Iraq Has Captured 2 Wanted Islamic State Group Members From Abroad And Brought Them Home

ERBIL, Iraq (AP) — Iraq's authorities have captured two members of the Islamic State group in an operation outside the country and brought them home, where they confessed to committing crimes during the rule of the extremist organization, the intelligence department said Saturday.

A statement by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service didn't say where the two men were captured and released a video showing them blindfolded and handcuffed while aboard a small plane. The two men later appeared in a video in yellow uniforms speaking about their role within the extremist group.

The announcement came after Iraq and the United States began formal talks last month aimed at winding down the mission of a U.S.-led military coalition formed to fight IS. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has contended that the Iraqi security forces are capable of dealing with the remaining IS cells in the country and the coalition’s presence is no longer needed.

The roughly 2,500 U.S. troops are scattered around the country, largely in military installations in Baghdad and in the north.

The Islamic State group declared a self-styled caliphate in a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq that it seized in 2014. It was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017 following a three-year battle that left tens of thousands of people dead and cities in ruins. The group was defeated in Syria losing its last sliver of land in 2019, but its sleeper cells remain in both countries.

The first man was identified as Issam Abed Ali Sueidan, or Abu Zeid, who was a main propagandist for the group in the central Iraqi city of Fallujah, once an IS stronghold. In the video, Sueidan speaks about how he beheaded an Iraqi soldier in Fallujah in addition to doing propaganda videos for the group.

The second detainee was identified as Bashir Abed Ali Sueidan, or Abu Ahmad, who was in charge of telecommunications in Fallujah. He said he was once held in the U.S.-run prison of Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. The man said he was in charge of encrypting the telecommunications of IS officials.

The man said that following a government offensive, he fled to the Iraqi town of Qaim near the Syrian border, where he stayed until 2017. He then fled Iraq without saying where he went.

It wasn't immediately clear if the two detainees were related.

Despite sustained counterterrorism operations, IS commands between 5,000 and 7,000 members across Iraq and Syria, “most of whom are fighters,” though it has reduced its attacks deliberately “to facilitate recruiting and reorganization,” U.N. experts said in a report released in August.

In northeast Syria, approximately 11,000 suspected IS fighters are being held in facilities of the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which have played a prominent role in the fight against IS, the panel said. The fighters include more than 3,500 Iraqis and approximately 2,000 from almost 70 nationalities, it said.