Hmmm: US, Iraq capture key ISIS financier ... somewhere

This story has two big surprises. First, Sami Jasim al-Jaburi got captured alive, unlike his boss and financial beneficiary Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Second, the Iraqis have apparently developed an intelligence service capable of “complex external operation[s],” notable for a nation with lots of complex internal problems.

Or so they say in taking credit for capturing ISIS’ main financier:

Iraq has captured the alleged finance chief of the Islamic State group, Sami Jasim al-Jaburi, who was sought by the US, in an operation abroad, Iraqi authorities have said.

Jaburi, also the suspected former deputy to the late IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was arrested “in Turkey”, a senior Iraqi military source said.

The Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, had earlier announced on Twitter that Jaburi had been arrested by the intelligence services “outside the borders” of Iraq, in a “complex external operation”, without naming the location.

It was not immediately clear if Turkish authorities were involved and there was no immediate reaction from Ankara.

The US has been looking for al-Jaburi for the last few years, and had a $5 million bounty for his capture. Looks like the State Department will need to write a check:

Al-Jaburi, born in Iraq in 1973, was a deputy to slain ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and is believe to have remained close to the group’s current commander Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.

Al-Jaburi was designated as a terrorist by the U.S. government and there was a $5 million reward on offer from the State Department for information leading to his arrest.

The Iraqi government considers al-Jaburi a key figure within the terrorist organization. After joining ISIS in the early days following its split from al Qaeda, he played a central role in building ISIS’ de-facto state as it seized a huge swathe of territory spanning the Iraq-Syria border between 2014 and 2018.

Iraqi political analyst and security expert Fadhil Abu Ragheef told CBS News that al-Jaburi was a trusted deputy to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former ISIS leader who was killed in a U.S. raid in Syria in 2019.

This is good news indeed, and worth a lot more than $5 million to the US and the West. The capture of leaders in distributed terror networks always has good value in terms of morale, but usually limited value in terms of lethal threats. Terror networks, especially radical Islamist networks, are usually organized into significantly decentralized operational structures to protect ongoing plots. Financing, on the other hand, is by its nature pan-organizational. Individual cells might be able to find day-to-day funding, but that’s risky for both the terrorists and their prospective donors.

Getting al-Jaburi alive offers the tantalizing prospect of rolling up the entire donor network. The Iraqis are being awfully coy about where they or the US found al-Jaburi, presumably because the answer will anger either Turkey or Syria, or possibly both, and the Iraqis don’t need to add to their troubles on their borders. An even better question might be when they seized al-Jaburi. They announced it today, but this could have taken place weeks ago. It’s almost certain that neither Iraq nor the US would have announced this before exploiting al-Jaburi and his materials for maximum intel efforts. Traditionally, this would not be revealed until well after operations against secondary and tertiary targets had already taken place. Unless the Iraqis jumped the gun for their own political purposes, we can probably assume we’ll hear more about the results of al-Jaburi’s interrogations in the future.

Even if that piece didn’t materialize, however, the message has been sent to potential ISIS donors from this point forward. The organization can’t protect its financier — so how can it protect its donors? And if al-Jaburi allowed himself to be taken alive, just how dedicated are other ISIS leaders to martyrdom after al-Baghdadi’s pathetic exit?