BEIRUT: Tehran is assisting Al-Qaeda operatives based in Iran to transfer Sunni fighters to Syria, the Obama administration charged Thursday.
The accusation, detailed in new sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department targeting Iranian terror links, suggests 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.
Iranian officials denied the accusations to the Wall Street Journal, saying Washington was harming diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the international standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
According to the Long War Journal, a counterterrorism 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.”
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 was involved in organizing and maintaining routes by which recruits could 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 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 Revolutionary Guards to train and deploy Shiite fighters to bolster Assad’s forces.
The Nusra Front is fighting Assad forces in northern Syria and was blacklisted by the U.S. in 2012 as a terrorist organization for links with Al-Qaeda.