The arrest of the Islamic State’s money man is being heralded as a key victory in the battle to prevent the world’s wealthiest terror group from rebuilding following defeats across the Middle East.
Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi, also known as Hajji Hamid, was apprehended by Iraqi forces in an undisclosed country, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced yesterday.
The US had designated Jaburi a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” in 2015 and put a $5m bounty on his head, after he “rose from an al-Qaeda foot soldier” to become former Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “chief financier of jihad”, The Times said.
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Jaburi was arrested in a “complex external operation” planned and carried out by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, PM al-Kadhimi said in a tweet yesterday.
At the peak of his influence, the detained jihadist oversaw revenues of up to $1bn a year from income streams ranging from “illicit oil transactions” to “extortion, ransoms, human trafficking, antiquities smuggling and donations from sympathisers in the Middle East”, The Times reported.
He served as the deputy leader of Isis under the leadership of al-Baghdadi, who killed himself and two of his children using a suicide vest during a 2019 US raid in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province.
According to CNN, security experts believe that Jaburi was “the financial supervisor of the terrorist group” from 2015. He was “also second in command in Iraq’s second city, Mosul”, The Times added, and had previously fought under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed in 2006.
Syrian-born journalist Hassan Hassan, author of a book on Islamic State, told Reuters that Jaburi’s capture was highly unusual as Isis leaders usually “blow themselves up or fight to the end”.
Jaburi was “involved in the day-to-day operations of Isis in Syria and Iraq”, Hassan said, “so strategically and tactically, this is a significant capture for the Iraqis”.
Ramzy Mardini, an analyst with the Pearson Institute at the University of Chicago, suggested that Jaburi may have been arrested in Turkey. A 2018 “sting operation” between Iraqi, American and Turkish intelligence resulted in the capture of ”a handful of Isis leaders” who had escaped from Syria after losing territorial control and been smuggled across the border to Turkey, he told The Times.
“It’s possible that the same deceptive method was used to lure [Jaburi] out of hiding,” Mardini said.
Officials “say its members are still hiding out in the cities”, the paper added, and the group last week “claimed responsibility for a car bomb in Ramadi, a city devastated first by the militants’ takeover and then by the battle for its recapture”.
According to BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, Jaburi’s “value to the Iraqi security forces will be not so much his loss to IS - where he will be swiftly replaced - but in what information he yields to his captors about imminent attacks”.
Isis “is estimated to have around 10,000 fighters at large in the Middle East”, Gardner wrote, and “high-level Isis operative” Jaburi is thought to have led “cross-border operations in Syria and Iraq”, where the group “continues to attack police and military bases”.
With the jihadists also posing “a dangerous security threat in countries as far apart as Afghanistan and Mozambique”, Jaburi’s arrest is being heralded by officials as a key breakthrough - and a “significant blow” to Isis, Gardner added.
The Times’ diplomatic correspondent Catherine Philp said that while “no single terrorism arrest or killing has ever dismantled one of the world’s most dangerous jihadist networks”, capturing Jaburi “is a good start”.
“The revenues he channelled helped to build Isis into the richest and most successful jihadist enterprise in history,” she continued, and “it is that status that draws new recruits to the brand, rather than its present standing or wealth”.
“The Western military withdrawal from Afghanistan has provided a fresh opportunity for the group to seek to expand”, an effort already well under way in the Sahel region of Africa. But this arrest will “hobble Islamic State’s comeback attempts”, Philp predicted.
The detention of such a senior Isis figure also handed a boost to Iraqi PM al-Kadhimi ahead of parliamentary elections last week.
“It was not clear when Jasim was detained,” said The Telegraph’s Middle East correspondent Campbell MacDiarmid. But as voters headed to the polls on Sunday, al-Kadhimi “alluded to an impending announcement”, a tactic he has previously deployed when “facing criticism”.
“Tomorrow, Monday, you will hear about a major security achievement,” al-Kadhimi told reporters. “We don’t want to announce today because we want to give a chance to the elections to be the top story.”
Sajad Jiyad, an Iraqi political analyst at New York-based think tank The Century Foundation, told the paper that the announcement was “probably timed for al-Kadhimi to stake his claim as remaining PM”.
Combined with a violence-free election, the arrest was tipped to bode well for the incumbent - and for the region as a whole.
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