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Iraq says it arrested a leading Islamic State figure

By Jane Arraf and Eric Schmitt


Iraq says it has captured the Islamic State group’s finance chief, a rare arrest of a major Islamic State figure that could produce significant intelligence gains against the group as it struggles to reemerge.


Iraqi security forces said in a statement earlier this week that they had arrested Sami Jasim “by a major action by our forces in 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 Jasim had been captured across the border in Syria.


The Iraqi statement described Jasim as the chief financial and economic official for the Islamic State group. It said he was a top aide to the current head of the group and a former deputy to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State group leader who was killed in a U.S. raid in 2019 in northwestern Syria.


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


The U.S. State Department has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of Jasim, describing him as instrumental in handling Islamic State group finances. It gave his name as Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi.


“While serving as ISIS deputy in southern Mosul in 2014, he reportedly served as the equivalent of ISIS’ finance minister, supervising the group’s revenue-generating operations from illicit sales of oil, gas, antiquities and minerals,” the department said in an online profile.


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


The Iraqi security official said that the capture operation had been driven by intelligence operatives and carried out by special forces, and that the Islamic State group leader remained in Iraqi custody.


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


Reuters reported that the Islamic State group leader had been in northwestern Syria and, citing unnamed security officials, said that Turkish intelligence had been key to his capture, and that he had been flown from Turkey to Iraq in a military plane.


“This is one of the most significant counter-ISIS achievements 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.


Lister said that Jasim was a “potential intelligence gold mine,” and that his capture was a major blow to Islamic State group operations in both Syria and Iraq.


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

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