Saudi coalition says head of Yemen’s Islamic State captured
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s special forces captured the leader of the Islamic State group’s branch in Yemen during a raid on a house that was under surveillance, a Saudi military statement said Tuesday.
The IS group in Yemen, like al-Qaida, has taken advantage of the chaos from that country’s political upheaval and civil war to expand its reach in the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen, Col. Turki al-Maliki, said the June 3 operation lasted just 10 minutes and resulted in the arrest of Yemen’s IS leader, known by his moniker as Abu Osama Al-Muhajir, along with the group’s chief financial operator in Yemen and other suspects who were not named.
The statement did not say where the men are now being held nor where in Yemen the raid occurred. It also did not provide details on why the Saudi military was announcing the success of the raid three weeks after it took place.
Yemeni tribal leaders said the raid took place in Mahfad district, a stronghold for IS and al-Qaeda, in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Al-Maliki said in his statement that additional details about the operation could not be disclosed at this time and would be made available in the future due to ongoing investigations.
The Islamic State group’s Yemen offshoot was formally established in late 2014. Four months later, the Saudi-led invasion was launched to support Yemen’s internationally recognized government, after the Houthi rebels overran the capital of Sanaa.
The offshoot has launched multiple deadly attacks. In March 2015, IS suicide bombers unleashed enormous blasts at two mosques in the capital that killed 137 people. In late 2015, its militants killed the governor of the southern port city of Aden and, in May 2016, a pair of suicide bombings in the same city targeted young men seeking to join the army, killing at least 45.
The Saudi military said its forces managed to capture the IS militants without causing harm to the women and children who were in the house during the raid.
The coalition said the raid took place with cooperation from Yemeni special forces and resulted in the confiscation of weapons, ammunition, laptops, cash, and GPS and communication equipment.
″?The operation is considered a significant blow to the terrorist group Daesh (ISIS), especially in Yemen,” al-Maliki said, adding that it demonstrates Saudi efforts to combat terrorism.
The kingdom is part of an international coalition that fought the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State group has lost all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, but its shadowy leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still at large.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Ahmed al-Haj contributed to this report from Sanaa, Yemen.