for the spring 2015 fighting season.”
Third, Baseer not only funds Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, but also “personally delivers money from the Taliban’s leadership Shura to Taliban groups throughout Pakistan.”
Baseer was apparently a strong ally of Mullah Mansour, the successor to Mullah Omar as Taliban emir. Although some disagreed with Mansour, Baseer “hosted meetings with leaders of the Taliban to convince them to support” Mansour. The meetings took place in “early 2016,” but Mansour was dead within months. In May 2016, Mansour was killed in an American airstrike in Baluchistan after he returned from a trip to Iran.
Hafiz Mohammed Popalzai, located in Balochistan, Pakistan, also sits on the Taliban Finance Commission. He has collected funds for the organization while traveling abroad, and also from sources inside Afghanistan. Popalzai is so important that he has been “one of four individuals responsible for all Taliban financing, including foreign financing and money from the narcotics trade, as well as investing the Taliban’s money.” He has been “in charge of the Taliban’s finances for southern and western Afghanistan.”
Popalzai has worked closely with Gul Agha Ishakzai, who has headed the Taliban Finance Commission. Treasury previously designated Ishakzai as a terrorist in 2010. At the time, Treasury reported that Ishakzai, one of Mullah Omar’s closest advisors, sat on a “Taliban council that coordinates the collection of zakat from Baluchistan Province, Pakistan.”
Popalzai’s role stretches across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border as well. Treasury recounts a telling anecdote in this regard. In 2011, the Taliban received “10 million Euros for the release of hostages that the Taliban was holding.” Popalzai traveled to Qandahar, Afghanistan to “retrieve the money,” which was held in an account controlled by Ishakzai, who used a “false name.” Popalzai then delivered the cash to Ishakzai in Quetta, Pakistan.
Al Qaeda ties
At least two of the newly-sanctioned jihadists have ties to al Qaeda.
One of them, Maulawi Inayatullah, has served as a senior military figure in the Taliban and, “[a]s of late 2016,” was the “overall Taliban member responsible for attacks against Afghan and Coalition Forces in Kabul, Afghanistan.”
Treasury says Inayatullah “has been a Taliban military affairs member in charge of multiple Afghan provinces, and was a member of the Taliban Peshawar Shura.” He has also been the “Taliban’s Military Commission Deputy Leader.” In that capacity, he has “procured weapons, ammunition, and supplies for operations in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.”
Kunar is a known safe haven for al Qaeda. It is one of the provinces Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, including the now deceased Faruq al Qahtani, selected as a destination for al Qaeda members as they were relocated out of Pakistan.
Inayatullah “received a large sum of money from a contact and gave it to a courier to provide to al Qaeda militants,” Treasury notes. Although the US government doesn’t indicate where these al Qaeda fighters were located, Inayatullah’s support for al Qaeda is unsurprising given the organization’s significant presence in Kunar.
The second man with al Qaeda ties is Gula Khan Hamidi, who runs a “facilitation network” that serves the Haqqanis. Hamidi’s operation “facilitated the movement of two groups of foreign fighters to Turkey from Pakistan” in 2013 and also “coordinated the travel of al Qaeda and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan associates to Turkey” in Oct. 2014.
This last part is particularly interesting given previous reports concerning the relocation of Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan) operatives to Syria in 2013. It is possible, if not likely, that Hamidi shepherded the Pakistani Taliban jihadists to Turkey so they could enter Syria, although this is not outright stated in Treasury’s announcement.
Hamidi “was an honored representative of the Haqqani Network in meetings with various Syrian faction leaders in Syria” in early 2014. And, in 2014 and 2015, Hamidi “facilitated” and “translate[d]” communications between Haqqani officials and at least one “Haqqani Network contact in Syria.”
Treasury says that Hamidi has assisted others in their travels to Turkey as well, including “a Haqqani Network-affiliated Uzbek extremist.” In one instance, Hamidi “coordinated” with Nasiruddin Haqqani (who was killed in 2013) “the travel of an associate to Turkey.” Nasiruddin Haqqani’s brother, Siraj, is currently the deputy head of the Taliban. The Haqqani brothers have their own longstanding ties to al Qaeda. When Treasury designated Nasiruddin as a terrorist in 2010, it reported that he had received “payments from al Qaeda.”
Hamidi also sent “funds” to unnamed “Germans located with the Haqqani Network in Pakistan” and a “senior Haqqani Network official” as well.
Ties to Iran-based smuggler and fundraiser
The US government has long recognized that the Taliban operates in Iran, a byproduct of the Iranians’ willingness to support the anti-American insurgency in Afghanistan. For instance, Treasury noted in 2010 that Popalzai’s comrade, Ishakzai, had “facilitated the movement of people and goods to Taliban training camps in Iran” in Dec. 2005.
[For more on Iran’s relationship with the Taliban, see FDD’s Long War Journal report, Analysis: Iran has supported the Taliban’s insurgency since late 2001.]
The sanctions announced today contain additional information concerning the Taliban’s operations inside Iran. As “a senior Afghan Taliban official” in Aug. 2013, Abdul Samad Sani “arranged for an Iran-based associate to help a Taliban fundraiser in Iran meet potential donors.”
Gula Khan Hamidi has also worked with “an Iran-based smuggler” and an “Iran-based associate” (presumably two different people, but perhaps the same), though this work is apparently done in “addition to, and separately from” his role on behalf of the Haqqanis. Hamidi has been “involved for years in coordinating travel and smuggling activity, to include working with an Iran-based smuggler regarding the travel of persons from Afghanistan to Europe in late 2017.” And, in Mar. 2017, Hamidi “coordinated with an Iran-based associate regarding the smuggling of an Afghan person attempting to travel from Turkey to Syria.” He has also smuggled “individuals from Afghanistan to Syria, and from Turkey into and around Europe.”
Few details on sixth jihadist sanctioned
The sixth Taliban-Haqqani jihadist sanctioned today is Faqir Muhammad. Treasury says only that he was designated as a terrorist “for acting for or on behalf of the Haqqani Network” and “has been a major fundraiser for the Haqqani Network” for “several years.”
The US places Faqir in the Pakistani cities of Bannu and Lahore — locales that are permissive for his fundraising operation.
Note: “Al-Qa’ida” has been changed to “al Qaeda” throughout this piece, including in quotes from Treasury.