First Published: 2017-09-26

US kills ISIS chiefs hiding in new nerve centre
Many of those assassinated, either in targeted air strikes or US special forces raids, were key figures in ISIS’s external operations unit.
Middle East Online

By Ed Blanche - BEIRUT

Map of Syria locating Mayadeen

In the last five months, US forces have killed at least 15 senior Is­lamic State (ISIS) commanders hiding in the Syrian town of Mayadin on the Euphrates Riv­er, where most of the group’s lead­ers are reported to be concentrated.

Many of those assassinated, either in targeted air strikes or US special forces raids, were key figures in ISIS’s external operations unit, part of the group’s feared Emni intelli­gence apparatus.

They were responsible for terrorist attacks in Western Europe, Turkey and Arab countries — underlin­ing Western fears the jihadists are stepping up such strikes to avenge heavy losses in recent months and demonstrate that ISIS has not been eradicated.

US and Syrian sources said ISIS has steadily spirited senior cadres from the group’s Syrian capital, the north-eastern city of Raqqa, which is expected to fall to US-backed forc­es in the next few weeks, to Maya­din, 160km north-east of Raqqa in Deir ez-Zor governorate in recent months, along with a substantial portion of the group’s cash reserves.

The sources said one transfer in­volved $20 million smuggled out of Raqqa across the desert in three tax­is carrying the wives and children of senior officials, mainly from the key branches of external operations, re­cruiting, finance and propaganda.

Other senior cadres such as admin­istrators and weapons technicians who will play an important role in ISIS’s plans to regroup have report­edly been sent to other cities in northern Syria.

“Mayadin is clearly viewed by ISIS as a safe haven,” observed Anne Speckhard, director of the US-based International Centre for the Study of Violent Extremism. That “makes the city of great significance in the fight against ISIS.”

Among the commanders reported killed by the Americans since April were Lavdrim Muhaxheri, also known as Abu Abdullah al-Kosova, an ethnic Albanian and leader of ISIS’s foreign fighters from Kosovo. He was reportedly killed in an air strike along with his deputy, Irfan Hafiqi.

Two other external operations lead­ers — Abu Anas al-Shami, identified as a “weapons research leader” who provided bombs for terror attacks and specialised in hiding explosives in human corpses, and Junaid ur Rahman, “a senior drone pilot and engineer” — were killed in a Sep­tember 4 US air strike.

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


Iran airs "confessions" of researcher facing death for spying

Mayor of Libya's Misrata assassinated

Macron sees war on IS in Syria will be won in February

Assad blasts US-backed Kurdish fighters

Christmas in Jordan dimmed by Jerusalem crisis

Protesters torch political party offices in Iraqi Kurdistan

Turkey prosecutor seeks release of German reporter

Kuwait likely to face political uncertainty

Lebanon arrests suspected killer of British embassy worker

Israel targets Hamas site in Gaza

Turkey slams Austria ‘discrimination’

Iran's schools suffocate in smog

Tunisia elections delayed

Istanbul summit strong on the rhetoric, weak on concrete steps

Israeli air traffic halted due to strikes

Two Danes stabbed by man shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in Gabon

Morocco’s Islamists elect new leader, walking away from predecessor’s populism

UN considers rejecting Trump Jerusalem decision

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks