ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An official from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Wednesday announced the arrest of an Islamic State (IS) leader he said was responsible for the recent killing of one of the most prominent tribal leaders in the Syrian city of Raqqa.
“Today, SDF conducted an operation in Raqqah and detained an ISIS (IS) official, this operation was in response to [the] assassination of Sheik [al-Huwaudi],” said Mustafa Bali, Director of the SDF Media Center.
Analysts say they have concerns that IS has placed sleeper cells throughout the Arab-majority, rural areas of eastern Syria. Moreover, IS is thought to be aiming to increase tensions in the northeast of Syria by undermining security in Raqqa.
The murder of a well-known Raqqan tribal leader such as Bashir Faisal al-Huwaidi, who was killed in an assassination attack claimed by IS on Nov. 2, could potentially lead to strained relations between local tribes, the jihadist group’s likely intention.
“As ISIS has shown in Iraq, it has the capability to place agents in areas where its enemies have a strong presence,” Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, told Kurdistan 24.
“The ISIS strategy is clear: it will work hard to deny the SDF the opportunity to build an order to succeed its Caliphate in eastern Syria,” he said.
He added that the “arrest is a test of the SDF's counter-intelligence capabilities. There is already significant pressure on the SDF because it is accused of policing policies that victimize non-Kurdish communities,” he added.
“ISIS is hoping that the general outrage against the SDF will work to its advantage and delegitimize the SDF's counter-intelligence operations.”
This is not the first time that assassinations have targeted leading members of the Raqqa Civil Council. On March 15, Omar Aloush, a senior Kurdish official who played a key role with the US on stability efforts in Raqqa, was assassinated in his home in Tal Abyad. Top Kurdish officials blamed Turkey for the assassination.
Mona Alami, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told Kurdistan 24 the recent arrest might calm down tensions.
“Although conspirationists will say it was a ploy... I think it will defuse tensions within a certain margin of the population.”
“However, the arrest doesn’t tackle the underlying problems between Arabs and Kurds in the city and the mistrust between the two ethnic groups,” she concluded.
Editing by John J. Catherine