Iran’s point man in Yemen reported still at large after failed US attempt to kill him
LONDON - With the revelation that the US military had intended to attack the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ point man in Yemen the same day it carried out an operation that killed the head of al-Quds Force Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, Iran’s involvement in the war in Yemen became more evident.
The Washington Post said the US military tried to kill Abdul Reza Shahlai, described as “a financier and key commander in Iran’s al-Quds Force who has been active in Yemen.” The operation failed.
Although not as well-known as Soleimani, Shahlai has an extensive record in terrorism.
“If we had killed him, we’d be bragging about it that same night,” a senior US official told the Post, an indicator that Shahlai, like Soleimani, was a high-value target.
“Clearly, the intent here was to target some of al-Quds Force’s most important and capable proxy handlers,” Matthew Levitt, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Wall Street Journal.
The US State Department described Shahlai as a 63-year-old, Yemen-based, high-ranking commander of al-Quds Force with a history of targeting Americans and US allies.
Shahlai, who has a $15 million bounty on his head, was classified as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US Department of the Treasury in 2008 and 2011. He was designated a terrorist by Saudi Arabia, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Bahrain in 2018.
The State Department said: “Shahlai planned multiple assassinations of coalition forces in Iraq, provided weapons and explosives to Shia extremist groups and planned the January 20, 2007, attack in Karbala, Iraq, that killed five American soldiers and wounded three others.”
Shahlai, in his role as a financier for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), allegedly handled $5 million in directing the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington in 2011. He also reportedly planned other attacks in the United States and elsewhere.
Gulf Cooperation Council members have long complained about Iranian interference in their sovereign affairs, with Yemen becoming another front for Tehran’s interference with the start of the war there in 2014.
A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting in support of the internationally recognised government of Yemen against Iran-allied Houthi rebels. Since the start of the war, the Houthi militia has shown increasingly enhanced military capabilities, despite a UN arms embargo.
In late 2017, Saudi Arabia demanded the international community take immediate measures to hold Iran accountable for its hostile actions regarding Yemen after the United States presented evidence to the UN Security Council.
On January 3 the United States conducted a drone operation that killed Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional proxy groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces.
Experts said the likelihood of Iran continuing to arm the Houthis is almost a certainty.
“The support for Houthis will not be decreased significantly, even though Soleimani had his touch on each specific proxy group,” Levitt told Voice of America.
“The network is in place and certain people are in charge. The point person who provides financial and military (aid) for Houthis is the senior IRGC commander, Reza Shahlai, who (has been) listed recently in Rewards for Justice by the United States government.”