US forces detained an Islamic State (IS) leader before dawn on Thursday during a helicopter operation in a village in northern Syria, a Syrian NGO and witnesses said.
The US-led anti-jihad coalition, whose forces are stationed in Syria and neighboring Iraq, announced the arrest of the official portrayed as a “craftsman” and one of the main leaders of ISIS in Syria. She did not reveal her identity, nor did she say who performed the operation.
“The captured man is a senior IS official,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), a Syrian NGO with a network of sources across the country, told AFP.
The “American-led operation was quick and easy. It took place in the village of Hmeirah, northeast of the city of Aleppo and four kilometers from the border with Turkey,” said OSDH Director Rami Abdel Rahmane.
“Two of the helicopters involved in the raid landed near the village and gunfire ensued between houses” of the small village of about thirty homes before the man was arrested, he said, adding without mentioning casualties.
The operation was “meticulously prepared to minimize the risk of collateral damage, particularly potential damage to civilians,” the anti-jihad coalition said in a statement.
Local residents told AFP the arrested man, nicknamed “Faisal”, recently arrived in the village from the northern Syrian city of Raqa.
A few minutes
Several helicopters were flying towards the village of Hmeirah overnight, an AFP correspondent nearby noted. The operation lasted only minutes, but the helicopters then flew over the region controlled by pro-Turkey rebel groups in a country fragmented after the war began in 2011.
US special forces operations in Syria are rare.
Most recently on February 3rd. ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurachi was then killed in a US operation in northwest Syria, more than two years after his predecessor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was also killed in a US raid in Syria.
After a meteoric rise in power in Iraq and Syria in 2014 and the seizure of vast territories, ISIS saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” crumble under the blow of successive offensives. He was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019.
But the Sunni extremist group responsible for numerous attacks continues to carry out sleeper cell attacks in both countries.
Abu Hassan al-Hachimi al-Qurachi, the new leader of IS, has made few headlines so far.
The IS had promised revenge for Baghdadi’s death and in particular called on its supporters to continue their attacks in Europe.
The complex war in Syria with various actors has claimed the lives of around 500,000 people since 2011.