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Could Move by US Against IS Trio Weaken Terror Group?

FILE - An Iraqi soldier walks next to a wall painted with the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants, north of Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 21, 2017.

The United States is offering rewards of up to $5 million for information about three Islamic State (IS) leaders, a move analysts say could place more pressure on the terror group.

The cash bounty, which is part of the U.S. Rewards for Justice program, lists three prominent IS leaders — Mutaz Numan Abd Nayif Najm al-Jaburi, Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi and Amir Muhammad Said Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla — the U.S. State Department announced last week.

"As ISIS is defeated on the battlefield, we are determined to identify and find the group's leaders so that the global coalition of nations fighting to defeat ISIS can continue to destroy ISIS remnants and thwart its global ambitions," a statement by Rewards for Justice said, using another acronym for IS.

Experts say the three militant leaders have been playing a key part within IS's organizational hierarchy.

"These individuals have had a major role in regrouping the terror group after it lost control of territory in Syria and Iraq," said Watheq al-Hashimi, director of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies, a Baghdad-based research center.

"In the past few months, [IS leader] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has heavily relied on them to organize the group and reach out to smaller jihadist groups after most of his first-rank officials were killed in the [the U.S.-led] war," he told VOA.

Al-Hashimi noted that killing or arresting these IS leaders would significantly impact the terror group's capabilities to carry out attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces.

Overseeing bomb-making

Mutaz Numan Abd Nayif Najm al-Jaburi, who also is known as Hajji Taysir, is a senior IS leader, according to the U.S. State Department.

FILE - The chief of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, purportedly appears for the first time in five years in a propaganda video in an undisclosed location, in this undated TV grab taken from video released April 29 by Al-Furqan media.
FILE - The chief of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, purportedly appears for the first time in five years in a propaganda video in an undisclosed location, in this undated TV grab taken from video released April 29 by Al-Furqan media.

Prior to joining IS, al-Jaburi held several positions within the ranks of al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI).

His primary mission with IS recently has been overseeing bomb-making and planning terrorist activities, U.S. officials and experts said.

"Al-Jaburi had a leading role with [AQI leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi. So when he joined Daesh, al-Baghdadi gave him a lot of power. He has had close ties with al-Baghdadi," analyst al-Hashimi said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

He added that al-Jaburi's effectiveness "has particularly been evident in recent months with IS stepping up its insurgent attacks in Iraq."

IS has lost control of nearly all the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq dating to 2014. In December 2017, the Iraqi government declared the military defeat of IS. In Syria, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced in March 2019 the terror group had been defeated.

Since then, however, IS has been able to carry out deadly offensives, using car bombs and suicide attacks in both countries.

U.S. officials have warned that IS continues to pose a threat to the region.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the terror group has gained some strength in certain areas.

"There's certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago. But the caliphate is gone and their capacity to conduct external attacks has been made much more difficult," he told CBS News. "We've taken down significant risk — not all of it, but a significant amount."

Managing finances

Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi, also known as Hajji Hamid, is another leading IS commander the State Department has listed as a target.

Al-Jaburi has a history with al-Qaida in Iraq, and he has been instrumental in managing finances for IS terrorist operations, U.S. officials said.

"While serving as ISIS deputy in southern Mosul in 2014, he reportedly served as the equivalent of ISIS's finance minister, supervising the group's revenue-generating operations from illicit sales of oil, gas, antiquities and minerals," the State Department said, referring to al-Jaburi.

In September 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department labeled al-Jaburi a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

"When IS was in control of Mosul, al-Jaburi played an important role in setting up their local administration," said Jawad al-Rassam, an Iraqi analyst based in Amman, Jordan. "At some point, he became the head of [IS's] sharia council," he told VOA.

In August 2016, Iraqi Kurdish intelligence officials said al-Jaburi was killed in a joint U.S.-Kurdish operation near Anbar province in western Iraq. It was later reported that he was not among IS members who were targeted in that raid.

Al-Baghdadi successor

The third IS figure who was included in the recent U.S. move is Amir Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, who also is known as Hajji Abdallah. Al-Mawla is a senior leader who is considered to be the group's main ideologue.

He "helped drive and justify the abduction, slaughter and trafficking" of the Yazidi religious minority in northwest Iraq and is believed to oversee some of the group's global terrorist operations.

According to U.S. officials and experts, al-Mawla is a potential successor to al-Baghdadi.

"He is a particularly dangerous IS figure because he is now considered as the main force behind driving IS's extremist ideology and even crafting its social media messaging," analyst al-Rassam said.

Since its inception in 1984, the U.S. cash program has paid in excess of $150 million to more than 100 people who provided actionable information that helped bring terrorists to justice or prevented acts of international terrorism worldwide, the State Department says.

The U.S. already has offered cash rewards for information leading to other IS leaders, including al-Baghdadi.