The U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program placed a $15 million bounty for information on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Abdul Reza Shahlai, one of its most dangerous commanders who is based out of Yemen. Shahlai has “a long history of targeting Americans and U.S. allies globally,” Rewards for Justice states, including his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of five U.S. soldiers in Karbala, Iraq in 2007.
The $15 million reward is designed to aid in the “disruption” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force, the IRGC branch that “has the greatest role among Iran’s actors in directing and carrying out the regime’s global terrorist campaign.”
“In pursuit of this disruption, RFJ is seeking information on the financial activities, networks, and associates of Abdul Reza Shahlai,” Rewards for Justice notes.
Shahlai’s terrorist activities have been known to the U.S. government for well over a decade. In 2008, he had his assets blocked by the US Treasury under Executive Order 13438 for threatening “the peace and stability of Iraq by planning Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM or Mahdi Army) Special Groups attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq.” The Special Groups are Shia militias that continue to be funded, supported, trained, and armed by Qods Force. These militias are responsible for killing more than 800 US soldiers in Iraq.
In 2011, Shahlai was listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for his role in a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil. He planned and funded the attack, as well as “follow-on attacks inside the United States and elsewhere.” He was among four IRGC and Qods Force commanders listed in the designation. Also included was Qods Force leader Qasem Soleimani. Shahlai has since been listed as a global terrorist by the United Kingdom, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.
The most significant attack traced back to Shahlai was the Jan. 20, 2007 attack on the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center. Five US soldiers were kidnapped and then murdered during the sophisticated operation. It was executed by a faction of the Mahdi Army led by Qais Khazali, an Iraqi Shiite who served as a key intermediary between Qods Force and what was then known as the Mahdi Army Special Groups. The U.S. captured Khazali, who admitted to his role in the Karbala attack, as well as other key details in Iran’s operations in Iraq, during interrogation. The Obama administration freed Khazali just before withdrawing from Iraq in late 2011. [See FDD’s Long War Journal reports, Newly released interrogation files demonstrate Iran’s long game in Iraq and Iraqi militant Qayis Khazali warned us about Iran. We ignored him.]
Today, Shahlai “is a high-ranking commander in the IRGC–Qods Force, based in Sanaa, Yemen.” The IRGC is known to support the Shia Houthi rebels, who are battling the internationally recognized government of Yemen for control of the country. Iran has provided significant funding, weapons and other support in its fight.
Shahlai’s presence in Iran is a clear sign that Iran is providing more than aid to the Houthis. He has over a decade experience in standing up and directing the Iraqi Shia militias, and is no doubt working to bolster the Houthis’ capabilities in Yemen.