BAGHDAD – Iraq says it has captured the finance chief of Islamic State, the rare arrest of a key ISIS figure that could yield significant intelligence gains against the group as it struggles to re-emerge.
Iraqi security forces said in a statement on Monday that they had arrested Sami Jassim al-Azzuz in “a major action by our forces in the National Intelligence Service and a special operation outside our borders”.
He did not say when and where the arrest took place. But a senior Iraqi intelligence official, who asked not to be identified as not authorized to speak to the media, said al-Azzuz was captured across the border in Syria.
The Iraqi statement described al-Azuz as the Islamic State’s chief financial and economic officer. It said he was a top aide and former deputy of the group’s current head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader who was killed in a US raid in northwestern Syria in 2019.
Al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate spread through Iraq and Syria after ISIS conquered parts of those countries in 2014. By 2019, the group had lost all that territory, but thousands of its fighters had gone underground. It now maintains sleeper cells it works to reproduce.
The US State Department has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of Mr. It gave its name as Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi, using his tribal name instead of his family name.
The department said, “While serving as an ISIS deputy in southern Mosul in 2014, he allegedly served as ISIS’s counterpart to finance minister, the group’s revenue from illegal sales of oil, gas, antiquities and minerals was – supervised the creation works. an online profile.
On Tuesday, the United States military congratulated al-Ajouz for capturing Iraq, describing him as one of the group’s most senior leaders. The Pentagon, which wrote his name as Sami Jasim Mohammed al-Jouri, said in a statement that “we are not aware of any involvement of the Defense Department.”
The Iraqi security official said the capture operation was conducted by intelligence operatives and carried out by special forces and that the ISIS leader was in Iraqi custody.
Although he said Iraqi security forces had acted alone, a cross-border operation would require at least the cooperation of Syrian-Kurdish forces in Syria. A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which controls northeastern Syria, said he had yet to comment on the capture of al-Azzuz.
Reuters reported that the ISIS leader was in northwestern Syria and, citing unnamed security officials, said Turkish intelligence was the key to his capture, and was flown from Turkey to Iraq in a military plane.
“This is one of the most significant achievements against ISIS in recent years,” Charles Lister, director of the Washington-based Middle East Institute’s Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism Programs, said in an email.
Mr Lister said Mr al-Azzuz was a “potential intelligence goldmine” and that his capture was a major blow to ISIS’ operations in both Syria and Iraq.
“Over the years,” he said, “only very rarely has someone of this seniority been caught alive.”
Jan Araf reported from Baghdad and Eric Schmidt from Washington. Falih Hassan contributed reporting from Baghdad.