BEIRUT: Iran is assisting key Al-Qaeda figures to transfer Sunni fighters into Syria, the Obama administration charged Thursday.
The accusation, detailed in new sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury department targeting Iranian terror links, indicates Iranian officials are backing opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.
Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov, described by the Treasury Department as an Iran-based Islamic Jihad Union facilitator who “operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities,” was designated for providing logistical support and funding to Al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network.
According to the Long War Journal, a respected counter-terrorism blog, the IJU is an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Both groups are closely allied with Al-Qaeda.
Sadikov, also known as Jafar al-Uzbeki and Jafar Muidinov, serves as a “key extremist smuggler based in Mashhad, Iran, near the country's border with Afghanistan, and has provided visas and passports to numerous foreign fighters, including Al-Qaeda recruits, to facilitate their travel," the Treasury said, adding that “he assisted extremists and operatives transiting Iran on their way into and out of Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the Treasury said.
According to the Treasury statement, Uzbeki has also provided funding to Abdel Aziz Khalil, AKA Yasin al-Suri, who resumed leadership of Al-Qaeda's Iran-based network after being temporarily detained there in late 2011.
Suri is believed to be responsible for overseeing Al-Qaeda efforts to transfer experienced fighters from Pakistan to Syria. The Treasury said he is involved in organizing and maintaining routes by which new recruits can travel to Syria via Turkey.
The Treasury Department designated Suri in July 2011 and has authorized monetary rewards for information leading to his location.
The Treasury department said the Al-Qaeda network in Iran “has facilitated the transfer of funds from Gulf-based donors to Al-Qaeda core and other affiliated elements, including the Nusra Front in Syria.”
The U.S. has blacklisted the Syria-based Nusra Front as a terrorist organization for links with Al-Qaeda.
“The Iran-based Al-Qaeda network has also leveraged an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey,” the Treasury added.
Iran is Syrian President Bashar Assad's closest ally, providing military, financial and diplomatic support. The U.S. has repeatedly accused Iran of using its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to train and deploy Shiite fighters to bolster Assad’s forces.
The Nusra Front is a leading rebel group fighting Assad forces in northern Syria, along the Turkish border and was blacklisted by the U.S. in 2012 as a terrorist organization for links with Al-Qaeda.