QAMISHLI (Kurdistan 24) – A joint force of the US-led coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured a prominent leader of the Islamic State (IS) in Deir al-Zor Province in eastern Syria, an SDF-affiliated agency said on Saturday.
Osama Awaid Al-Ibrahim, or Abu Zeid, known as the second man after IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was caught on Thursday in the SDF-held village of Al-Tayyana east of the Euphrates River, the Center of Coordination and Military Operations (CCMO) reported.
Abu Zeid was captured by a joint US-SDF patrol while hiding in a tunnel under a house with the intent of blowing himself up. His sister, who was already with the patrol, prevented him and led to his capture, the SDF-affiliated center said.
The center added that he was caught in possession of 20 mobile phones, 80 gold ingots, and large sums of money.
The SDF had already found a weapons depot in Al-Tayyana, and investigations pointed to Abu Zeid as the ringleader, managing a network affiliated to IS from his secret location under the house, the center confirmed.
Additionally, the Syrian pro-opposition news website Zaman al-Wasl reported on Thursday that a US-SDF patrol captured Dhef Al-Melash, who served as Public Relations Officer in Al Busayrah and its surrounding countryside and then IS Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation.
Zaman al-Wasl further commented that Al-Melash and several IS sleeper agents have been active in SDF-held areas in collusion with some SDF members who used to inform him of unscheduled patrols.
The fighting, which intensified over the past few days in the IS-held area of Hajin, is the latest phase by the US-led coalition and SDF to eliminate IS’ foothold east of the Euphrates River following last year’s defeat of the group in Raqqa, its Syrian headquarters.
WHO IS ABU ZEID?
According to the SDF-affiliated center, Abu Zeid, 35, from Al-Tayyana, holds a bachelor in law and had four brothers, two who were killed while fighting with IS, one caught by SDF two months ago, and the fourth still living in the Syrian regime-held areas of Deir Al-Zor.
Abu Zeid was a Syrian regime officer who defected at the breakout of the Syrian civil war several years ago, joined the Free Syrian Army, and then the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front before finally joining IS.
He was arrested by Al-Nusra while laying mines for IS and was released after tribal negotiations.
Abu Zeid assumed several positions with IS, first as a security officer in Deir al-Zor and then as Interior Minister, a member of IS’ consultative council (Shura) and became the security official in Iraq and Syria.
Witnesses in the area said that IS former spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, had stayed with Abu Zeid for a short period when he visited Deir al-Zor a few years ago.
Editing by Nadia Riva