U.S Special Forces have carried out a raid inside Syria that killed a man identified as a senior Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader who helped direct the group’s oil, gas and financial operations, U.S. officials said on Saturday.
The ISIS militant, Abu Sayyaf, “was killed during the course of the operation when he engaged U.S. forces,” in eastern Syria, Pentagon chief Ashton Carter in a statement.
Abu Sayyaf’s wife was also captured and is in a U.S. military detention in Iraq after what has become the first publicly declared Special Forces operation by U.S. forces in Syria since their failed attempt to rescue American journalist James Foley and other American hostages held by ISIS last summer. Foley was killed by the ultra-radical group, an offshoot of al-Qaeda.
The White House said President Barack Obama ordered the raid that killed the man.
Meanwhile, a group tracking the Syrian civil war said a report on Syrian state TV claiming the army had killed an ISIS official had incorrectly taken credit for a raid carried out by U.S. forces.
Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the reported raid on an oil field in the eastern Deir al-Zor province was the same one which U.S. officials said was carried out by the American special operations forces.
Syrian state TV had carried news of the raid before it was announced in the United States, quoting its Deir al-Zor correspondent.
On Saturday, a U.S. official also said that Abu Sayyaf was Tunisian, and Washington informed the Tunisian government of the operation after it was carried out.
Yazidi woman freed
In the course of the dramatic operation, a Yazidi woman believed to have been enslaved by the couple was rescued as well, officials said.
The Yazidis, a religious minority in northwest Iraq with ancient origins, have been persecuted by the ISIS militants and rights groups say Yazidi women have been kidnapped, raped and sold among the extremists.
U.S. forces suffered no casualties in the night raid, officials said, without offering details about how many troops were involved or what units were deployed.
The raid was carried out with the full approval of the Iraqi government, officials said.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement that U.S. personnel based out of Iraq conducted the operation in al-Amr in eastern Syria.
“During the course of the operation, Abu Sayyaf was killed when he engaged U.S. forces,” Meehan said.
“The president authorized this operation upon the unanimous recommendation of his national security team and as soon as we had developed sufficient intelligence and were confident the mission could be carried out successfully and consistent with the requirements for undertaking such operations,” Meehan said.
‘Full consent of Iraqi authorities’
Meehan said the operation was conducted “with the full consent of Iraqi authorities” and “consistent with domestic and international law.”
The White House also said that Abu Sayyaf's wife was captured and is in U.S. military detention in Iraq.
U.S. officials suspect she “played an important role in ISIS's terrorist activities, and may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young woman rescued last night,” the White House said.