Iraq has arrested four top Isil commanders after luring them from Syria to the border via a group chat on an app used by the terrorist organisation’s leadership.
Intelligence services used a phone belonging to a detained aide to the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to contact the other commanders to set up a meeting in Iraq, Iraqi security adviser Hisham al Hashemi told the Telegraph.
US President Donald Trump hailed the arrests with a tweet: "Five Most Wanted leaders of ISIS just captured."
Baghdadi aide Ismail al-Eithawi and the four others were all members of a group chat on the social media app Telegram, which Isil members use to communicate and spread their propaganda.
After posing as Eithawi to lure the other men, Iraqi troops lay in wait, expecting the senior jihadists to appear from the desert in a motorcade. They were surprised to see them roll up on motorcycles, Mr Hashemi said. American forces also took part in the sting, he said,
Five Most Wanted leaders of ISIS just captured!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2018
One of the jihadists, Saddam al-Jamal, has been identified as the security commander of the organisation’s Euphrates Valley district.
Jamal, a Syrian who was a leading rebel against President Bashar al-Assad before defecting to Isil, is renowned for his brutality.
Iraqi television aired footage of him following his arrest discussing the disarray within the group, which has lost most of its territories to Iraqi and Syrian forces backed by Western air strikes.
"They’ve taken a lot of hits in battles and defeats and lost a lot of their resources from oil wells and elsewhere. There are many divisions inside the organisation, and splits and internal power struggles. Many fighters have lost the will to fight," said Jamal, shown with a shaven head and long beard, speaking to a camera.
FAQ | Islamic State
The other men arrested in the sting are commanders Essam Abdel Qader al Zawbaei, Mohamed al-Qadeer, and Omar al-Karbouli.
Mr Hashemi said they were among the most senior Isil commanders captured alive since it declared a self styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Eithawi had proven a valuable prisoner prior to the sting operation. Details gleaned from his interrogation led to an airstrike against Isil members in April.
The method of the jihadists’ capture suggests that the group, which had repeatedly warned its most valuable commanders and members that they could be tracked down through phones, are taking more risks to communicate after their defeats.
Several of their commanders, and foreign fighters who joined their ranks, have been arrested trying to enter Turkey. Turkey had announced last month the arrest of a Baghdadi lieutenant, Kasir al-Haddawi, while he tried to hide among refugees fleeing to Europe.
Three other Isil operators were arrested with Haddawi, who is the brother-in-law of Saddam al-Jamal. Baghdadi himself continues to elude capture.
He is believed to be hiding along the Iraq-Syrian border and may have been injured in an air strike.
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