ISIS leader in Yemen captured in special forces raid

Terrorist group’s financial chief also seized in joint operation by Saudi and Yemeni special forces

Saudi and Yemeni special forces have captured the head of ISIS’s network in Yemen, the Arab military coalition in the country revealed on Tuesday.

Abu Osama Al Muhajer, the group’s financial operator and other unnamed members were captured on June 3 in a raid on a house that had been under surveillance.

A coalition statement released by the Saudi state news agency SPA did not say where they were being held or where they had been captured.

Weapons, ammunition and telecoms equipment were also seized during the operation, it said.

“The operation lasted for 10 minutes and was an extension of the close co-operation between Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni government to combat and dismantle terror networks,” the SPA quoted coalition spokesman Col Turki Al Malki as having said.

The agency also released a video of the operation.

The special forces had monitored the ISIS members for several months before the raid and took all precautions to protect civilians, Col Al Malki said.

“The operation is a big loss to ISIS’s branch in Yemen, and it complements the Kingdom’s efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms,” he said.

The Arab Coalition, which intervened in support of the internationally recognised Yemeni government in 2015, has also fought ISIS and Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Separately on Tuesday, Col Al Malki said that the growing recent increase in Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia showed Iran’s growing influence over the rebels.

A rebel drone hit Abha airport in southern Saudi Arabia on Sunday evening, killing a Syrian civilian and injuring several other people. The attack came less than two weeks after a rebel missile hit the same airport, injuring 26.

“The Houthis have received various types of weapons smuggled into Yemen from the Iranian regime – this is an attempt to provoke the Arab Coalition,” Col Al Malki said. “We will retaliate by applying international law.”

The coalition will “take urgent and timely measures to deter this terrorist militia and ensure the protection of civilians and their properties”, he said.

The rebels have intensified missile and drone attacks across the border in recent weeks and said airports in coalition member countries were valid targets.

Saudi’s air defences have intercepted majority of the missiles.

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called on the rebels to end “the reckless and provocative attacks on behalf of the Iranian regime”.

“These Iranian-backed attacks are unacceptable, and all the more reprehensible given that they targeted innocent civilians. They also put Americans living, working and transiting through Saudi Arabia at risk,” Mr Pompeo said in a statement.

“With every attack conducted by an Iranian proxy, the regime tacks another day on to its 40-year track record of spreading death and chaos in the region and beyond,” he said.

The US official said the rebels must engage “constructively in the UN-led political process to end the conflict and adhere to the commitments they made in Sweden”.

Agreements reached at UN-brokered talks in Sweden last December had raised hopes of a negotiated end to the Yemen conflict. But none of the terms has been fully implemented.

The war has triggered what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 24 million Yemenis – or more than two thirds of the population – in need of aid.