The U.S. Treasury Department announced today that five al Qaeda financial operatives based in Turkey have been designated as terrorists. Treasury describes them as al Qaeda “supporters,” but doesn’t indicate how, exactly, they fit into the group’s organizational scheme. Two of the five are Egyptian nationals, while the other three are from Turkey.
The designation highlights the ongoing work of an old school network of Egyptian jihadists and the younger personnel in Turkey who assist them.
The eldest of the five is perhaps the best known in jihadist circles, Majdi Salim. An Egyptian in his sixties, Salim was an emir of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a terrorist group once headed by al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri. Salim “is one of the primary facilitators of a range of al Qaeda activities in Turkey” and has acted as a “financial courier” for the terror network, according to Treasury.
The other Egyptian, Muhammad Nasr al Din al Ghazlani, is described as a “veteran al Qaeda facilitator” and a “Turkey-based financial courier who used cash transfers to support” the group. Al-Ghazlani, 53, has allegedly transferred funds “on behalf of al Qaeda,” including “to the families of imprisoned al Qaeda members.”
Two of the Turkish nationals sanctioned by Treasury were allegedly tied to a senior al Qaeda leader, Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abd al Rahman, a.k.a. Abu Khayr al Masri, who served as deputy emir to Ayman al Zawahiri. Al Masri was killed in a Feb. 2017 drone strike in Idlib province, Syria.
One of these two Turkish nationals, Nurettin Muslihan (47 years old), is described as a “Turkey-based al Qaeda financial facilitator who maintained contact with al Qaeda senior leadership.” The other, Cebrail Guzel (28 years old), is a “Turkey-based al Qaeda facilitator” who works with Muslihan.
Treasury says that Muslihan “worked to establish direct communications with al Qaeda extremists,” including the now-deceased Abu Khayr al-Masri. Guzel worked with Muslihan in this capacity. It is not clear what Treasury means with this language, or why Muslihan and Guzel would have to work to develop communications with Abu Khayr and other al Qaeda figures.
Abu Khayr al Masri was held under some form of detention inside Iran for years after 2001. He was reportedly allowed to leave Iranian soil in 2015 as part of a hostage exchange. Abu Khayr quickly made his way to Syria, where an al Qaeda branch known as Jabhat al Nusrah was operating at the time.
In July 2016, Abu Khayr publicly approved Al-Nusrah’s disassociation from al Qaeda and rebranding as Jabhat Fateh al Sham (JFS). Other members of al Qaeda’s senior management later rejected the move, which became controversial and disrupted the group’s chain of command. By early 2017, JFS rebranded once again, reemerging as Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), an ostensibly independent jihadist entity. HTS has had tense relations with al Qaeda loyalists in Idlib ever since.
In Feb. 2017, weeks after HTS was formed, Abu Khayr al Masri was killed in a drone strike inside Idlib province, Syria.
Earlier today, more than four and a half years after Abu Khayr’s demise, the U.S. Treasury Department pointed to the ties between Abu Khayr and the two newly designated Turkish nationals, but offered little clarity on the relationship.
The third Turkish national designated today is Soner Gurleyen (33 years old), who is described as “an al Qaeda extremist and financial facilitator.” Gurleyen is the youngest of the five men designated today.
The U.S. Treasury Department has repeatedly designated facilitators working for al Qaeda, HTS and the Islamic State in Turkey.
In July, Treasury identified Hasan al-Shaban, a Syrian national, as a “Turkey-based al Qaeda financial facilitator” who moves money for the worldwide insurgency and terrorist network.