Airstrikes hit ISIS convoy that may have carried terrorist leader
BAGHDAD — The U.S.-led coalition conducted a series of airstrikes targeting a gathering of ISIS leaders near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a senior U.S. Defense official said Saturday.
The fighter jets on Friday night destroyed a convoy consisting of 10 armed trucks belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, said the Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe military operations.
“We cannot confirm if (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was among those present,” he said. “We have no further information to provide regarding these strikes.”
ISIS proclaims Baghdadi as caliph, or supreme leader, of the vast areas of territory in Iraq and Syria under its control and demands that all Muslims pledge allegiance to him.
Baghdadi made a rare public appearance at a mosque in Mosul in July.
The United States has placed a $10 million bounty on the head of Baghdadi, an ambitious Iraqi terrorist believed to be in his early 40s. Since seizing the reins of the terror group in 2010, he transformed it from a local branch of al-Qaida into an independent transnational force, positioning himself as perhaps the most notorious figure in the global jihadi community.
Despite the airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, Sunni terrorists have continued to carry out deadly bombings targeting Iraqi security forces and civilians.
A suicide truck bomber late Friday struck the convoy of a top Iraqi police officer, killing eight, including a ranking official, authorities said, in an attack that bore the hallmarks of ISIS.
The attack happened when the suicide attacker drove his bomb-laden truck into the convoy of police Lt. Gen. Faisal Malik al-Zamel, who was inspecting forces in the town of Beiji north of Baghdad, police said. The blast killed al-Zamel and seven other police officers, while wounding 15 people, hospital officials and police officers said.
Meanwhile, a series of bombings in and around the capital of Baghdad killed at least 43, with the deadliest blast hitting the city’s sprawling Shiite district of Sadr City, where a car bomb tore through a commercial area, killing 11 and wounding 21.
There has been an uptick in the number of bombings blamed on Sunni terrorists in the capital and mostly targeting Shiites, feeding sectarian tensions in the city, as the security forces of the Shiite-led government battle the Sunni jihadis of ISIS to the west and north of the capital. More recently, the attacks targeted Shiite pilgrims marking Ashoura, the highlight of the sect’s religious calendar.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, but suicide bombings have been the signature of Sunni terror groups for more than a decade in Iraq.
Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, recognizing al-Zamel’s standing, led mourners at his funeral and a top army officer, Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, vowed to avenge his death.
“Beiji will be the graveyard of Daesh,” said a clearly moved al-Saadi on state television. Al-Saadi, the army’s chief of operations in the province of Salahuddin, was using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes on ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria for months, as part of an effort to give Iraqi forces the time and space to mount a more effective offensive. ISIS had gained ground across northern and western Iraq in a lightning advance in June and July, causing several of Iraq’s army and police divisions to fall into disarray.
On Friday, President Obama authorized the deployment of as many as 1,500 American troops to bolster Iraqi forces, including into Anbar province. The plan could boost the total number of American troops in Iraq to 3,100. There are about 1,400 U.S. troops in Iraq, out of the 1,600 previously authorized.