- By Blake Hounshell
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.
The Treasury Department today named six alleged al Qaeda operatives that it said were members of a network that worked to facilitate the moving of "money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia" in cooperation with the government of Iran.
The department’s press release said that Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a Syrian living in Iran, was collecting money from Gulf donors and using it to send cash to al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as dispatching "extremist recruits for al Qaeda from the Gulf to Pakistan and Afghanistan via Iran." (If so, he’s not doing such a great job, as al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq has recently complained of going broke, and U.S. counterterrorism officials claim the group is on the verge of defeat in Pakistan.)
Washington has long accused Iran of meddling in Afghanistan, and more recently has blamed the Islamic Republic for a stepped-up campaign against U.S. troops in Iraq. (A few months back, I met with a UAE military official who made the same accusation about Iran supplying weapons and money to anti-coalition fighters in Afghanistan.) It’s also been widely reported that senior al Qaeda figures are under some sort of house arrest in Iran, possibly as bargaining chips — but that Iran may have recently allowed a few of those operatives to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I was particularly interested in this latest announcement by the Treasury, because it names two individuals in Qatar, where I am temporarily based.
One of those named, Salim Hasan Khalifa Rashid al-Kuwari, was also mentioned in an Amnesty International action alert in March as one of three individuals subject to arbitrary detention whom Sultan al-Khalaifi — someone the NGO described as a blogger and human rights activist — was trying to get released. Khalaifi was mysteriously arrested on March 1 by "a number of state security agents,” according to Amnesty, along with three other unnamed Qataris, and seems to have disappeared into a black hole.
At the time, I remember thinking the case was odd, because Khalaifi had only written four blog posts — and none of them recently. Was he really arrested for his blogging activities? One theory was that Khalaifi was somehow involved in Facebook calls for a revolution to oust Emir Hamad Khalifa al-Thani, as his blog and the "Qatar Revolution" Facebook page contained some similar themes — that the emir was corrupt and in league with the evil Americans and Israel, that his wife was too prominent, and so on. Khalaifi listed Sayyif Qutb’s Milestones, a seminal Islamist tract, as his favorite book, so it seemed clear where his political leanings lay. [UPDATE: According to this Qatari blog, Khalaifi was released in April.]
In any event, I have no idea whether there’s a link between today’s Treasury announcement and the Khalaifi case, but the mention of Kuwari is certainly intriguing. Is he actually already in custody? If so, did he provide information on Khalil’s (alleged) activities in Iran? And what explains Washington’s motives for making this announcement today?
Leah Farrell, a leading al Qaeda expert based in Australia, tweeted that she was skeptical of the Treasury designation, and suggested it might be motivated by a U.S. desire to put pressure on Iran.
"Past reports have been poorly sourced and containing serious inaccuracies," she said. "I know about some of these people. They’re not new and the reality is far more complex."
"This seems like a means of overcoming a lack of leverage against Iran releasing people."