By David Gollust, VOA, The State Department
The United States Thursday announced a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of a Syrian national said to be operating as an al-Qaida paymaster from a base in Iran. The bounty, under the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program, is the first ever offered for a terrorist financier.
The bounty of up to $10 million for Syrian national Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil is the second largest currently posted under the State Department rewards program, underscoring the degree of U.S. concern about his Iran-based operation.
The State Department says the Syrian, better known by his alias Yasin al-Suri, is a senior al-Qaida "facilitator and financier" working in Iran with the consent and knowledge of Iranian authorities.
At a press event, Robert Hartung, deputy director of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said al-Suri has raised funds for al-Qaida throughout the Gulf region and coordinated the movement of members of the group through Iran.
"From his sanctuary inside Iran, he has moved terrorist recruits through Iran to al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has also arranged for the release of al-Qaida operatives from Iranian prisons and their transfer to Pakistan. And he has funneled significant amounts of money through Iran to al-Qaida's leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is a dedicated terrorist working in support of al-Qaida with the support of the government of Iran," he said.
Treasury Department Assistant Director for Terrorism and Intelligence Eytan Fisch said the United States has "reliable" information of an operating agreement between the Tehran government and al-Qaida, but he declined to identify Iranian officials who may be linked to al-Suri.
Iran has long been listed by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism but the Tehran government denies any such activity.
Last July, the Treasury Department put Al-Suri and five members of his alleged network on its terrorist blacklist, freezing any U.S. assets they may have and barring all U.S. dealings with them.
Since 1984, the Rewards for Justice program has paid out more than $100 million to more than 70 persons who provided "actionable" information that led to the arrest of wanted terrorist figures, or prevented terrorist acts.
The largest current U.S. reward offer is up to $25 million for Egyptian national Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became overall al-Qaida leader after Osama Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan earlier this year.
Rewards of $10 million are now posted for al-Suri, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and Abu Du'a, leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Among notable successes under the program was the 1995 arrest in Pakistan of Ramzi Yousef, one of the main perpetrators of the 1993 bomb attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The State Department does not identify reward recipients.
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