The deputy financier of ISIS in Iraq, Sami Jasim, has been captured in a counter-terrorism operation, Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa Al Kadhimi, said on Monday.
Mr Kadhimi said the Iraqi National Intelligence Service had worked to track Jasim down.
“While our ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] heroes focused on securing the elections, their INIS colleagues were conducting a complex external operation to capture Sami Jasim, who was in charge of Daesh finance,” he wrote on Twitter.
Jasim was “a deputy” of former ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, Mr Al Kadhimi said. “Long live Iraq, and our brave heroes,” the prime minister said.
The international coalition formed to fight ISIS, which frequently co-operates with the Iraqi military, has not yet confirmed Jasim’s capture.
Sami Jasim Muhammad Al Jaburi, also known as Hajji Hamid, is a senior leader of ISIS “and a legacy member of ISIS’s predecessor organisation, Al Qaeda in Iraq”, the US State Department said previously, when issuing a reward for his capture.
“Muhammad Al Jaburi has been instrumental in managing finances for ISIS’s terrorist operations.”
Jasim was listed by the US as Specially Designated Global Terrorist in September 2015, and was described as being the “finance minister” of ISIS during its occupation of Mosul from June 2014 to July 2017.
“Everyone is replaceable but some more than others. Their financing is probably their key node of survival right now, next to the media department. And Jasim has run it for some time,” said Craig Whiteside, a retired colonel and Iraq war veteran who now teaches at the US Naval War College.
Mr Whiteside has studied how Al Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner of ISIS, was able to endure counterterror operations, rebuild its networks and morph into ISIS in 2013-14, despite facing numerically superior and better-equipped foes.
He said killing terrorist group leaders, a strategy known as “decapitation”, has its limits when it comes to well-established groups, which are expected to have back-up commanders in waiting.
“He likely has good lieutenants and the Rawi network and other supporting networks are robust and long-lasting,” Mr Whiteside said.
The Rawi network was a group of ISIS financiers operating from Iraq, moving funds into ISIS-held territory at the peak of the group’s power.
“But capturing him, as opposed to killing him is a big deal, especially if he talks. Their former deputy Qardash talked, as the late Hisham Al Hashimi documented, and it was very revealing. The US also looked at the Abu Sayyaf documents from Syria as a great source of information for network targeting, and if they captured him with his electronics they can do some great exploitation on it.”
In 2015, US Special Forces raided an ISIS safe house in Deir Ezzor, Syria, killing Abu Sayyaf, the terrorist group’s minister of natural resources and antiquities, and capturing a vast haul of documents. The raid shed light on ISIS’s organisation and how the group managed revenue.
“So I would say in contrast with your normal military guy killed or captured, this is as important, if not more important than getting the uppermost leadership. It would be very interesting if they can trace IS core financing to the affiliates around the world, and would be very interesting to know. These are questions many practitioners want to know,” Mr Whiteside said.
Jasim was one of three senior ISIS commanders identified by the US in August 2019 as being a high-value insurgent leader.
The terrorist group, once one of the world’s wealthiest, has sought to rebuild and continue operations against Iraqi forces and a US-backed Kurdish and Arab coalition of militias in eastern Syria, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
At ISIS’s peak between 2014 and 2018, lucrative revenue streams from captured oil in eastern Syria, the selling of smuggled antiquities and taxes in areas under its control – once around a third of Iraq and Syria – provided the group with salaries for its swelling ranks of foreign fighters.
The last US government report on military operations in Iraq and Syria, released at the start of August, said that remaining ISIS fighters were struggling to survive in a harsh desert environment, moving between remote areas and living in caves.
“The desert is sparsely populated, with few potential recruits and few economic resources to exploit. ISIS extracts ‘taxes’ from lorry drivers transporting oil through the region, but the revenue is likely far below the amounts ISIS received when it controlled the oilfields,” the report said.
Gregory Waters, a resident scholar at the Middle East Institute's Syria programme, warns that there is no room for complacency however. One opening for an ISIS revival could come if foreign troops pull out of eastern Syria.
"It has to be remembered that a US withdrawal means a rapid regime and Russian advance, and potential Turkish offensive in Kurdish majority areas. So the SDF will already be focusing its forces around the core Kurdish areas in the northeast."
"This will make it quite easy for ISIS to move in on the Arab-majority areas of Raqqa and Deir Ez Zor. An ISIS 'take-over' here doesn't necessarily mean ISIS openly governs or controls towns like it did in the past, it could simply be exercising control over local leaders through fear and intimidation and gathering taxes through these local proxies," he warns.
The US announced a $5 million reward for Jasim and two other top commanders in August 2019.
One was Mutaz Numan Abd Nayif Najm Al Jaburi, also known as Taysir. Taysir, who rose through the ranks of the organisation to oversee bomb construction in Syria, was killed after a co-ordinated operation between the SDF, US forces and the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, in May 2020.
The third ISIS commander listed by the US in August 2019 would later be identified as the new leader of the group, after Al Baghdadi was killed in a US operation in Syria in October 2019.
Amir Muhammad Sa’id A Salbi Al Mawla, known by various pseudonyms including Hajji Abdullah and Abdullah Qardash, now has a $10 million bounty on his head.