Cross-border sting operations carried out by Iraqi and American intelligence officials led to the capture of five high-ranking Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) terrorists found hiding in Syria, including a top aide to the group’s chief Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, authorities in Iraq revealed Thursday.
The New York Times (NYT) reports:
The three-month operation, which tracked a group of senior Islamic State leaders who had been hiding in Syria and Turkey, represents a significant intelligence victory for the American-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 the Islamic State’s territory around Deir al-Zour, Syria, directing internal security and running the administrative body that oversees religious rulings.
Iraq’s intelligence service deemed the operation a “major victory,” the Times points out.
Among the five captured jihadists are Baghdadi’s aide Ismail al-Eithawi, alias Abu Zaid al-Iraqi, and a former ISIS governor in Syria, Saddam Jamal.
Their arrest represented the two highest-ranking ISIS jihadists ever to be captured alive.
Reuters identifies the other three ISIS commanders captured as Mohamed al-Qadeer from Syria and two Iraqis, Omar al-Karbouli and Essam al-Zawbai.
“The noose is tightening around him,” Iraqi security adviser Hisham al-Hashimi told Reuters on Thursday, referring to the ISIS leader Baghdadi.
In describing the operation that yielded the arrest of the senior ISIS members, Reuters reports:
Iraqi agents are holding a top aide to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and used an app on his mobile phone to lure four commanders from the group into a trap, a security advisor to the Iraqi government said on Thursday.
Iraqi agents used the Telegram messaging app on Eithawi’s mobile phone to lure other Islamic State commanders to cross the border from Syria into Iraq, where they were captured, Hashimi said.
Hashimi told Reuters that Turkish authorities arrested Eithawi back in February in Turkey. Ankara handed over the jihadist to neighboring Iraq.
Speaking to the Times on condition of anonymity, Iraqi intelligence officials described the captured jihadi Eithawi as:
A top aide to the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, had been in charge of fatwas, or religious rulings, in the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate. He was also in charge of the education curriculum, and was a member of the body that appointed security and administrative leaders for the Islamic State’s territory, which had included large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Baghdad has reportedly confirmed the arrests.
Iraqi and American intelligence officials interrogated Baghdadi’s top aide for weeks, ultimately learning the location of several ISIS leaders in hiding beyond those who were captured, the Iraqi officials told NYT.