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BAGHDAD, June 16, (AP): U.S.-led coalition forces captured a senior leader of the extremist Islamic State group in a military operation in northern Syria on Thursday, the coalition said. A statement from the coalition said the captured IS leader was an experienced bomb maker and operational facilitator, describing him as one of the top leaders of the militant group’s branch in Syria. It said the operation was “successful,” with no civilians harmed and no injuries to the coalition forces.
The coalition did not respond to queries from The Associated Press. An updated statement later in the day identified the captured militant as Hani Ahmed al-Kurdi, known as Salim, and said that he was taken in Syria’s Aleppo province. According to a defense official, al-Kurdi is currently in U.S. custody and was being questioned. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide information not yet made public. “The mission to capture al-Kurdi was meticulously planned to minimize the risk of civilian harm or collateral damage,” the updated statement said.
“He was instructing others on making explosive devices, supporting the construction of improvised explosive device facilities, and facilitating attacks on U.S. and partner forces.” Earlier, three Iraqi intelligence officials said al- Kurdi is a Syrian national who rose through militant ranks to become one of the most senior and dangerous IS leaders and an expert on manufacturing booby-traps and explosives. For a while, he was the IS leader in charge of the Syrian city of Raqqa, when it was the de facto capital of the group’s so-called Islamic “caliphate” that stretched across much of Iraq and Syria.
The Iraqi intel officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give out the information. The U.S.-backed forces declared victory over the Islamic State group in March 2019 after retaking the last piece of territory held by IS in Syria. But the militants continue to operate and carry out deadly attacks in both Iraq and Syria through sleeper cells; the group also maintains several affiliates in various countries. A Syria war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the operation began with two helicopters landing near the targeted area in the village of al-Humaira, about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Turkish border. It reported clashes with gunmen hiding in houses in the village in the northern Aleppo countryside as they were chased by members of the coalition. The Observatory has a network of activists on the ground in Syria. Meanwhile, French drone strikes killed nearly 40 Islamic extremists earlier this week who were traveling on motorcycles near Niger’s border with Burkina Faso, France’s military announced Thursday. In a statement, the French military called the strikes a “new tactical success” for France’s counterterrorism efforts in Africa’s Sahel region, named Operation Barkhane.