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Iraq says it arrested Islamic State figurehead

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BAGHDAD – Iraq says it has captured the Islamic State’s chief financial officer, a rare arrest of a major IS figure that could produce important intelligence gains against the group as it struggles to reappear.

Iraqi security forces said in a statement Monday that they had arrested Sami Jassem al-Ajuz “through major action by our forces within the National Intelligence Service and a special operation outside our borders.”

They did not say when the arrest took place or where. But a senior Iraqi intelligence official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with the media, said al-Ajuz was captured across the border in Syria. .

The Iraqi statement described Mr. al-Ajuz as the main financial and economic responsible for the Islamic State. He said he was one of the main collaborators of the current leader of the group and a former deputy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS who was killed in a US raid in 2019 in northwestern Syria.

Al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria after ISIS conquered parts of those countries in 2014. By 2019, the group had lost all of that territory, but thousands of its fighters went into hiding. It now maintains dormant cells as it works to regenerate itself.

The US State Department has offered a reward of up to $ 5 million for information leading to the capture of Mr. al-Ajuz, describing him as an instrument in the management of ISIS’s finances. He gave his name to Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi, using his tribal name rather than his surname.

While he was ISIS’s deputy in southern Mosul in 2014, he was said to have been the equivalent of ISIS’s finance minister, overseeing the group’s income-generating operations from illicit sales of oil, gas, antiques and minerals, ”the department said in an online statement. profile.

On Tuesday, the US military congratulated Iraq on the capture, describing Mr. al-Ajuz as one of the group’s top leaders. The Pentagon, which spelled his name as Sami Jasim Mohammad al-Jauri, said in a statement that “we are not aware of any Defense Ministry involvement.”

The Iraqi security official said the capture operation was carried out by intelligence agents and carried out by special forces and that the head of ISIS was still being held by the Iraqis.

Although he said the Iraqi security forces acted alone, a cross-border operation would have required the cooperation of at least the Syro-Kurdish forces in Syria. A spokesperson for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which controls northeastern Syria, said they did not yet have a comment on Mr. al-Ajuz’s capture.

Reuters reported that the head of ISIS visited northwestern Syria and, citing anonymous security officials, said Turkish intelligence was the key to his capture and that he had been transported from Turkey to Iraq in a military aircraft.

“This is one of the most important achievements in the fight against ISIS in recent years,” said Charles Lister, director of Syria programs and counterterrorism and extremism at the Institute of the Middle East. Orient based in Washington, in an email.

Mr. Lister said that Mr. al-Ajuz was a “potential intelligence gold mine” and that his capture was a blow to ISIS’s operations in Syria and Iraq.

“Over the years,” he said, “very rarely has anyone of this seniority been captured alive. “

Jane Arraf reported on Baghdad and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Falih Hassan contributed reporting from Baghdad.

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