Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Abu Sayyaf's Wife Held by Americans in Iraq


A bit of background to the antiquities stash story. Although US forces in a night-time raid in Syria managed to blow his head off, little is actually known about Abu Sayyaf and why he was targeted by this extraordinary May 15th/16th raid. U.S. officials have said that he was Tunisian and his real name had been Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi. He "was suspected of overseeing the Islamic State’s illicit oil and gas operations" and he was found to have had a stash of 500 antiquities and a crucible at home (not a capital offence anywhere outside China I think).

The US raiders also captured his wife, whose name is given only as 'Umm Sayyaf', a title rather than a name. She was taken over the border (how?) and detained in a U.S. base near the Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil. A team known as the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which includes officials from the FBI, CIA and Pentagon, was sent to Iraq to question the detainee. Now the US are preparing charges against her for alleged participation in holding hostage Kayla Mueller abducted near Aleppo, Syria in August 2013. In later media accounts she was reported to have been "the personal captive of a senior Islamic State figure named Abu Sayyaf" ("The 26-year-old Arizona native was often seen in the company of an ISIS commander who was being tracked actively by US intelligence" Daily Mail). After she was abducted, her case was kept from public view in hopes that she would be released. She was killed in February this year. This was reportedly by a bombing campaign (perhaps targeting Abu Sayyaf?) in Raqqa where she was held though this has been disputed by the US.

See now: Adam Goldman 'U.S. preparing charges against woman accused of holding American in Syria' Washington Post July 15 2015.


And here from a May 19th newspaper report (Associated Press, 'Dead ISIS leader may have held slain American hostage Kayla Mueller' New York Post May 19, 2015, based on an earlier account by Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan, 'Senior ISIS leader killed in U.S. raid in Syria', WaP May 16) is an account of the raid:
A US official also provided more details on the Friday night raid. The commandos who flew by Black Hawk and V-22 Osprey aircraft into Syria under cover of darkness quickly met resistance on the ground. They blew a hole in the building where Murad was believed to be staying and as they ran into the building and up the stairs, they encountered more insurgents. The official said that at that point, the US forces waged close-quarters combat, including some hand-to-hand fighting. The goal of the mission, which had undergone months of planning, was to take Murad and his wife alive, in the hopes that he would provide intelligence on the group’s operations, finances and information on whom they do business with and potentially on their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Another part of the plan was to free an 18-year-old girl who is a Yazidi and was believed to be kept as a slave by the Islamic State leader and his wife. The girl was found and freed by the commandos and is expected to be returned to her family after she is debriefed by the US. A team from US intelligence agencies is poring over the laptops, cellphones, computer drives and other data recovered at the site.
Another account suggests that "The Delta Force team of 24 men killed 12 IS fighters". In Washington, a Defense official described Abu Sayyaf as “fairly high up” in the Islamic State hierarchy "but not among the four most senior militants tracked by the United States".

The Washington Post gives the location of Abu Sayyaf's 'compound'  as Al-Amr. Google Earth has no such place but a place name for Al-Bo-Amr at 35°13'31.21"N  40°15'28.09"E. There is nothing on that spot which would house an ISIL boss, his wife and slave girl and have 12 guards. There are however a number of walled compounds 1.5km to the northeast nearer the main road which might fit the bill as the sort of remote place you'd move to if your house in Raqqa had been targeted by a bombing raid a few months ago.


Map, from Washington Post

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