Umm and Abu Sayyaf: U.S. Forces Kill Senior ISIS Leader, Take Another Alive

ISIS
A wall painted with the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants (L) in the town of Tal Ksaiba, near the town of al-Alam, March 7, 2015. Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

The White House on Saturday morning announced that a counterterrorism operation carried out overnight in al-Amr, Syria led to the death of Abu Sayyaf and the capture of his wife, Umm Sayyaf.

Sayyaf was known to be a senior leader within the Islamic State and his wife is also suspected of having played a prominent role in the terrorist organization.

As a senior leader, Sayyaf oversaw the Islamic State's oil and gas operation, one of the group's most lucrative streams of profit. ISIS has pillaged and taken over oil fields, selling the oil at below market value. Sayyaf also played a role in ISIS military operations.

In addition to capturing Umm alive, U.S. forces rescued a young Yazidi woman who was not identified. The woman was a slave to the Sayyaf family. "We intend to reunite her with her family as soon as feasible," the White House said.

ISIS has been tormenting the Yazidi people over the last year. Many Yazidi men were killed, whereas women were sold into slavery. U.S. forces believe Umm Sayyaf "may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young woman." Her role in the larger Yazidi slave industry remains to be determined.

Umm Sayyaf will be held in a U.S. military detention center in Iraq indefinitely. "We are working to determine an ultimate disposition for the detainee that best supports the national security of the United States and of our allies and partners, consistent with domestic and international law," the White House said. The Red Cross will have access to Sayyaf while she is detained.

The capture of a female ISIS leader will likely shed light on the role women play within ISIS. In the past, ISIS has indicated it valued the roles of two particular high-ranking female terrorists: Aafia Siddiqui, better known as "Lady Al-Qaeda," and Sajida al-Rishawi, who is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, though she may have relatives in ISIS. The Islamic State attempted to trade American hostages James Foley and, later, Steven Sotloff for Siddiqui. The group attempted to swap Japanese hostage Kenji Goto Jogo for al-Rishawi with the Jordanian government. In all instances, the swaps were not carried out.

Though these women are viewed in high regard by the Islamic State, other women are relegated to household tasks and are not allowed to exit the home without having a man escort them. Newsweek obtained access to the diary of a Western woman who joined ISIS, in which she writes it is "completely impossible" for women to participate in battle for the terrorist organization. As the public has been made aware of Umm Sayyaf's captivity, more information may eventually become available on the roles she and other women took on within the Islamic State.

The president praised the success of the operation. "The United States will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Iraqi partners in our effort to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL," the White House concluded, using an alternative title for ISIS.

Umm and Abu Sayyaf: U.S. Forces Kill Senior ISIS Leader, Take Another Alive | World