US special forces killed a top Islamic State (IS) leader, Abu Sayyaf, who was also known as the group’s chief financial officer, and captured his wife in a rare operation carried out inside Syria on Friday.
Announcing the raid on Saturday morning, the White House said the operation was conducted to capture Sayyaf, but he was killed when he engaged US forces.
US forces reportedly encountered fierce opposition from IS fighters and also engaged in hand-to-hand combat with them, before reaching Sayyaf, who also resisted capture.
Sayyaf was described as a senior IS leader who played a key role in conducting the outfit’s illicit oil and gas operations – a major source of revenue for it, thus the designation CFO.
He was also involved with the group’s military operations, the White House said.
His wife, Umm Sayyaf, who, the US said was also a member of the terrorist outfit and took part in its activities, is being held in military detention in Iraq.
The special forces also found a Yezidi woman held as a slave by the couple. There have been reports of IS forcing captured women from the Yezidis, an ethnic group living in the norther parts of Iraq, into sexual slavery.
“The President authorized this operation upon the unanimous recommendation of his national security team and as soon as we had developed sufficient intelligence and were confident the mission could be carried out successfully and consistent with the requirements for undertaking such operations,” said National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan in a statement.
This was a rare raid into Syria as President Barack Obama has said since beginning air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria that there will be no US “boots on the ground”.
US special forces went in — dropped from aircraft — in 2014 to rescue American being held by Islamic State in Syria but didn’t find them. They left after a brief exchange of fire with terrorists.
The Friday raid, conducted in al-Amr in eastern Syria, was a complete success in comparison — the Pentagon said no US troops were killed or injured in the operation.
Defense secretary Ash Carter describe the killing of Sayyaf “another significant blow to ISIL (using another variation of the terrorist group’s name)”.
Air strikes against IS targets in the region also continued, with the Pentagon reporting six in Syria and 15 in Iraq over the past 24 hours.