Reports that the Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the U.S.-led Coalition against Islamic State captured the group’s spokesperson in a raid in Eastern Syria are untrue, a spokesperson for the Coalition said.
Late on Friday, there were reports that the SDF had captured Abu Hasan al-Muhajir during an operation in Deir Ezzor and transferred him a location near Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“Open source reports on the SDF’s capture of ISIS propagandist/spokesman Abu Hasan al-Muhajir are incorrect. The person SDF captured has a similar name, but is not the ISIS figure reported,” Colonel Thomas F. Veale, Director of Public Affairs for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, told The Defense Post on Saturday, April 19.
A source familiar with the operation said the SDF were not aware of his the identity of the person in Khatwneih village in Deir Ezzor when the raid began, but knew there was “a big shark” present.
Photos posted on Facebook by Naz Seyed of Alghad TV purported to show the SDF and U.S. forces airdrop into a village in Deir Ezzor. Those photos were removed overnight, prompting suggestions that the reports were untrue. The photos appear to be stills from a 2011 video of U.S. special forces in Afghanistan.
ISIS recently released a statement from Muhajir, the first from the spokesperson in 10 months. In an audio recording released on April 22, Muhajir called for ISIS fighters to carry out attacks in Arab nations in the region, equating the leaders to those in America, Europe and Russia. “These are Arabs and are more fierce and vicious against Islam,” The New York Times reported Muhajir as saying.
Muhajir took over the spokesperson role after the original ISIS spokesperson, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was killed in a Coalition airstrike on August 30, 2016.
Veale did not elaborate on the identity of the person captured on Friday, but according to a 2017 article in The Atlantic, Abu Hasan al-Muhajir has a kunya, or nom de guerre, similar to another high-profile ISIS member, John Georgelas, who is from Texas.
Al-Muhajir means “the immigrant,” and one of Georgelas’ aliases is Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, whereas the ISIS spokesperson’s full name is Abu al-Hasan al-Muhajir or Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir. Georgelas has also used other names, including al-Bahrumi (the Mediterranean) and al-Ghurabi (the Stranger).
Fergus Kelly contributed reporting.