The US military said in a statement this Sunday that it could kill Osama al-Muhajer, one of ISIS leaders, in a drone attack in eastern Syria on Friday night.
This Sunday, the US Central Command issued a statement and said that during a drone strike to the eastern Syria on Friday night, it could successfully track down and kill Osama al-Muhajer, one of the leaders of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“We have made it clear that we remain committed to the defeat of ISIS throughout the region. ISIS remains a threat, not only to the region but well beyond,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Michael Kurilla said in the statement.
Although the US Central Command emphasized in the statement that the drone operation left no harm to civilians, reports after the attack show that people other than al-Muhajer have been injured or even killed. This made CENTCOM to issue another statement and announce that the coalition forces are “assessing reports of a civilian injury”.
The strike was carried out by the MQ-9 Reaper drones made by the US. But as the statement noted, before the operation and for three days, the drones had been targeted by Russian warplane. “Friday’s strike was conducted by the same MQ-9s drones that had been harassed by Russian aircraft in an encounter that had lasted almost two hours,” CENTCOM added.
Confirming Russia’s interference in the operation for days, the Russian Air Force Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich said in an interview with Al Jazeera that “the planes dropped flares in front of the drones and flew dangerously close, endangering the safety of all aircraft involved”. Grynkewich also stated that three Russian jets dropped parachute flares in front of US drones on Wednesday, forcing them to evade, and has urged Moscow to “cease this reckless behavior.”
Who was Abu Osama al-Muhajer?
Born in 1988 in Saudi Arabia, Abu Osama al-Muhajer was raised in a traditional Sunni family in Riyadh. With the rise of the Islamic State from al-Qaeda in 2015, al-Muhajer defected to the group and later became the leader of the Yemeni branch of the militant group.
Islamic State, originally an offshoot of al Qaeda, took control of around a third of Iraq and Syria in 2014 but has since lost its territory there. It has other branches elsewhere including Yemen, Afghanistan and parts of Africa.
The Islamic State’s Yemen branch claimed high-profile attacks on civilians early in the war, but more recently it has been focused on battles against the rival al-Qaeda militant group in Yemen in the central province of al-Bayda.
According to a report by the U.N. Security Council in July 2018, al-Muhajer’s real name was Muhammed Qanan al-Sayari, and that the Islamic State affiliate had 250 to 500 members in Yemen and had focused its attacks on Yemeni and UAE targets. A Security Council report in December also that year said that Sayari was believed to have been killed and that the group had a “dwindling number of fighters in the whole of Yemen.”
In 2019, it turned out that al-Muhajer was still alive as Saudi Arabia said that it had captured a man it identified as the leader of the Islamic State’s Yemen branch during a raid on a house in southern Yemen. In his arrest operation, according to American officials who did not disclose the exact nature of U.S. participation, the U.S. Special Operations forces also took part alongside Saudi police.