Report: U.S. Flew Imprisoned ISIS Higher Up to Qatar

When Iraq announced last week that airstrikes had killed and wounded some ISIS leaders in Mosul and al Qaim, possibly including ISIS Caliph al-Baghdadi, articles began to re-surface identifying ISIS leaders.

Most of the information cited seems to come from a disclosure in June, 2014, days before ISIS took Mosul. Iraqi forces arrested an ISIS member named Abu Hajjar. Under interrogation, he caved, and not only told him about the planned takeover of Mosul, but gave up the location of the safe house being used to plan it. Iraqi police intelligence went out to safe house, and the raid ended with the shooting death of ISIS military commander Abdul Rahman al-Bilawi who was in charge of the operation. During a subsequent search of the safe house and al-Bilawi and Hajjar's homes, Iraqi police recovered 160 thumb drives with incredibly detailed information about ISIS, including financial information, military operations information and even the names of its leaders and fighters. Intelligence agencies have been pouring over the data ever since. (It didn't prevent the takeover of Mosul, which went off as planned, mostly because the Iraq forces ran off.)

Yesterday, as I was re-reading reports on ISIS leadership, I came across an interesting article, "The Islamic State Prisoner and the Intelligence Chief" published November 1, a week before the recent strikes that supposedly hit ISIS leaders, by Paul McGeogh, chief foreign correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, who just days before, had interviewed the still incarcerated Abu Hajjar at a secure Baghdad jail facility. [More...]

Abu Hajjar's story is interesting, and McGeogh adds some new details, but something else in the article stood out to me. In an almost off-handed manner, he writes:

As it happened, an appointment that had been scheduled for me the next day, to interview another captive described by Baghdad intelligence sources as No. 3 in IS's Iraqi hierarchy, fell through because, I was told, the prisoner was indisposed - the Americans had airlifted him to Doha, in Qatar, for further interrogation. (my emphasis.)

While it's possible his intelligence source was misled or misinformed, or intentionally misled McGeogh, I think it's worth exploring.

If the information is accurate, the main questions I have are: Why would a captured ISIS leader be flown to Qatar for interrogation? Was it Qatar that wanted him interrogated or the U.S.? Were U.S. agents going to conduct or participate in the interrogation?

Qatar is home to the al-Udeid Air Base, which also serves as the U.S. command center for all air operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan. It's been reported that most of the U.S. air strikes against ISIS originate at al-Udeid.

Al Udeid is home to about 9,000 U.S. troops and contractors. Its principal unit is the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, which has more than 90 combat aircraft and support planes....

...The Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC)functions as the “nerve center” for the ongoing air campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria and for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Qatar is not considered an enemy of ISIS. Despite its denials, some countries, including Germany, have accused it of having economic and other ties to ISIS and al Nusra. It has been involved in negotiations for the release of ISIS hostages. While Qatar has recently taken a harder public stance against terrorist groups, I really can't figure out why it would want to fly an ISIS military commander to Qatar for interrogation.

If the captured ISIS leader wasn't flown to Qatar at its request, then it seems to me the U.S. wanted to interrogate him. Abu Hajjar told McGeogh U.S. agents "interviewed" him in Baghdad, so why couldn't U.S. agents interrogate this other prisoner there? Is the CIA back in the interrogation business in Qatar? Was Qatar just a first stop to some other country?

If we were still under the Bush/Cheney regime, I'd predict he was en route to a black hole prison after which he'd be shipped to Guantanamo. (Actually, he could still be headed to Gitmo if Obama doesn't get it closed before he leaves office and a Republican becomes President. It's not a stretch to think he could be secretly held in some black hole for 2 years.)

So who is this "#3 ISIS leader?" McGeogh doesn't identify him. He also doesn't say when he was arrested -- whether it was close in time to the June raid involving al-Bilawi and Hajjar, or more recent.

If it was a new arrest, I wonder if he was the source of the information that led to last week's raids on ISIS leaders. There are reports that al Baghdadi just replaced the wali (governor) and the commander of the Salahuddin province. It might explain why the U.S. wanted him out of Iraq quickly, without losing the ability to interrogate him further elsewhere. I hope McGeogh writes a follow-up article with some more details.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Perhaps we lacked confidence... (none / 0) (#1)
    by unitron on Tue Nov 18, 2014 at 04:04:44 AM EST
    ...that he would remain in custody if left in Iraq.

    How is Qatar not ISIL's enemy? (none / 0) (#2)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Nov 18, 2014 at 07:10:51 AM EST
    I can't believe you equate the financial support of a couple of extremist residents of Qatar to the whole of Qatar and its government not being ISIL enemies.

    I made no such equation (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Nov 22, 2014 at 01:00:00 AM EST
    I wrote:

    bq. Qatar is not considered an enemy of ISIS. Despite its denials, some countries, including Germany, have accused it of having economic and other ties to ISIS and al Nusra. It has been involved in negotiations for the release of ISIS hostages. While Qatar has recently taken a harder public stance against terrorist groups....

    That's called reporting, not equating. It noted Qatar's denials, and that reports of support were accusations.

    Google the topic. The allegations involve the Qatar government, not just a few extremists.
    The New York Times:

    Qatar is finding itself under withering attack by an unlikely alignment of interests, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel, which have all sought to portray it as a godfather to terrorists everywhere. Some in Washington have accused it of directly supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

    The Germany accusations, later backtracked from, are everywhere. Malaki said the same thing. So did David Cameron. An Atlantic report is here. A New Republic report is here. The Daily Mail on the Qatar world cup fiasco, "The Scandal Qatar Can't Shake Off."

    You can believe what you want to believe. I'm not expressing a belief. I asked why the U.S. would fly an ISIS prisoner to Qatar for interrogation, and said I doubted Qatar wanted to interrogate him. Care to weigh in on that?


    What is your evidence that Qatar (none / 0) (#4)
    by Militarytracy on Sun Nov 23, 2014 at 01:55:43 PM EST
    Did not want to interrogate him?