Saad bin Laden, son of al Qaeda figurehead Osama bin Laden, reportedly facilitated communications between Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two, and the Iranian Qods Force after the al Qaeda attack on the US embassy in Sana’a last year that killed 16 including an American, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
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 on Friday froze their assets and prohibits Americans from financial dealings with the four.
Zawahiri spoke to Qods Force commander Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, a senior US 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 hundreds of extremists and thousands of tribesmen into its military ranks in a bid to counter the Shiite Houthi rebels in the Sa’ada War. The editor of Al-Share newspaper and two journalists are on trial in the State Security and Terrorism Court for publishing reports about the Aden Abyan Islamic Army’s role in training tribal militias for the government. They are charged with “threatening national security, demoralizing the military and divulging state secrets.” The Defense Department has demanded the death penalty be applied to the journalists.
After the US Embassy bombing in September, “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 US official reported. “Zawahiri does not want to sour 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. Yemen and Iran have good relations. The rebels are not primarily an arm of Iran.
Yemen previously negotiated with al Qaeda in a bid to avoid attacks. 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 trained 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 designated last week by the Treasury Department is a Yemeni, Ali Saleh Husain. A senior al Qaeda operative close to Osama bin Laden, Husain goes by the alias Abu Dhahak al Yemeni. “He is al Qaeda’s point of contact with Fatah al Islam and Jund al Islam,” al Qaeda’s affiliates in Lebanon and Gaza, the senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
The Telegraph reported in November that an intercepted letter signed by Zawaheri 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 was forced out of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
In a November report entitled Invisible Civilians, Human Rights Watch (HRW) found Yemen’s conduct of the Sa’ada War contravenes international humanitarian law. Over 130,000 fled the fighting and indiscriminate bombing, and the government “severely restricted humanitarian access to tens of thousands of civilians in need”. An estimated 70,000 Zaidi civilians remain beyond the reach of international aid groups as winter approaches. HRW also found that hundreds of Hashimites were arbitrarily arrested including preachers who were often replaced by fundamentalist preachers at mosques throughout Yemen.