U.S. President Donald Trump recently announced on Twitter that the five ‘most wanted’ ISIS leaders had been captured, although, no further details were provided about the commanders or where they were apprehended.
The twitter post was seemingly a reference to the announcement made by Iraqi news agencies on Wednesday about 5 members of the Jihadi group who were arrested earlier that week by Iraqi military officials, although the captured ISIS commanders did not include the leader of the extremist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
A coalition led by the U.S. against ISIS released a statement in the wake of the arrests, saying that ISIS had just suffered a huge blow after losing some of its key commanders.
A Complex Cross-Border Operation
New York Times, the first American news publication to report the arrest, revealed the identities of the captured senior commanders, which also included the closest aide to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The arrests were made through a joint effort by American and Iraqi intelligence through a complex cross-border operation which lasted for three months.
The sting, which tracked and successfully captured Islamic militants hiding in Turkey and Syria, was seen as a victory for the U.S. led coalition against terrorist groups in Baghdad as well as an indicator of strengthening ties between Iraq and the United States.
The Iraqi intelligence officials who reported the arrests said that four of the senior commanders belonged to Iraq whereas one belonged to Syria who had served as an ISIS governor on Syrian grounds, responsible for internal security matters as well as running various other key administrative tasks.
The reports were confirmed by an external Iraqi intelligence agency in a statement last week, although it did not mention any role played by Turks or Americans in capturing the ISIS commanders.
The intelligence officers who had insider information on the sting operation agreed to reveal confidential details of the arrests on the condition that their identity remains anonymous.
First Arrest Made on February 15
After the news of the arrests were made public on Wednesday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was showered with praises from Iraqi news anchors who called the developments a huge victory for the nation. The success of the operation also had great political significance and gave a popularity boost to the Prime Minister who faced a tough parliamentary race on the weekend.
The Iraqi officials who talked to The New Work times, said that they had been tracking a number of ISIS targets for the past months but it wasn’t until the beginning of 2018 that the first arrest was made.
One of the commanders tracked by the Iraqi intelligence Unit was Ismail Alwaan al-Ithawi, who was followed over a distance of 100 miles as he travelled from Syria to the city of Sakarya in Turkey.
Ithawi was also the closest advisor to the ISIS leader Aby Bakr al-Baghdadi and oversaw religious rulings (fatwas) in the extremist group’s so-called caliphate. ISIS also has its own education curriculum which Ithawi has helped in designing.
The captured commander was also responsible for appointing administrative and security personnel in the ISIS territories in Syria and Iraq.
Information Revealed by Ithawi Led to Other ISIS Leaders
The Iraqi Intelligence Unit discovered through the undercover operation that Ismail Alwaan al-Ithawi had been using his brother’s identity and living in Turkey with his Syrian wife. After gathering information on him, the Iraqi officials sent his intelligence file to Turkish security forces who carried out the arrest on February 15 and extradited Ithawi to Iraq.
After the first breakthrough, the Iraqi forces interrogated Ithawi for weeks and were able to extract information out of him that eventually led them arresting other ISIS leaders hiding in Iraq.
The information Ithawi gave the coalition officers helped them kill 39 Islamic State members hiding in Hajin, Syria through targeted airstrikes.
The intelligence team set a trap for other ISIS members by using Ithawi to make phone calls to his friends and lure them across the border. The groups were immediately captured by the authorities who awaited them at the frontier.
The U.S. led coalition were able to make key arrests including ISIS members like Saddam al-Jammel who acted as the head of ISIS territory in Deir al-Zour as well as the head of the ISIS internal security, Abu Abdel al-Haq.