The making of an al-Qaeda list
Two men living in Ireland are on a UN list of people associated with al-Qaeda. The committee that creates the list identifies individuals and recommends measures to curb their activities, but there is growing criticism of the process
THE MAN who goes by the name Ibrahim Boyasseer cuts a rather nondescript figure around the south Dublin suburb where he lives with his family. On Fridays, Boyasseer, a short, balding man with a neatly trimmed beard and wire-framed glasses, usually attends prayers at the mosque in Clonskeagh.
Originally from Libya, he has lived here since 1982 and has Irish citizenship. He once had a National Union of Journalists membership card. The 49-year-old, who is often seen carrying a sheaf of newspapers and files, has the appearance of a distracted academic, right down to his corduroy clothing.
But UN Security Council documents reveal a very different Ibrahim Boyasseer – one who is an alleged “close associate” of Osama bin Laden. He is accused of supporting al-Qaeda and associated groups, including the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, through funding and media relations.
Boyasseer, whose name is also spelt Bouisir or Buisir, is one of two individuals resident in Ireland whose names appear on a list drawn up by the UN’s al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee, a subcommittee of the security council. The other is Tunisian-born Chafiq Ayadi, who is also named on the list as being associated with al-Qaeda.
“By listing an individual, the international community, represented by the security council, is saying this person is considered to be so involved in the al-Qaeda/Taliban nexus as to be deemed a potential threat to international peace and security,” says Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence official who now leads the committee’s sanctions monitoring team at UN headquarters in New York. “Therefore their assets should be frozen, international travel restricted, and their ability to get arms limited.” States have generally acted on these recommendations, but there have been recent court challenges to the sanctions regime.
The committee was established by the security council in 1999 following the adoption of resolution 1267. The bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania the previous year, which were followed by US missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan, had resulted in an increased focus on al-Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as bin Laden’s Taliban hosts.
THE LIST IS DIVIDEDinto four sections: individuals associated with the Taliban (137 currently listed); entities and other groups associated with the Taliban; individuals associated with al-Qaeda (259 currently listed); and entities and other groups associated with al-Qaeda (92 currently listed).
Any state may request the committee, which comprises all 15 members of the security council, to add names to the list. All listing decisions are taken by consensus. The submitting state, the name of which remains confidential, must provide a detailed statement in support of the proposed listing; it can include material from intelligence, law-enforcement and judicial sources.
“The committee considers the submission and members decide whether they all agree that the argument for listing is a strong one, and they see in their own files that they have corroboratory information. If they are satisfied that the submitting state is correct in what it says, then they put him on the list,” says Barrett.
Ibrahim Boyasseer’s name was added to the list in February 2009, under the category of individuals associated with al-Qaeda.
According to the UN committee document detailing the reasons for his listing, Boyasseer “directed a European al-Qaeda cell that provided support for operations in Europe by arranging travel and accommodation”. It says he received military training in al-Qaeda and LIFG camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and was actively involved in providing funding and material assistance to both groups during that period.
“After the attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, Boyasseer left Afghanistan to return to Ireland where he concentrated his efforts on supplying funds to al-Qaeda and associated groups,” the document says.
“He has collected donations and provided financial assistance to al-Qaeda and the LIFG. He provided assistance to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and collected donations for al-Qaeda affiliated extremists in Afghanistan and Chechnya. He has been deeply involved in promoting al-Qaeda and associated groups through the media as well as by distributing their pamphlets and other publications.”
The document also alleges that Boyasseer frequently travelled from Ireland to meet al-Qaeda members in Germany, Sudan, Kenya, Belgium, the Gulf states and the UK, among other countries.
The UN listing is not the first time Boyasseer’s activities have come under the spotlight. In 2004 the US Treasury accused him of having directed a European al-Qaeda cell that provided logistical support. It designated Boyasseer, who acted as a representative in Ireland for the Khartoum-headquartered Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA), and four other IARA officials as financiers of terrorism, because of the charity’s alleged links to bin Laden. The US Treasury froze the assets of all five and banned any American citizen from doing business with them.
In 2008 on foot of a Libyan arrest warrant, Interpol issued its highest-level “red notice” in relation to Boyasseer.
His name has also been referred to during several terrorism-related court cases outside Ireland.
The Irish Times spoke to Boyasseer on several occasions in relation to his inclusion on the UN list. He declined to give an interview on the record. He did, however, deny any involvement in terrorist activity.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Boyasseer was questioned by Garda. His movements are monitored by the security services, his home has been searched several times and computers belonging to him have been taken away for examination.
