Late last week, the State Department announced a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, A.K.A. Yasin al-Suri – Yasin the Syrian. Serious students of terrorism and counterterrorism saw this as big news for two reasons.
The first is tactical: Never before has a reward been offered for the capture of a terrorist financier. But the money men are vital links in the terrorist chain so targeting them makes sense. Also unusual is the amount: Only Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has been trying to fill Osama bin Laden’s shoes at al Qaeda’ main office, commands a larger bounty ($25 million).
The second reason is strategic: al-Suri is an al Qaeda operative who, since 2005, has been living in Iran, working in collaboration with the theocratic regime, according to U.S. officials. “Under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Government of Iran, Yasin al-Suri has helped move money and recruits through Iran to al Qaeda leaders in neighboring countries in the region," Robert Hartung, State Department Assistant Director for Threat Investigations and Analysis, told reporters. “He is a dedicated terrorist working in support of al Qaeda with the support of the Government of Iran, which the Department of State has designated a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Those are stunning words. Within the foreign policy establishment the prevailing orthodoxy has long maintained that Iran’s Shia rulers despise the Sunnis of al Qaeda; that the enmity is mutual; and that operational cooperation between them is therefore inconceivable. It also has been a longstanding article of faith that the terrorist groups threatening America are “non-state” actors, groups limited in their capabilities because they do not enjoy the support of national rulers with all the resources those rulers can bring to the table.
Dissenting from that paradigm have been such analysts as Michael Ledeen and Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard. They have argued that Iran and al Qaeda collaborate despite theological/ideological differences; that many, if not most, of the Islamist groups waging war against the West are linked like strands of a spider’s web; and that Iran is the “terrorist master.”