U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that five “most wanted” leaders of the Islamic State had been captured, an apparent reference to the capture of five commanders of the militant group by Iraq.
“Five Most Wanted leaders of ISIS just captured!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter, providing no further details.
Iraq had described the capture of the commanders as “some of the most wanted” leaders of the group. The list did not include leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The New York Times said the capture followed a three-month operation tracking ISIS leaders who were hiding in Syria and Turkey, adding that four Iraqis and one Syrian who played a role in governing the group's territory around Deir el-Zour in Syria, coordinating internal security and overseeing the administrative body in charge of religious rulings.
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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi last month said he would "take all necessary measures if they threaten the security of Iraq," referring to the militants who just three years ago overran a third of Iraq.
The prime minister declared final victory over the ultra hardline group in December but it still poses a threat from pockets along the border with Syria and has continued to carry out ambushes, assassinations and bombings across Iraq.
The defeat of Islamic State in Iraq has been a major victory for U.S.-backed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, but Iran is working towards shifting the political balance in its own favor – to force an early exit of U.S. forces, to end the strategic partnership between Iraq and the United States, and to secure Iraq’s support for its regional agenda. Such an outcome would undermine stability in Iraq and would further strengthen Iran in the Middle East at the expense of the United States.
Baghdadi, who declared himself ruler of all Muslims in 2014 after capturing Iraq’s main northern city Mosul, is now believed to be hiding in the Iraqi-Syrian border region after losing all the cities and towns of his self-proclaimed caliphate.
Islamic State militants last month restated their loyalty to Baghdadi, in what is believed to be their first public pledge of allegiance to him since his self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq collapsed last year.