Commandos took out a top ISIS moneyman, captured his wife and freed one of his slaves in a dramatic nighttime raid in Syria, officials said Saturday.
Abu Sayyaf — who ran ISIS’s lucrative black-market oil and gas sales operation and had a hand in the terror group’s military operations — died in the daring commando attack in al Omar, Syria’s largest oil field.
No US personnel were injured in the paratrooper raid, which killed 19 ISIS militants, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The elite Army commandos set out early Saturday to al Omar, located 80 highway miles from the Iraqi border, aboard V-22 Osprey aircraft and Black Hawk helicopters. They intended to capture Sayyaf but encountered stiff resistance at a heavily guarded multi-story building, where fighting took place “at very close quarters, and there was hand-to-hand combat,” a US official told AFP.
Abu Sayyaf was killed “when he engaged US forces,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement.
Besides taking down Abu Sayyaf and capturing his wife, the commandos also grabbed documents, computers and other materials.
The raid departed from the usual US strategy of fighting ISIS with air raids and drone strikes. US ground forces are known to have deployed against ISIS in Syria just once before, in an unsuccessful hostage-rescue effort last summer.
Abu Sayyaf, a Tunisian citizen, was ISIS’s “emir of oil and gas,” a US official said. Iraqi officials believe he was also in charge of ISIS finances.
He had associations with top ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims the grandiose title of “caliph” and purports to be the world leader of all Muslims.
Earlier in his terror career, Abu Sayyaf was a follower of Osama bin Laden. He was among a number of bin Laden and al Qaeda followers who have switched allegiance to ISIS.
Abu Sayyaf’s wife, Umm Sayyaf, was flown to a location in Iraq. A US official said she was being debriefed in hope of learning more about ISIS’s operations.
Umm Sayyaf also “may have been complicit” in the enslavement of a Yazidi woman rescued in the raid, Carter said. ISIS captured members of the Yazidi religious minority last summer as they rampaged across Iraq.
Elsewhere in Syria, ISIS pushed Saturday toward the historic city of Palmyra, raising fears it would destroy its elegant columns and other architecturally significant ruins. Last week, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova pleaded with fighters to spare the city, saying “it represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and the world.”
Backup forces bring their own challenges
But the nature of the forces believed to be heading to Anbar to take on ISIS there could present challenges.