ALTHOUGH BOYASSEERis a relatively recent addition to the UN list, Chafiq Ayadi’s name has been on the list since October 2001. Ayadi, who lives in south Dublin with his family, also attends the Clonskeagh mosque. Quiet and reserved, he keeps a very low profile.
In European courts Ayadi has challenged the sanctions that have resulted from his inclusion on the list. And he has had some success. Indeed, legal challenges by Ayadi and others on the list have prompted questions about the way the list is compiled. Nevertheless, his name remains on it.
According to the UN committee document outlining the reasons for his listing, Ayadi went to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to receive paramilitary training.
“[He] then went to Sudan with others to meet bin Laden, with whom they concluded a formal agreement regarding the reception and terrorist training of Tunisians,” it says.
“They later met with bin Laden a second time, securing an agreement for bin Laden collaborators in Bosnia and Herzegovina to receive Tunisian fighters from Italy.”
According to the document, in 1992 Ayadi was recruited by another individual on the UN sanctions list to head the European operations of the Muwafaq Foundation, an entity that had “historically operated under the umbrella of Makhtab al-Khidamat (MAK) an organisation founded by Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden and the predecessor to al-Qaeda”.
The document states that following MAK’s absorption into al-Qaeda, a number of organisations formerly affiliated with it, including the Muwafaq charity, also joined with al-Qaeda.
It says Ayadi was hired on the recommendation of a known al-Qaeda financier who fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“At the time of his appointment . . .as Muwafaq’s European director, [Ayadi] was operating under agreements with bin Laden.”
Ayadi was born in the Tunisian city of Sfax in 1963, but he has been linked to addresses in Bosnia, Germany, Belgium and the UK. He has lived in Ireland since 1997.
His last known Tunisian passport, issued in Pakistan in 1988, expired in 1993. Authorities in Tunisia issued an arrest warrant for him the following year. The UN committee’s documentation states that a Tunisian military tribunal sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison in 1995.
Ayadi appears to have been one of the hundreds of foreigners, many of them veterans of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, who flocked to Bosnia in the early 1990s to support Bosnian Muslims during the war there. Many were later given Bosnian citizenship.
Ayadi was issued with several Bosnian passports, though the last expired in May 2006. His Bosnian citizenship was withdrawn two months later.
Ayadi’s case was re-examined during a recent review of individuals on the list. “Based on information collected during the period of the review, the conclusion of the committee was that his listing remained appropriate,” says Barrett.
In 2006 Ayadi lost an appeal in the European Court of First Instance against an EU order freezing his assets issued after his name was added to the UN list. Ayadi’s legal team had argued that his human rights had been breached because he had been deprived of the ability to work or to earn money since being listed. They told the court that he had been refused a taxi licence in Ireland and had to rely on welfare benefits from the State. The judgment acknowledged that Ayadi denies any involvement with Osama bin Laden.
Last December the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of Ayadi, saying his rights to defence against charges of having links to terrorism had been violated. The court also found that his “fundamental right to respect for property” had not been respected.
Human rights groups have long criticised the lack of due process under the UN regime.
“The individuals are not given a chance to face their accusers or to challenge the evidence against them,” says Cian Murphy, a law lecturer at King’s College London.
In September the European General Court quashed an EU regulation freezing another listed individual’s funds. Its ruling included a stinging critique of the process of listing a person.
LAST MONTHMartin Scheinin, the independent UN expert on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism, raised concerns that what was originally envisaged in 1999 as a temporary “form of smart sanctions against a defined group of persons” had developed into an open-ended process.
Thomas Mayr-Harting, the Austrian diplomat who chairs the so-called 1267 committee, noted earlier this month that the committee had faced increasing criticism from states, individuals and courts due to concerns about procedures and human rights.
“The committee and the security council have listened to these voices and have taken important steps to address many of these concerns,” Mayr-Harting said.
An ombudsman has been appointed to hear petitions from individuals seeking delisting. In recent years the names of 40 individuals and 45 entities have been deleted.
Earlier this month Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN urged the security council to remove more Taliban from the list. He said such a move was crucial for “achieving lasting peace and security” as momentum gathers towards bringing the Taliban into negotiations. One of the Taliban’s key demands before its members put down their arms is the delisting of all Taliban.
Barrett acknowledges some of the criticisms but argues that the criteria used by the committee have tightened up considerably since 2004-2005. “The process of listing has become much more deliberate,” he says. “It’s a very useful tool. This is a global response to a global issue.”