Iraq captures five senior ISIS officials, including a top aide to the group’s leader.
Iraq announced on Thursday it had captured five senior Islamic State (ISIS) officials as part of a three-month-long U.S.-Iraqi intelligence operation, The Hill reported.
The U.S.-led coalition in the fight against ISIS released a statement confirming the news.
The officials, who had been hiding in Syria and Turkey, included a top aide to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi known as Ismail Alwaan Ithawi.
Iraqi forces had reportedly sent information on Ithawi to Turkish authorities, who arrested him in February and moved him to Iraq.
Ithawi was then interrogated by Iraqi and American forces in an effort to get information on the other officials’ whereabouts, according to The Hill.
The U.S.-led coalition used the intelligence to launch an airstrike last month that took the lives of 39 suspected ISIS jihadists in Syria. They then got Ithawi to persuade the other ISIS officials to move closer to a trap set up by Iraqi and American forces, where they were arrested.
Baghdadi’s whereabouts are still unknown. Reports in February said he was still alive, but that injury and poor health had forced him to relinquish control of the terror group.
Other reports in recent years have provided conflicting information about Baghdadi’s whereabouts and about whether he is even alive.
The Russian Defense Ministry said several months ago that the ISIS leader might have been among a group of ISIS members who were killed in a Russian air strike south of Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights subsequently claimed it had “confirmed information” that Baghdadi has been killed, citing high-level ISIS commanders.
U.S. officials, however, have remained skeptical. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in late July he assumes that Baghdadi is still alive.
In September, ISIS released a recording of Baghdadi, presumably to refute reports of his death.