The Saudi-led coalition spokesman, Col. Turki Al-Maliki said on June 25, 2019, that Saudi and Yemeni Special Forces captured on June 3, 2019, Abu Osama al-Muhajir, the leader of Islamic State terror organization in Yemen along with the terror group’s finance officer and a number of other fighters. Muhajir was captured in a house in al-Ghaydah, the provincial capital of the eastern province of al-Mahra in Yemen. The capture was kept secret for 22 days so that investigators could complete inquiries and confirm the identities.
The preparations: Intelligence sources reported that al-Muhajir was living in a house with other terrorists and their wives and children and the house was placed under surveillance. The raid was planned for almost a month. The mission commander was selected, one of the most prominent officers of the Saudi Special Security Forces, who in his turn chose the individuals participating in the mission. All have had advanced training in this kind of operation.
The monitoring stage of the operation involved constant monitoring of the house to check people’s comings and goings, and the quantity and quality of weapons they were likely to have, including bombs. After fully identifying and understanding the terrorists’ daily routines in the area through monitoring and surveillance, they decided to raid the place and arrest Abu Osama al-Muhajir.
The operation plan: the mission commander set the operation for 9:20 a.m. on June 3, 2019, the last day of Ramadan. The time was chosen for several reasons, most importantly because during Ramadan, people eat the suhoor meal before dawn and go back to sleep afterwards, and the sleeping schedule of the people inside the house had been carefully studied. The operation plan was finely tuned to minimize collateral damage from the raid, and arrest the terrorists while ensuring the safety of the women and children inside the house.
The execution: The forces raided the house at exactly 9:20 a.m. The operation met no resistance and the Special Forces arrested all those in the house. Within 10 minutes of the raid, the entire mission was complete, which included arresting people, confiscating any weapons in the house, and getting out.
The last stage was the withdrawal after execution and transporting the “precious catch” to a safe area away from any danger, either from Islamic state agents or other terrorist organizations, including the Iran-backed Houthi militias.
The results: The entire operation lasted for ten minutes and the leader of Islamic state in Yemen, Abu Osama al-Muhajir, was seized along with an ISIS financial officer and a number of other members of the organization.
Weapons, ammunition, laptops, computers, a stash of cash in various currencies, electronic and communications devices, GPS devices, and other items were also seized during the operation. Three women and three children were in the house at the time of the operation – all of whom were unharmed.
US Involvement in the Operation
The United States provided intelligence for the operation and US Special Operations Forces had supported the Saudi troops in an “advice and assist” role during the operation. The Saudi statement made no mention of a US role in the capture of al-Muhajir.
In Yemen, the United States has mainly partnered in counterterrorism missions with troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi troops are not known to have taken part in many US partnered anti-terrorism missions.
Abu Osama al-Muhajir
The Saudis identified the Islamic State leader in some publications as Abu Osama al-Mohajir and in other publications as Abu Osama al-Masri, a nom de guerre indicating that he is likely an Egyptian. In a report released in February 2019, the UN named the head of ISIS in Yemen as Abu Shaker al-Muhajir. He may be the same man as Abu Osama al-Masri, as the jihadists often use more than one alias.
Abu Osama al-Muhajir was born in 1988 and from 2010 to 2015 he was a member of AQAP. He then defected to the Islamic State from al-Qaeda in 2015, and rose up its ranks. In 2017, he succeeded, Muhammed Qanan al-Sayari that according to a Security Council report was believed to have been killed. He served as the leader of ISIS’ Yemeni branch from 2017 until his capture in June 2019.
The Islamic State branch rose to prominence about four years ago, at the beginning of Yemen’s civil war. Extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS have attempted to take advantage of the chaos of the country’s civil war and assert their authority in some areas of the country.
The Saudi-led coalition, which includes 10 countries, is fighting in support of the official government against the Iran-backed Houthi militia that seized the capital Sanaa in 2014. But the coalition has also been fighting extremist groups like the Islamic State.
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman said the Kingdom’s military operations in Yemen are aimed at preventing terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Houthis from using the country to destabilize the region. “The capture of IS leader in Yemen is just the latest example of our commitment to eradicating the scourge of terrorism,” Prince Khalid said on Twitter.”
Saudi Arabia continues to play a leading role in the international community’s effort to combat terrorism and counter extremism and the operation against the Islamic State is a serious and painful blow to the organization, especially in Yemen.
[Source: The Washington Post, Arab news, Al Arabiya, Saudi Gazzette, Long War Journal]