Friday 23 March 2018

Three of Isil's highest-ranking leaders killed in US bombing

Militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave flags as they ride in a convoy, which includes multiple Toyota pickup trucks, through Raqqa city in Syria on a road leading to Iraq. Photo: AP
Militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave flags as they ride in a convoy, which includes multiple Toyota pickup trucks, through Raqqa city in Syria on a road leading to Iraq. Photo: AP

Louisa Loveluck in London

Three Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) leaders, including the terror group's finance chief, have been killed by the US-led bombing campaign in Iraq, a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday.

Colonel Steve Warren named the trio as: Abu Salah, "one of the most senior and experienced members" of Isil; Abu Maryam, an "enforcer and senior leader of their extortion network"; and Abu Rahman al-Tunisi, an "executive officer" who handled the transfer of information, people and weapons.

Abu Salah, whose real name is Muafaq Mustafa Mohammed al-Karmoush, is believed to have been the man responsible for Isil's multi-million dollar wealth across Iraq. The extremist group is among the richest in the world, raking in some £53 million a month through taxation and extortion, the selling of oil, and an array of criminal activities.

Separately, the US Treasury estimated that the group had, in total, made approximately $500m (£330 million) from selling smuggled oil, and up to $1 billion from looting bank vaults in cities it had captured. On top of that, 'taxation' - or extortion, now thought to be the majority of its rolling income - accounts for "many millions more".

Adam Szubin said Isil militants were engaged in oil trading worth as much as $40m a month, with significant volumes sold to the government of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and some finding its way across the border into Turkey.

"Isil is selling a great deal of oil to the Assad regime," Mr Szubin, acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence with the US Treasury, said at Chatham House in London.

"The two are trying to slaughter each other and they are still engaged in millions of dollars of trade.

"The volumes we are talking about and the amounts of money we are talking about are very sizeable," added Mr Szubin.

Mr Szubin said the "far greater amount" of Isil oil ends up under Assad's control, while some is consumed internally in Isil areas - but some ends up in Kurdish regions and Turkey.

Sixteen months into the US-led bombing campaign, the Pentagon's announcement seemed to suggest that recently-captured intelligence was being used to inform targeting. American military planners have been sifting through a growing trove of documents detailing the group's inner workings, following a string of special forces raids on the terror group's compounds in Iraq and Syria.

Ashton Carter, the US Defence Secretary, said earlier this month that an expanded expeditionary military force will be sent to Iraq in order to increase the frequency of these raids.

It was also announced yesterday that US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Moscow next week for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on two of the most vexing crises in US-Russian relations: Syria's civil war and Ukraine's ongoing instability.

The State Department said yesterday that Kerry will travel to Moscow after attending a high-level meeting with European and Arab foreign ministers on December 14 in Paris. Kerry will see Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov the next day in the Russian capital. The discussions come amid severely strained ties between the Cold War foes, but also some signs of possible improvement.

Washington and Moscow continue to clash over their uncoordinated military efforts in Syria, where the US says it is leading a broad coalition fighting Isil.

Russia says its airstrikes since late September have targeted the same foe, but Western governments claim mostly moderate rebels are being hit and that Moscow is primarily concerned with shoring up Syrian President Bashar Assad's control of the country. The US and its allies say Assad needs to leave power at some point for Syria's deadly violence to end.

Irish Independent

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