Following a months-long sting carried out by American and Iraqi intelligence, five senior Islamic State leaders were captured on Thursday in Baghdad, Iraq. This was another major defeat for the militant group, which had already lost much of the territory it previously held in Syria and Iraq.
The operation, carried out by Iraqi forces working with US-backed Syrian rebels, tracked ISIS leaders who had been hiding in Syria and Turkey. The coalition began their mission by tracking Iraqi Ismail Alwaan al-Ithawi, a chief aide to top ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. According to intelligence officials, Ithawi oversaw ISIS-declared fatwas, or religious rulings, as well as the Islamic State education curriculum. Ithawi was also responsible for appointing administrative leaders to ISIS territories.
Officials said Ithawi had been secretly living in Turkey under his brother’s name.
Once Ithawi was captured by the US-led coalition, American and Iraqi forces used a group chat app on Ithawi’s cell phone to set up a meeting with the other ISIS leaders, luring them from Syria into Iraq where they were quickly arrested.
Images of the captured senior commanders – Saddam al-Jamal, Essam al-Zawbai, Omar al-Karbouly, and Mohamed al-Qadeer – were broadcast on Iraq’s state television, where the men appeared in yellow prison jumpsuits. Iraq officials described the captured commanders as some of the “most wanted” leaders of the militant group
Abu Abdel al-Haq, head of security for the group, was also arrested in the sting.
While ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to still be operating in Syria and Iraq, much of the group’s remaining leadership has been captured or killed within the past year through air strikes and cross-border ground operations.
American intelligence officials are celebrating the capture, believing it represents a strengthening of Washington-Baghdad partnership in the war against terrorism. Brett McGurk, an American representative for the coalition, praised the “great cooperation” between the two forces.
“Five Most Wanted leaders of ISIS just captured!” President Trump tweeted Thursday morning, hailing the capture as a major victory in the ongoing fight against Islamic extremism.