Jordanian Salafi leader Abu Sayyaf speaks to the media at the home of 19-year-old Qussai al Emami, who local residents say was killed by security forces, in Maan city, 220 km (137 miles) from Amman, April 25, 2014
US special operations forces killed a senior Islamic State (aka ISIL, ISIS, and Daesh) commander during an overnight raid deep in eastern Syria, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced on Saturday.
“Abu Sayyaf was involved in ISIL’s military operations and helped direct the terrorist organization’s illicit oil, gas, and financial operations as well,” Carter said.
Salafi cleric Mohammed al-Shalabi, then 48, widely known as Abu Sayyaf, talks during an interview with the Associated Press in the city of Ma’an, Jordan, October 29, 2014.
In the overnight raid the Army’s Delta Force troops flew from Iraq in Black Hawk helicopters and Osprey aircraft to eastern Syria where they touched down near a building where Abu Sayyaf was believed to be located, the Washington Post reports.
Upon arrival, a “fairly intense firefight” ensued, including hand-to-hand combat. Abu Sayyaf was killed when he engaged US forces and his wife, Umm Sayyaf, was captured during the firefight and is currently detained in Iraq, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement.
Umm Sayyaf “played an important role in ISIL’s terrorist activities, and may have been complicit in what appears to have been the enslavement of a young Yezidi woman rescued last night,” Carter said.
As the troops left the scene, militant fire ripped holes in the aircraft, an official told the Washington Post. Within a few hours all troops returned to their base unharmed by midnight Eastern time.
According to the NSC statement, the rare raid was authorized by President Obama upon the unanimous recommendation of his national security team.
“This operation was conducted with the full consent of Iraqi authorities and, like our existing airstrikes against ISIL in Syria, consistent with domestic and international law,” Meehan said in the statement.
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According to Reuters, this was the first known special-forces operation inside Syria apart from a failed secret effort to rescue American hostages held by ISIS in northeastern Syria last year.
Syrian state TV earlier reported that Syrian government forces killed at least 40 IS fighters, including a senior commander in charge of oil fields, in an attack Saturday on the country’s largest oil field, which is held by ISIS. It identified the commander as Abu al-Teem al-Saudi. The name indicates he was a Saudi citizen.
It was not immediately clear why both Syria and the US would claim a similar operation in the Omar oil field. The US has said it is not cooperating with President Bashar Assad’s government in the battle against the Islamic State group. But it has always said it gives the Syrian government a heads up on operations within its borders.
Earlier this week, Abu Alaa al-Afri, the Islamic States’ second-in-command and deputy of ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was reportedly killed in a US-led air strike in northern Iraq, according to the country’s defense ministry.
ISIS continues to gain terrority throughout Iraq and Syria. It overran the provincial capital Ramadi in Iraq and has started closing in on the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Pamela Engel contributed to this report.
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