Abu Sayyaf, key ISIS figure in Syria, killed in U.S. Special Operations raid
(CNN) — U.S. Special Operations forces killed a senior ISIS commander during a daring raid intended to capture him in eastern Syria overnight Friday to Saturday, U.S. government officials said.
The ISIS commander, Abu Sayyaf, fought capture and was killed in the raid at al-Omar, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement. His wife, an Iraqi named Umm Sayyaf, was captured and is in detention in Iraq.
Carter said he had ordered the raid at the direction of President Barack Obama. All the U.S. troops involved returned safely.
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Obama had authorized the raid “upon the unanimous recommendation of his national security team” and as soon as the United States was confident all the pieces were in place for the operation to succeed.
“Abu Sayyaf was a senior ISIL leader who, among other things, had a senior role in overseeing ISIL’s illicit oil and gas operations — a key source of revenue that enables the terrorist organization to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians,” she said in a statement.
“He was also involved with the group’s military operations.”
Umm Sayyaf, his wife, is currently in military detention in Iraq. A young woman from the Yazidi ethnic minority was rescued.
“We suspect that Umm Sayyaf is a member of ISIL, played an important role in ISIL’s terrorist activities, and may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young woman rescued last night,” said Meehan. ISIL is an alternative acronym for ISIS.
Umm Sayyaf is believed to have been involved in human trafficking.
About a dozen ISIS fighters were killed in the firefight at a residential building in Deir Ezzor, sources familiar with what happened on the ground in Syria told CNN.
Abu Sayyaf is not a name familiar to many ISIS watchers.
But the fact that the United States clearly had him under close watch was ready to put its forces at risk by going deep into Syria to carry out the raid suggests they saw the target as very valuable.
CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen said the decision to send in U.S. Special Operations forces into Syria was unusual but not unprecedented.
“Taking out the guy who runs effectively the most important financing stream is obviously significant, but what’s really significant is the computer records and all the materials that he would have with him as the head of this financing arm, if indeed that is the case that he is really that important,” said Bergen.
The potential to seize valuable intelligence material and documents may have been what led the U.S. government to opt for a high-risk ground operation rather than a bombing mission, he said.
Such targeted operations push ISIS to be more careful about how they organize themselves and run their operations, he said. “They are going to be looking over their shoulder.”