US speciaL forces captured the head of the Islamic State group's unit trying to develop chemical weapons in a raid last month in northern Iraq, Iraqi and US officials told the Associated Press, the first known major success of Washington's more aggressive policy of pursuing IS militants on the ground.
The Obama administration launched the new strategy in December, deploying a commando force to Iraq that it said would be dedicated to capturing and killing IS leaders in clandestine operations, as well as generating intelligence leading to more raids.
US officials said last week that the expeditionary team had captured an Islamic State leader but had refused to identify him, saying only that he had been held for two or three weeks and was being questioned.
Two Iraqi intelligence officials identified the man as Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, who worked for Saddam Hussein's now-dissolved Military Industrialisation Authority where he specialised in chemical and biological weapons. They said al-Afari, who is about 50 years old, heads the Islamic State group's recently established branch for the research and development of chemical weapons.
He was captured in a raid near the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, the officials said. They would not give further details. In Washington, US officials confirmed al-Afari's identity.
The officials, who both have first-hand knowledge of the individual and of the IS chemical programme, spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorised to talk to the media. No confirmation was available from US officials.
A US official said yesterday that one or more follow-up airstrikes were conducted against suspected IS chemical facilities in northern Iraq in recent days.