US Sanctions Iran Based al Qaeda, Zawahiri Promises Fighters to Yemen
The US Treasury Department placed financial sanctions on Saad bin Laden, thought to be in Pakistan, and three alleged al Qaeda operatives in Iran including a Yemeni. The terrorist designation Friday froze their assets within US jurisdictions and prohibits Americans from financial dealings with the four.
Saad bin Laden, son of radical figurehead Osama bin Laden, facilitated communications between al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman Zawahiri, and the Iranian Qods Force after an al Qaeda attack on the US embassy in Sana’a last year, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Zawahiri contacted the Qods Force after his agreement to supply more fighters to Yemen to battle Shiite rebels, a US military source was quoted as saying.
Zawahiri spoke to Qods Force commander Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, the senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal, confirming the account in The Wall Street Journal.
“Zawahiri was concerned that the al Qaeda-manned militia fighting on the side of the government against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels might threaten Iran’s interests in Yemen,” the official said.
The Yemeni government incorporated thousands of extremists and tribesmen into its military ranks to battle the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s northern Sa’ada province. The editor of Al-Share newspaper and two journalists are on trial in the State Security and Terrorism Court for publishing reports of the Aden Abyan Islamic Army’s role training tribal militias for the government. The journalists are charged with “threatening national security, demoralizing the military and divulging state secrets.”
After the US Embassy bombing in September that killed 16 including an American, “(Yemeni President) Saleh feared his government would be the next target, but Zawahiri wanted al Qaeda prisoners released from Yemeni jails and committed al Qaeda foot soldiers to fight the Houthi rebels,” the senior US military official said.
Zawahiri was concerned about relations between al Qaeda and Iran, “so he took great care by reaching out to the Iranians” after committing more fighters to the Yemeni government.
Sana’a has struck numerous bargains with al Qaeda leadership and operatives. The 9/11 Commission reported the Tawfiq bin Attash was released from Yemeni custody in 1999 after Osama bin Laden contacted Yemeni authorities. Bin Attash later went on to have a role in the USS Cole bombing and train some of the 9/11 highjackers. In 2007, Yemen’s Foreign Minister defended the early release of al Qaeda operatives convicted in the USS Cole bombing as “normal” saying, “Everybody makes deals with anybody who cooperates, not just in Yemen, but in the United States.”
Among those in Iran the US Treasury Department designated as terrorists last week is Yemeni Ali Saleh Husain. A senior al Qaeda operative close to Osama bin Laden, Husain goes by the alias Abu Dhahak al Yemeni. He reportedly is the intermediary between al Qaeda and its affiliates Fatah al Islam in Lebanon and Jund al Islam in Gaza.
Saad bin Laden fled to Iran after September 11, 2001. He may no longer be in Iran as of September 2008, the US Treasury Department said in a statement.
The Telegraph reported in November that an intercepted letter signed by Zawahiri thanked Iran’s Revolutionary Guards for “monetary and infrastructure assistance” after the deadly attack on the US embassy and commended their “vision” in helping al Qaeda establish new bases in Yemen after the group faced increasing pressure in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Although tensions rose at the peak of the Sa’ada War, Yemen and Iran have good relations overall, as does Yemen and Syria. The Houthi rebellion was triggered by localized grievances. In a November report, Invisible Civilians, Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged that Yemen contravened international humanitarian law during the war and “severely restricted humanitarian access to tens of thousands of civilians in need”. An estimated 70,000 Zaidi civilians who fled the bombing and fighting remain out of the reach of international aid groups. HRW also found that hundreds of Hashimites were arbitrarily arrested. Imprisoned clerics were often replaced by fundamentalist preachers at mosques throughout Yemen.