BAGHDAD (NYTIMES) - Five senior Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) officials have been captured, including a top aide to the group’s leader, in a complex cross-border sting carried out by Iraqi and American intelligence, two Iraqi officials said on Wednesday (May 9).
Iraqi state TV described the five as “some of the most wanted” leaders of the group, said Reuters. They were shown in yellow prisoner uniforms.
The three-month operation, which tracked a group of senior ISIS leaders who had been hiding in Syria and Turkey, represents a significant intelligence victory for the US-led coalition fighting the extremist group and underscores the strengthening relationship between Washington and Baghdad.
Two Iraqi intelligence officials said those captured included four Iraqis and one Syrian whose responsibilities included governing ISIS' territory around Deir el-Zour, Syria, directing internal security and running the administrative body that oversees religious rulings.
Iraq’s external intelligence agency published a statement confirming the arrests, but did not mention any details of the role played by the Americans or the Turks.
The two Iraqi intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that had not been made public.
An Iraqi intelligence unit responsible for undercover missions had tracked Ismail Alwaan al-Ithawi, an Iraqi known by the nom de guerre Abu Zeid al-Iraqi, from Syria to the Turkish city of Sakarya, about 160km east of Istanbul, these officials said.
Ithawi, described by the Iraqis as a top aide to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been living in Turkey, one official said.
The Iraqis sent the Turks an intelligence file they had amassed on Ithawi, and the Turkish security forces arrested him Feb 15, and extradited him to Iraq, this official said.
Iraqi and American intelligence officials then spent weeks interrogating him, learning the details and whereabouts of other ISIS leaders, the officials said.
The US-led coalition used this information to launch an airstrike in mid-April that killed 39 suspected ISIS members near Hajin, in the Deir el-Zour district of Syria, the second official said.
The joint Iraqi-American intelligence team then persuaded Ithawi to contact several of his ISIS colleagues who had been hiding in Syria and lure them across the border, the officials said.
The Iraqi authorities arrested the group soon after they crossed the frontier, the officials said.
Those arrested included Saddam al-Jammel, a Syrian who had been the head of the ISIS territory around Deir el-Zour, and Abu Abdel al-Haq, an Iraqi who had been the head of internal security for the group.