Senior Islamic State leader in Somalia killed in US special operations raid

WASHINGTON — U.S. special operations commandos killed a senior Islamic State leader in a helicopter raid in a remote region of northern Somalia early Thursday, U.S. officials said.

The Pentagon identified the leader as Bilal al-Sudani. U.S. officials say he operates in Somalia, but as one of the terrorist group’s top financial operatives, he has influence across Africa, Europe and even the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, which was killed in Kabul in August 2021. An explosion was carried out at the international airport, killing 13 American service members.

In a statement Thursday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said al-Sudani was “responsible for promoting the Islamic State’s presence in Africa and providing support for the group’s global operations.” Funding, including in Afghanistan.”

Biden administration officials said there were no civilian casualties in the raid. They also said none of the U.S. troops involved were injured and only one was bitten by a dog they brought with them.

In a call with reporters Thursday afternoon, a senior administration official described Mr. Trump’s situation. al-Sudani has been described as a “key operator and enabler of ISIS’ global network”. The official said the agent was killed along with 10 other ISIS associates in Sudan.

The raid took place in a remote mountainous cave complex in the Puntland region of northern Somalia, months after he was spotted by a US spy network. al-Sudani’s hidden headquarters and monitor the location to study his movements.

The senior administration official said special operations forces were ready to capture Mr. al-Sudani, but the reaction of his associates “caused his death” when U.S. troops reached their cave complex.

Still, commandos almost certainly stole laptops, hard drives, cellphones and other information from him, based on previous raids. al-Sudani’s hideout could hold clues to future counterterrorism operations.

The fact that the Pentagon sent a commando to kill or capture Mr. Trump. al-Sudani — a decision that requires President Biden’s approval this week — rather than using the less risky drone operation showed his importance.

No one else in the Islamic State’s global operatives can match Trump, a senior administration official said. al-Sudani has the ability to receive and distribute illicit funds—up to hundreds of thousands of dollars at any given time—to far-flung ISIS affiliates spread across at least three continents through a network of clandestine contacts he has built over a decade.

In another sign of Mr al-Sudani’s importance, the military built a model of his cave complex so commandos could rehearse their covert missions — as Navy SEAL Team 6 did in the 2011 Pakistan raid As it did before killing Osama bin Laden.

U.S. officials did not say which special operations unit carried out Thursday’s raid, but SEAL Team 6 has historically conducted the most sensitive counterterrorism mission in Somalia.

gentlemen. Biden redeployed about 450 U.S. troops to Somalia last year, reversing former President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal in January 2021. But Pentagon officials said the units provided training to the Somali military and did not conduct counterterrorism operations.

Somalia is better known as a sanctuary for al-Shabab (the terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda) than ISIS. Indeed, after Mr. al-Sudani joined ISIS, he was designated a terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2012 for helping foreign fighters travel to al-Shabab training camps and providing financial support to foreign insurgents in Somalia.

The raid was the latest in a series of setbacks for the Islamic State and its core leadership in Iraq and Syria this year, the worst since the end of the jihadists’ so-called caliphate nearly four years ago.

In late November, ISIS announced that its leader, whose identity has been shrouded in mystery, had been killed in fighting in Syria less than nine months after taking over the terrorist group.

Outside the Middle East, the group has had mixed success. Its affiliate in Afghanistan is at an impasse with the Taliban government. But Islamic State fighters have attacked highly symbolic targets in Afghanistan, including Russian and Chinese interests.

Islamic State fighters and al-Qaeda groups are gaining ground in West Africa, with violence now threatening countries including Ghana, Togo and Benin.

At its height, Islamic State ruled a self-declared caliphate the size of Britain, straddling the borders of Syria and Iraq, and employing tens of thousands of fighters from around the globe. An extremist vision of eternal battle between its military and anyone who opposes them has inspired deadly attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Berlin, Baghdad and other major cities.

But an international coalition led by the United States worked with local forces in Iraq and Syria to fight it, eventually pushing it out of its last stretch of eastern Syria in March 2019.

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