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Syrian Kurdish-led forces say capture ‘most dangerous’ ISIS leader

Osama Oweid Salih, ‘ISIS security leader’, captured by Syrian Kurdish forces, December 2018. Photo: YPG/SDF
US-backed forces said Friday they had captured an ISIS leader in eastern Syria where the Kurdish-led fighters have been battling the jihadists.

A statement by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) identified the suspect as Osama Oweid Saleh and described him as “one of the most dangerous terrorists of ISIS”.

But Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, disputed the claim.

Abdel Rahman said Saleh was merely “a former local security official” in the eastern Deir Ezzor province.

In its statement, the SDF said that Saleh “was a security official for the terrorists in Deir Ezzor and took an active part in planning and implementing more than 40 terrorist operations” for the jihadist group.

It also said that he was “a security official” in other parts of Syria for ISIS, including in the former jihadist bastion of Raqa.

Saleh, it said, was ambushed by SDF fighters and captured on November 22 in the Deir Ezzor countryside. Abdel Rahman told AFP that Saleh “could be a member of an IS sleeper cell”.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, is seeking to expel ISIS from a pocket of land in the Deir Ezzor province near the Iraq border.

The Kurdish-led forces have spearheaded the US-backed fight against ISIS in Syria.

On Monday the Observatory reported that the SDF suffered record fatalities in an assault by IS as holdout jihadists kept up a fierce defense of their last Syrian redoubt.

It said a total of more than 200 people have been killed since around 500 IS fighters burst out of the fog shrouding the area in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq to launch their deadly assault last Friday.

Ninety-two of the dead were SDF fighters while at least 61 jihadists and 51 civilians, mostly their relatives, also died in the violence, it said.

U.S. regards the Democratic Union Party PYD and its powerful military wing YPG/YPJ, as key ally against Islamic State IS and the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria and has provided them with arms, air support as well as the military advisers. The YPG has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State.

In 2013, the PYD — the political branch of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — has established three autonomous Cantons of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin and a Kurdish government across Syrian Kurdistan in 2013.

On March 17, 2016, Kurdish authorities announced the creation of a “federal region” made up of those semi-autonomous regions in Syrian Kurdistan.

Syrian Kurds on December 30, 2016 have approved a blueprint for a system of federal government in Syrian Kurdistan, reaffirming their plans for autonomy in areas they have controlled during the civil war.