U.S. offers $12 million for Iran-based al Qaeda operatives

Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 4:18pm

By Jamie Crawford

National Security Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is offering $12 million for two men described as al Qaeda financiers who are based in Iran and responsible for the movement of money and fighters to support the terror groups operations in the region.

The State Department has authorized a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to the location of Muhsin al-Fadhli, who U.S. officials believe to be the leader of al Qaeda's network in Iran. A similar reward of $5 million was offered for Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi, who serves as al-Fadhli's deputy in Iran.

In conjunction with the reward offers, the Treasury Department designated al-Harbi for his leadership role in al Qaeda and froze any assets of his under U.S. jurisdiction. It also prohibited all U.S. persons from conducting any transactions with him.

The move further exposes al Qaeda's "critically important Iran-based funding and facilitation network," said David S. Cohen, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a written statement. "We will continue targeting this crucial source of al Qaeda's funding and support, as well as highlight Iran's ongoing complicity in this network's operation."

Al-Fadhli was previously designated by the Treasury Department in 2005 for providing financial and material support to al Qaeda and the network of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2006.

Through his leadership of al Qaeda's base in Iran, al-Fadhli oversees an operation that has moved operatives from Iran to destinations in Europe, North Africa and Syria. He also uses a network of jihadist donors from his native Kuwait to send money to Syria via Turkey, the State Department said.

Al-Fadhli's ascension to the top al Qaeda spot in Iran happened after the State Department put a $10 million reward for the capture of Yasin al-Suri in December, a senior official from the Treasury Department told reporters in a conference call Thursday.

The Iranian government "appears to have taken al-Suri into protective custody in Iran" following that action, thereby allowing al-Fadhli to be elevated as al-Suri's public profile faded. Al Qaeda has been able to operate for years in Iran, the official said, after the Iranian government "secretly agreed" to allow operatives of the group to operate from its soil.

Al-Fadhli was among the few senior operatives within al Qaeda to receive advance notice the group would strike the United States on September 11, 2001, the State Department said.

In his role as al-Fadhli's deputy, al-Habri is said to facilitate the travel of extremists to Iraq or Afghanistan from Iran on behalf of al Qaeda. He is believed to have sought financing to support attacks by the group as well.

Al-Habri, who joined al Qaeda's network in Iran in 2011, has also appeared on a most wanted list in Saudi Arabia for having traveled to Afghanistan to join the terror group, and for providing technical support for it on the Internet.

Al Qaeda's ability to operate in Iran results from a quid pro quo with the Iranian government, the Treasury Department says.

In return for refusing to conduct operations or recruit operatives from inside Iran, al Qaeda is given the freedom to operate by the Iranian government and uninhibited ability to travel for extremists and their families.

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