U.S.-Backed Forces Capture ISIS Fighters Tied to Suicide Bombing That Killed Americans, but No Plan to Extradite Them

Islamic State fighters believed to be responsible for the January bombing that killed 19 people, including four American Defense Department officials in Syria, have been captured, said a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Mustafa Bali, the head of the press office in northern Syria said Tuesday on Twitter that technical surveillance led to the capture of "a group of suspects" involved in the January 16 suicide bombing at the Palace of the Princes restaurant in the northern city of Manbij, an area controlled by a militia allied to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

Bali did not give specifics on when the suspects were captured or how many are believed to be involved. A Pentagon official with knowledge of the ongoing operations in Syria said five militants that were a part of the cell that planned and executed the attack were captured roughly three weeks ago but said their roles in the bombing remain classified to protect ongoing operations. Reuters first reported the detentions on Tuesday.

Currently, there are no plans to extradite the suspects to the U.S. to stand trial, said the Defense Department source, indicating that the process could be complicated given the number of local civilians killed in the attack.

"We are committed to bringing those responsible for planning and executing the Manbij terrorist attack on January 16, 2019, to justice," said Pentagon spokesman Commander Sean Robertson in an email to Newsweek on Tuesday. "As a matter of policy, we don't discuss intelligence collection efforts."

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent; former Navy SEAL and Defense Intelligence Agency employee Scott A. Wirtz; and Ghadir Taher, a naturalized U.S. citizen working as a civilian interpreter, were killed in the attack, after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive when the American patrol was stopped at the restaurant.

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Cryptologic Warfare Group 6’s ceremonial honor-guard personnel present the colors at a memorial held for Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent. She was killed while supporting Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve on January 16. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Sykes/U.S. Navy

Army Captain Jonathan Turnbull, a civil affairs soldier, along with two other Green Berets were wounded in the attack. The soldiers have been recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

The January bombing was the deadliest day for American forces since they first deployed on the ground in 2015 and came nearly a month after President Donald Trump declared victory over the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and tweeted his decision to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. service members from Syria.

The decision prompted the swift exit of many Pentagon personnel, including Defense Secretary James Mattis. The Trump administration has since backpeddled on the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, slammed a report in The Wall Street Journal Sunday evening that indicated the U.S. military presence in Syria would be cut by half, from roughly 2,000 to 1,000 U.S. troops.

"A claim reported this evening by a major U.S. newspaper that the U.S. military is developing plans to keep nearly 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria is factually incorrect. There has been no change to the plan announced in February, and we continue to implement the President's direction to draw down U.S. forces to a residual presence," Dunford said.

"Further, we continue to conduct detailed military planning with the Turkish General Staff to address Turkish security concerns along the Turkey-Syria border," he added. "Planning to date has been productive, and we have an initial concept that will be refined in the coming days. We are also conducting planning with other members of the Coalition who have indicated an intent to support the transition phase of operations into Syria."

The news of the captured Islamic State militants came on the heels of the group releasing a new audio message mocking President Donald Trump and condemning last week's terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, an ISIS spokesman, broke his silence since September and mocked Trump's declaration of victory over the group, saying the White House's claim was a "state of confusion and contradiction that makes it impossible for any observer to know what is meant by the word "victory."

Al-Muhajir called on Muslims to avenge the mosque shootings in New Zealand, where 50 people were allegedly gunned down by suspect Brenton Harris Tarrant, 28, an Australian citizen and white supremacist. Al-Muhajir also suggested that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, was still alive.

The last remaining remnants of ISIS face annihilation in the group's final pocket of territory, located in the village of Baghuz in southeastern Syria, close to the Iraqi border.

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Heavy smoke rises above the Islamic State militant group’s last remaining position in the village of Baghouz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, on March 18. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

This article was updated with a comment from the Department of Defense responding to a Newsweek inquiry.