BAGHDAD — Iraq says it has captured the Islamic State’s finance chief, a rare arrest of a major ISIS figure that could produce significant intelligence gains against the group as it struggles to re-emerge.
Iraqi security forces said in a statement on Monday that they had arrested Sami Jassem al-Ajuz “by a major action by our forces in the National Intelligence Service and a special operation outside our borders.”
They did not say when the arrest took place, or where. But a senior Iraqi intelligence official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with the media, said Mr. al-Ajuz had been captured across the border in Syria.
The Iraqi statement described Mr. al-Ajuz as the chief financial and economic official for the Islamic State. It said he was a top aide to the current head of the group and a former deputy to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader who was killed in a U.S. raid in 2019 in northwestern Syria.
Al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate extending through Iraq and Syria after ISIS conquered parts of those countries in 2014. By 2019, the group had lost all of that territory, but thousands of its fighters went underground. It now maintains sleeper cells as it works to regenerate.
The U.S. State Department has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of Mr. al-Ajuz, describing him as instrumental in handling ISIS finances. It gave his name as Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi, using his tribal name rather than his family name.
“While serving as ISIS deputy in southern Mosul in 2014, he reportedly served as the equivalent of ISIS’s finance minister, supervising the group’s revenue-generating operations from illicit sales of oil, gas, antiquities, and minerals,” the department said in an online profile.
On Tuesday, the United States military congratulated Iraq on the capture, describing Mr. al-Ajuz as one of the group’s most senior leaders. The Pentagon, which spelled his name as Sami Jasim Mohammad al-Jauri, said in a statement that “we are not aware of any Department of Defense involvement.”
The Iraqi security official said that the capture operation had been driven by intelligence operatives and carried out by special forces and that the ISIS leader remained in Iraqi custody.
Although he said Iraqi security forces had acted alone, a cross-border operation would have required the cooperation of at least the Syrian-Kurdish forces in Syria. A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which control northeastern Syria, said they did not yet have a comment on Mr. al-Ajuz’s capture.
Reuters reported that the ISIS leader had been in northwestern Syria and, citing unnamed security officials, said that Turkish intelligence had been key to his capture, and that he had been flown from Turkey to Iraq in a military plane.
“This is one of the most significant counter-ISIS achievements in recent years,” Charles Lister, director of the Washington-based Middle East Institute’s Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism Programs, said in an email.
Mr. Lister said that Mr. al-Ajuz was a “potential intelligence gold mine,” and that his capture was a major blow to ISIS operations in both Syria and Iraq.
“Over the years,” he said, “only very rarely has someone of this seniority been captured alive.”
Jane Arraf reported from Baghdad and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Falih Hassan contributed reporting from Baghdad.