More raids expected after ISIS leader's capture, Yemen security official says

Defence minister's adviser says intelligence operations will launch across the country in coming days

Commander of the Joint Forces of the Alliance "Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen": Saudi Special Forces arrest Amir of terrorist organization in Yemen. SPA
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The capture of the ISIS leader in Yemen resulted from the arrest of an Al Qaeda leader weeks earlier and will lead to many more similar operations, an adviser to Yemen’s defence minister said on Wednesday.

Saudi and Yemeni special forces seized Abu Osama Al Muhajer as well as the ISIS financial controller and other local members of the terror group in a raid on June 3, the Arab military coalition fighting rebels in Yemen said on Tuesday.

Gen Yahya Abu Hatem told The National the success of the operation was largely due to the arrest of senior Al Qaeda member Bilal Muhammed Ali Al Wafi on May 18.

Al Wafi was captured by government forces in the mountainous area of Habashi in the southern province of Taez. The US designated Al Wafi as a terrorist in 2017.

“The capture Bilal Al Wafi led to the arrest of  Abu Osama Al Muhajer, especially because he was linked to many terrorist attacks across the country,” Gen Abu Hatem said.

The coalition did not reveal where the ISIS members were captured but Gen Abu Hatem suspected they were seized in Al Mahrah province in south-eastern Yemen.

“What is confirmed is that he is a bank of information through which the Yemeni government and the Arab coalition will be able to attack ISIS in Yemen,” he said.

Al Muhajer will be able to “reveal the people who supported ISIS, whether local or external, the way they smuggled their weapons and the connection between the Houthis and ISIS”, Gen Abu Hatem said. “All will be revealed in the next few days.”

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of the terror group, has been operating in the country much longer than ISIS, which established a presence in 2014 as Yemen was descending into civil war. Both groups took advantage of the insurgency by the Houthi rebels to expand their influence.

The Arab coalition, which intervened in the war in 2015 to help the government fight the Houthis, has also been helping to counter both terror groups.

The coalition, together with Yemeni government and army, has fought terror cells in Hadramawt, Shabwa, Lahj, Abyan provinces and will continue until Al Qaeda and ISIS are defeated in the country, Gen Abu Hatem said.

“The fight against terror is not over, each of these militia groups are supporting each other; there are many other intelligence operations that are going to launch across the country,” he said.

Coalition strikes against ISIS in Aden, Shabwa and Hadramawt over the past two years have led to the fracturing of the group, Yemeni political analyst AbdulKhaliq Al Hood told The National.

“This has resulted in the unprecedented arrests of many of their leaders such as Al Muhajer,” Mr Al Hood said.

ISIS has launched several deadly attacks since it was formed, including the March 2015 suicide bombings at two Shiite mosques in the capital, Sanaa, that killed 137 people. The group also assassinated the governor of the southern port city of Aden in 2015.