The U.S. is capitalizing on Iran’s economic worries when it offered up to $12 million in reward for information to find out the whereabouts of two top al-Qaeda operatives in the Islamic republic, an analyst said on Thursday.
“It may be an attempt to draw in the Iranian people,” Jonathan Schanzen, Vice President of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and former U.S. Treasury analyst, told Voice of America on Thursday.
“In other words, when you have a reward out there and you’ve got a suffering population inside Iran that been under the weight of sanctions, the idea that you would bring in $12 million by simply identifying somebody you probably don’t even want to be on your soil, that could be an appealing prospect.”
The reward also demonstrates how serious Washington is about curtailing Qaeda’s activities in Iran, Schanzen added.
Thursday’s coordinated announcements by the State and Treasury departments have put pressure on U.S. partners in the Middle East region - specifically Kuwait and Qatar - to help constrain Qaeda in Iran, said a former Treasury Department counterterrorism expert, Mathew Levitt.
“There was a time when Saudi Arabia was our biggest terror finance concern in the region and there’s certainly more that the Saudis can do but they’ve done a lot,” Levitt told Voice of America.
“I would say that today, and I know I’m not the only one that’s saying it, that Qatar and Kuwait are larger concerns in the Gulf.”
Levitt also expects similar moves to be made by the international community.
“You can, and I would expect, that we will be going to the United Nations and seeking for United Nations designation,” he said. “You can’t do that with all groups, the United Nations is only able to designate individuals or groups that are tied to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but this would be something that would clearly fit.”
The U.S. Treasury Department called the terror network in Iran a “crucial source” of Qaeda’s funding and support.
Washington has offered a reward of $7 million for information on the whereabouts of Muhsin al-Fadhi, a Gulf national, described by the State Department as “Qaeda’s senior leader” in Iran.
Fadhi is wanted by the U.S. for providing “financial and material support” to Qaeda’s branch in the Arabian Peninsula. He is also accused of funding Qaeda in Iran, said the U.S. State Department.
The Qaeda operative is reported to have been among trusted few who received advance notice of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Fadhi uses his “extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors” to send money and fighters via Turkey with the aim of supporting Qaeda affiliated elements in Syria, the U.S. State Department added.
A $5 million reward was also announced for Fadhi’s deputy, Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi, an Iran-based senior Qaeda facilitator according to Washington.
The U.S. wants Harbi, for facilitating the “travel of extremists” to Afghanistan or Iraq via Iran, said the State Department.
Meanwhile, little intelligence has been publicly released connecting Iran to Qaeda.
Brookings Institution report in July, the U.S. government said Iran has agreed to allow Qaeda operatives to move through the country - essentially providing the group a safe haven.
The U.S. Treasury Department said in exchange for Iran providing a safe haven for Qaeda, the group agrees not to conduct “any operations or within Iranian territory and recruiting operatives inside Iran while keeping Iranian authorities informed of their activities.”